Latvian Consul Daina Gutmane says Goodbye

On July 14, 2020, the Latvian Honorary Consul in Brazil, Daina Gutmane, left the office for health reasons. Daina was one of the main figures among the Latvians of Brazil in the last decades. She became consul in 2013 and has implemented major changes and new projects with the Latvian community in Brazil. Today’s article will explain her biography, her work, and the challenges of a Latvian Consul in Brazil.

Queridos Amigos, tenho a informar que, por motivos de saúde, desde 14 de julho de 2020 não sou mais Cônsul Honorária da…

Posted by Daina Gutmanis on Thursday, 16 July 2020


Daina Gutmane was born on April 8, 1958, in São Paulo. Her parents fled Latvia as refugees from World War II and the Soviet occupation – and like many latvians, were  scattered around the world. Daina’s generation was born as orphan of their country – news that came were of censorship and deportation – yet, Daina’s family proudly taught her the Latvian language and culture. Since a very young age she participated in Latvian cultural activities, dressed in tautastērpi in commemorative ceremonies and exhibitions.

After participating in a 2×2 Latvian Culture camp in the USA and in another one in Venezuela, she was enthusiastic about what she learned and together with other Latin-American Latvians decided to create in 1977 DLJA (South-American Latvian Youth Association) and BRALJA (Brazilian Latvian Youth Association. From these organizations came the great names of Latvians in Latin America, such as Anita Zalts (Argentina), Guntars Gedulis (Venezuela), and of course, Daina Gutmane.

In 1979, inspired by her 2×2 experience, she helped organize the first Latvian culture camp in Brazil, called “Saulaine”, held in Nova Odessa. Among the volunteers was Ms. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, as a teacher, who one day would become the President of Latvia (1999 – 2007). Daina also helped organize the Latvian Sunday school on at the Latvian Lutheran Church in São Paulo. She also joined the Imeria Student Corporation.

DLA (South American Latvian Association) Congress: Ilgvars Zalts, Roberts Pontuška (with the flag), Rūdolfs Ķīvīts, Daina Gūtmane

As a Volunteer

In her professional life, Daina graduated as an Agronomist in 1981 at the University of São Paulo. She obtained her Master’s degree in 1990 and a PhD in 2004. Her doctoral thesis on carbon sequestration earned her the Best Academic Work Award from the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development. She was a Scientific Researcher at the Animal Science Institute from 1989 to 2013, performing various functions, in addition to participating in several national and international scientific events.

To complement the already brilliant curriculum, Daina decided to pursue a Specialization in International Law and Relations, concluding in 2006 at UNIMEP. The first steps in your career as a consul.

Daina is a volunteer at heart. She held several positions in the Latvian Lutheran Community and, from 2003 to 2010, she was the secretary of the Brazilian Association of Latvian Culture. From 1997 to 2015, he was also president of DAKLA, the Latvian Association of South America and the Caribbean (successor to DLA and DLJA) and participated annually in PBLA meetings.

PBLA meeting in 2017. Daina is in the middle of the second row.

Daina organized the visit of Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga to Nova Odessa in 2007, Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis in 2011 and Minister of Defense Raimonds Bergmanis in 2016. He held the photo exhibition “Latvian Immigrants” in 2008 at the Immigrant Memorial, in São Paulo, in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic of Latvia. In 2008, he received a Diploma and Tribute from the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for his significant work on behalf of the Republic of Latvia. In 2009 she received the title of “Novaodessensean Citizen ” from the City Council of Nova Odessa.

Daina – The Consul

Before talking about her job as consul, it is necessary to explain what the position of Honorary Consul is. Without too much legal detail, an Honorary Consul is a 100% voluntary position held by citizens of the target country to represent another country. Honorary consuls do not hold legal / international power, and usually the “diplomatic” role they play is only an aid is in economic matters for companies wishing to do business with the country they represent. 

