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Associated Press
January 27, 1998

No Visa
By Michael Astor

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Guerrilla-turned-congressman Fernando Gabeira will not be attending Wednesday's New York premiere of "Four Days in September," the movie based on a book he authored.

That's because he also orchestrated the 1969 kidnapping of the U.S. ambassador to Brazil, around which the movie pivots. Once a terrorist, always a terrorist, the U.S. Embassy said and denied the Brazilian author a visa for the premiere.

Gabeira's fights these days include saving the Amazon, freeing Tibet from Chinese domination and legalizing marijuana. But he's not giving up on the U.S. visa battle.

"I think it's my duty to try" for the visa, he said, sitting on a tree stump in Rio's Botanical Garden. "Now Brazil's congress supports me, and as time passes it will become an important issue in Brazil-U.S. relations."

Gabeira has come a long way since his days as a member of MR-8, the revolutionary group that kidnapped U.S. Ambassador Charles Elbrick during the harsh repression under Brazil's 1964-85 military dictatorship.

Now 57, Gabeira has renounced violence and holds a seat in Congress for the tiny Green Party, where he hobnobs with former members and supporters of the military regime.

The film, by Brazilian director Bruno Barreto, is based on Gabeira's book What's This, Comrade?

Sometimes the movie exaggerates, Gabeira said.

At one point in the film, as the deadline for meeting the guerrillas' demands arrives, one of them draws his pistol and points it at the ambassador's head. He hesitates he can't look his victim in the face.

At that instant, a voice outside shouts that the government has conceded. The ambassador can live.

"In reality, we were never close to killing the ambassador," Gabeira said.

He said the idea behind kidnapping Elbrick was to get the U.S. government to pressure Brazil's generals to meet the group's demands, which included releasing 15 political prisoners and reading a manifesto on national television.

It worked. Elbrick was freed, and the kidnappers eluded capture for a while. But eventually the police closed in, and Gabeira was shot in the back and seized while trying to flee.

The wound healed in prison, and then Gabeira was released in another exchange of prisoners for a kidnapped ambassador, this time Germany's. Gabeira went into exile in Algeria and Sweden, returning to Brazil under a 1979 amnesty.

Gabeira said he learned much from his long conversations with Elbrick during his captivity. The film gives the impression that the two developed a mutual respect, and Gabeira says that part was true.

Gabeira believes it was through their conversations that Elbrick learned for the first time about the torture being carried out by Brazil's military regime.

Elbrick later supported amnesty for his kidnappers, Gabeira said, and the two even tried to meet once near the Canadian border. But the meeting was canceled after the U.S. state department advised against it.

Elbrick taught Gabeira another important lesson.

"One of the things I learned from him was how to behave with dignity when you are being held captive by armed men," Gabeira said.