The incident that made this town a hot spot in the intergalactic search for intelligent life started quite innocently. On a Saturday afternoon stroll in January, a trio of young women decided to take a shortcut home through a vacant lot. In a clump of weeds, the three said, they encountered a creature like nothing they had seen before.
“It wasn’t a man or an animal — it was something different,” said one of the women, Katia Andrade. The being had oily, brown skin and rubbery limbs, she said. Three rounded protrusions sprouted from its oversized head. Standing out in a different way was the creature’s odor: One ghastly whiff weakened the knees. As for the stranger’s demeanor, the women unanimously, if tactlessly, agreed: It was “muddle-headed.” When the creature wagged its big noggin dizzily in their direction, the three women ran off.
Word of this encounter, spreading rapidly through the coffee bars where Varginha’s 120,000 inhabitants trade gossip, would soon meld in the public imagination with other unusual occurrences: sightings of a strange cigar-shaped flying object, a mustering of troops and vehicles at a nearby infantry base and a peculiar bustle at the municipal hospital. Goaded by self-styled UFO savants and a ravenous national media, residents rather matter-of-factly embraced a stupefying conclusion: Several aliens from a wayward space ship had been captured and brutalized by troops from the Brazilian army.
Bristling denials from the military, which once compiled a lengthy record of abuses against the terrestrial population, have only served to inflame public suspicion. The upshot: The army and the now-famous space aliens find themselves locked in a pitched battle for the hearts and minds of this provincial community. Doltish and malodorous though these space celebrities might be, mere men in uniform are proving no match for the first creatures of any kind from Varginha to land on a national magazine cover.
“For extraterrestrials they may not be much, but they are the biggest thing we’ve ever had in Varginha,” says a young woman named Nilda, scanning the nighttime sky from a downtown park bench. Had the armed forces not interfered, she says, locals might have scrubbed the visitors, taught them the language … in sum … made something of them. “But they never had a chance,” Nilda says with a sigh. Her anger at the military’s alleged inhospitality sparked a tiff with her boyfriend, a private in the infantry.
The army finds itself besieged on several fronts. A local mystic predicts that Varginha will suffer some kind of cataclysm this September as retribution for its blitzkrieg on the interplanetary visitors. An armed-forces news conference marking “Victory Day” in World War II degenerated into a shouting match between a general and a television reporter pressing him about the extraterrestrials. An official briefing to debunk UFO conspiracies was overshadowed by an auto mechanic’s claim to have seen yet another weird cylindrical aircraft, a cosmic encounter he re-enacted with the aid of an aluminum coffee thermos.
To some extent the army is paying for past sins. During an oppressive 20-year dictatorship ending in 1985, the Brazilian military eliminated any number of earthbound political enemies by “disappearing” them. If the army was capable of liquidating human beings without a trace, locals ask, why couldn’t it carry such a “dirty war” to outer space?
In truth, the current, cash-strapped incarnation of Brazil’s army poses little threat to anyone, least of all an enemy that might have ray guns. In some training exercises Brazilian troops have been reduced to pointing their rifles and shouting “bang” in order to save ammo.
At the army base near Varginha, an inquiry concerning the extraterrestrials is received warily by a private, who turns it over to a sergeant, who then passes it along to a major. From there the matter is sent back down to another sergeant, who hands the question over to Capt. Eduardo Calza, the outfit’s sad-sack spokesman. “You know, I used to get calls about the base talent show,” he says.
The Official Explanation
Capt. Calza says he can’t vouch for what the three women saw in January. But the activity on the base that fateful weekend, he insists, was anything but otherworldly: New inductees to a sergeants’ training school went on parade and a truck convoy was driven to the repair shop. Concurrently, at the town hospital, trucks delivered new cardiovascular equipment and an ambulance dropped off an exhumed corpse — a human body, officials insist.
“Sure, tell us another story,” says Vitorio Pacaccini, the bearded, effusive UFO investigator at the eye of the Varginha storm. Based upon interviews with supposed eyewitnesses, Mr. Pacaccini has pieced together what he considers to be a more plausible reconstruction of January’s events: A small alien craft on an unknown mission over Varginha crashed near the city limits, sending its crew of smelly, spaced-out extraterrestrials ambling about the town. Subsequently, Mr. Pacaccini maintains, military death squads in camouflage fatigues hunted down the visitors, poked and prodded the corpses at the municipal hospital, and then shipped them off to parts unknown. “It’s very straightforward,” he says.
Mr. Pacaccini’s brand of hucksterism is characteristic of the frontier atmosphere in a town where the architecture is of the Quonset-hut school and the newspaper is staffed by a lone reporter. Since the initial sighting, Mr. Pacaccini, a longtime UFO buff, has essentially abandoned his job as a business consultant to provide one-stop shopping for visiting journalists.
To date, Brazil’s leading television magazine has done three programs here. A two-hour nationally televised documentary on Varginha pulled in so many viewers on a recent Saturday night that it was repeated in its entirety the following weekend. Two of the women who made the initial sighting now demand $200 for each interview.
With an eye toward promoting Varginha, city fathers are thinking of building a park in the creature’s honor. Deputy Mayor Paulo Vitor Freire says: “We would never have imagined that so many international organizations take interest in cases like ours.”
Yes Varginha, there is a support group known as Abductees Anonymous and a research organization called Operation Right to Know. Stanton Friedman, a Canada-based UFO expert, says Varginha has the makings of a “cosmic Watergate.”
If anything, the case may be suffering from eyewitness overkill. By now there have been so many sightings of the creature — seven at last count — that it is unclear how all of these beings could have fit into the minivan-sized spacecraft that was spotted here in January. “Lots of us get into cars with five or six other passengers in them,” Mr. Pacaccini retorts, drawing a down-to-earth analogy. True, but usually on short trips; seldom when driving to another galaxy.
Mr. Pacaccini’s most tantalizing proofs are videotaped statements by two young men in civilian clothes who claim to be members of the military detail that disposed of the alien visitors. It is impossible to determine the tapes’ authenticity, however, since Mr. Pacaccini won’t reveal the men’s names. He says they fear reprisals.
There is also a troubling lack of physical evidence, unless you count descriptions of a paw print seen by one witness. The print is said to resemble what a human hand would look like with the palm flat, and a space opened up between the ring and pinky fingers and the other three digits. Fans of the old Star Trek series may sense a stirring of recognition. It looks remarkably like Mr. Spock’s Vulcan salute.
Copyright c 1996 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Original file name: CNI – Brazil.WSt Journal 7.12
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