Brazil: Elzita Santa Cruz Oliveira

I raised my children to be decent and brave persons, to defend whatever they think is right.

— Elzita Santa Cruz Oliveira

“Where is my son?” The question that Elzita Santa Cruz Oliveira (born 1913) asked was never answered. During the 1970s, when Brazil was frightened and terrified, Elzita, a housewife, faced the military forces in the search for the fifth of her ten children. She has written hundreds of letters to politicians, to national and international organizations for human rights. Elzita has gathered mothers who shared her pain. She symbolizes all Brazilian mothers whose children were victims of the military regime's oppression.

“Old Zita! Old Zita!” When Elzita Santa Cruz Oliveira (92) gathers her family, she still feels like she can hear her son – who disappeared in 1974. “He used to call me Old Zita.” The fifth of her ten children, student and militant of the Popular Action – a revolutionary organization of the left-wing Catholic movement – left home in an afternoon during the celebration of carnival in Rio, to meet a friend. He never came back. It makes Elzita sad to remember the past. She goes back to the beginning of the 1970s. That is when the daughter of a sugar plantation owner, a rich girl raised to marry, had her peaceful life as a housewife in Olinda, Pernambuco, shook up by the dictatorship's cruelty. In 1971, her first born daughter was arrested in Rio. Elzita spent three months going from barrack to barrack. “When they allowed me to see her, she had bruises on her body and her nails were blue. She was being tortured.” Her daughter was kept in prison for one year. Another one of her sons had to leave his fourth year of law school and exile himself in Europe for one year. Three years later, Elzita Santa Cruz Oliveira was back to the barracks, this time looking for her missing son. It was worthless, so she started writing letters and petitions to politicians, to military officers, to the church, to national and international organizations. She has gathered and encouraged other mothers – most of them frightened – to sign petitions. Elzita has helped found the Movement for Amnesty in Pernambuco and, later on, the Labor Party of that same state. She has gone to Argentina to support the Mothers of May Square. “I have never been scared. I would go inside a fire for a child.”