Former Brazilian President Artur da Costa e Silva ran the country during one of its most rigid, authoritarian eras. In the 1960s, Costa e Silva reduced rights and began a culture of political persecution, culminating in the widespread use of torture by state officials. Like other dictators, Costa e Silva has been honored for decades by the bridges, roads, and stadiums named after him. São Paulo’s most emblematic viaduct system still bears his name. But that could change, as the City Council approved a law to rename it President João Goulart, the man deposed by the dictatorship. To become official, the bill only needs a signature from the mayor.
For the good and the bad, the 3.5km-long Viaduct Costa e Silva is extremely representative of São Paulo: huge, ugly, raw. People know it by its nickname, Minhocão (literally “big worm”). While it would be unlikely that residents would start calling it something else after the name change, the move is filled with symbolism.
Brazil has never figured out how to grapple with the memory of its authoritarian days. The Army still assumes a version of facts that the dictatorship was a sort of “democratic revolution” that helped to save Brazil from communism. Brazil went on to be a democratic country, but kept the names of the dictators in public spaces. That has been gradually changing. Another two bridges bearing the name of Costa e Silva, one in Rio and one in Brasília, have been named to honor leaders of resistance groups. Now, it’s São Paulo’s turn.
The History of the Minhocão
The viaduct complex was inaugurated in 1971, during the dictatorship’s harshest moments. At the time, it represented a way of dealing with the increasing number of cars on the street, but it has also made São Paulo’s cityscape less attractive and degrades living conditions. Nearby apartments suffer from extreme noise and pollution.
Currently, many groups support its destruction in favor of something that could revitalize the degraded central neighborhood of São Paulo. As a matter of fact, Mayor Fernando Haddad has already signed a bill to transform the complex into a park, although nothing has been done since. Others believe it should remain as is to avoid making the traffic – which is already terrible – even worse.