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São Paulo street named for infamous torturer renamed to honor Dominican friar

Tito de Alencar Lima

Joelkaula | CC BY-SA 4.0

J-P Mauro - published on 10/04/21

Friar Tito de Alencar Lima spent months in abusive captivity, which led to lifelong psychological trauma.

The city of São Paulo, Brazil, has taken action to rename a street that bore the name of a torturer from the mid-20th-century military dictatorship. The street’s name was replaced by the name of a Dominican friar who was captured and tortured by the same regime, Frei (Friar) Tito de Alencar Lima. 

According to Crux, the decision was a part of a new initiative to remove names of people involved in human rights abuses from public spaces. The removed name, Doutor Sérgio Fleury, belonged to a police chief who allegedly organized “death squads” with the primary purpose of attacking political opponents. 

Friar Tito

Friar Tito was reportedly captured and subjected to torturous abuse on several occasions. Wikipedia notes that he was first arrested in 1968 for his participation in the XX Congress of the National Union of Students. In 1969, the friar was arrested again, this time with fellow Dominicans. In this instance, he was held and tortured for an entire month before being moved to a military facility. 

The year 1970 was little different for Friar Tito. During those months he was subjected to both psychological and physical torture. Crux describes the vicious practices of the regime: 

For at least three months, Lima was submitted to torture during interrogation. He was routinely stripped of all his clothes, hit with clubs, and received electric shocks in his head, genitals, and tongue. Fleury and other members of his team are accused by several human rights activists of taking part in the torture.

Friar Lima was not released from his captivity until December of 1970, when he fled to Chile and later to Italy and finally France. The damage done to the Dominican, however, was never to leave him and he bore scars both physical and mental for the rest of his life. Even removed from captivity, his mental health continued to deteriorate until it led him to take his own life in 1974. 

Crux noted that even though his death was a suicide, he received a religious funeral. Dominican Father Xavier Plassat, who lived with Friar Lima in France, explained to Crux that there was never a doubt that he had remained faithful. 

“We were there with him throughout his torment. Such doubt never appeared to us. We made his funeral, and the Archbishop of Lyon celebrated a Mass in his memory,” Plassat said.

The case for renaming the São Paulo street has been in the works since 2014. While no one defended Fleury’s name or actions at the time, officials were unsure if it was the right move. Now in 2021, the matter is settled and Brazil’s most populous city now has a street named for a Dominican. 

Read the full account and interviews with Dominicans who knew Friar Lima at Crux.

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