Ruy Mesquita, publisher of the influential daily O Estado de S.Paulo, died Tuesday at 88. A grandson and son of journalists who helped shape the institutions of the Brazilian republic, from the 1950s Mesquita lived intensely by his country’s struggles to develop as a stable democracy and emerge in the global scene. “He was key in the resistance against the military regime,” said former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a friend, alluding to the dictatorship installed in 1964 in Brazil with his newspaper initial support, in the height of the Cold War.
The break with the military came in 1967, after the rulers in Brasilia betrayed their promise to hold elections and pushed the country to a state of emergency to cover up violations of human rights and press freedom. A lawyer with deep liberal convictions, Ruy Mesquita and his older brother, Julio Mesquita Neto, led the fight against censorship, making sure readers would know when editorials and articles were cut by replacing them with verses of Lusíadas, the epic of Portuguese language. An anticommunist, like his father Julio Mesquita Filho, he did not hesitate to hire and protect journalists affiliated with the Communist Party and other leftist organizations. In 1978, Ruy Mesquita conducted a historic interview with union leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva which was instrumental in opening the dialogue between the future president and the conservative elites of São Paulo.
In June 2006 the Brazil Institute honored Ruy Mesquita with the first Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service. He was the first recipient of the award in Brazil. He took the helm of O Estado in 1996 after the death of his brother Julio. A self-confessed workaholic who woke up at 4 A.M. to read newspapers and prepare for the day, he worked until the day before he was hospitalized in late April to undergo cancer surgery. Mesquita leaves his wife Laura and five sons.