The office of Honorary Consul of Latvia in Brazil, however, is a position that has come to embody a much greater social and symbolic importance – this Consul not only represents but helps the entire Latvian community in Brazil. After retiring from public service in 2013, Daina was named Consul, being the second to occupy the post after the 1991 Latvian restoration of independence, succeeding Dr. João Grimberg.

It should also be noted that all expenses for the position of Honorary Consul are borne by them, since the country represented does not provide any subsidy or remuneration. And there is always a need for travel, freight costs, and a plethora of actions that require attention and, consequently, costs. During her tenure she was able to assist and assist both Brazilians and foreigners in regularizing documents and spreading Latvia to Brazilians, as well as Brazil to Latvia.

In addition to diplomatic representation, Daina continued to participate and support the activities of PBLA, DAKLA and the Brazilian Association of Latvian Culture, in order to preserve Latvian culture in Brazil. Daina participates in the Brazilian Latvian Choir and during her tenure, both this Choir and the Ijuí Dance Group participated in the Latvian Song and Dance Festival that took place in July 2018.

Daina was also one of the main figures behind the 1st Festival of Latvian Culture in Brazil, held in November 2018 in Nova Odessa and Americana. In 2016 he received a tribute from CONSCRE – State Parliamentary Council of Communities of Foreign Cultures at the Legislative Assembly of São Paulo for her relevant services in the Latvian Community.

Finally, on April 8, 2019, by decision of the Presidential Commission of the highest national decorations, Daina Gutmane was awarded the Cross of Recognition (Atzinibas Krusts), III category, for her relevant work. of the Order of the Cross of Recognition. The award ceremony by the President of Latvia took place on May 3, 2019.

Daina speaks at the National Museum of Latvia, 2019. Right behind is Latvian President Raimond Vejonis and the representative of the Ministry of Culture Jolanta Borīte.

Far Beyond Medals (or The Work of a Consul)

A personal testimony by Andreis Purim

The Honorary Consul’s job is a bit ungrateful – or as a friend once said: “you give your sweat and they ask for your blood” – in addition to being an unpaid position, trying to represent almost 25,000 Latvians in Brazil, (spread across several states) is a titanic job. Unfortunately, most people only see the consul when he receives medals, and few are around when he is working. This article, in addition to being informative, is a dedication to Ms. Daina Gutmane.

If you ever go to a Līgo in Nova Odessa, don’t be surprised to see the Consul working in the back of the food stall.

Daina was one of my first friends when I arrived in Nova Odessa to participate in the Līgo, in 2016. She picked me up at Viracopos airport and gave me a ride to the place where the event would be held. It would be just the first of many rides I received. Whenever an Association event ended, she – along with a few volunteers – stayed until the very end of the organization and helped to pack everything. At the end of the Latvian Festival, 2 am, there were only 4 people in the theater stacking the nearly 200 plastic chairs that we rented for the Choir. Daina was one of them.

Not only did Daina dedicate her sweat and work, she also transformed her home into a consulate. In addition to holding various events and meetings, Daina’s house served as an electoral booth for Latvia’s parliamentary elections in 2018 (we work from 5 am to 8 pm). If that wasn’t enough, even her sofa served as a bed for some volunteers from São José dos Campos who realized that it was too late to drive down the road after a Līgo.

But certainly, the most difficult part of the job is taking care of the 33 Latvians who were arrested in Brazil. Most of these prisoners are ethnic Russians with Latvian passports (some do not even speak Latvian), and became involved in organized crime and drug trafficking after the fall of the Soviet Union. These prisoners are in prisons in three different states. Without the voluntary work of Daina – who drives for hours and hours every month to help them have diplomatic representation – these prisoners could end up being recruited by Brazilian criminal factions, as they have no legal protection. This type of work does not earn medals, just expenses and headaches, but she’s always there.

Since Daina opened a profile on Facebook, her inbox has never stopped receiving questions about citizenship, passports, documents and sometimes even travel advice. At the DAKLA meeting in 2018, I needed a real-time latvian translator for my presentation, and she volunteered without hesitation. Instead of luxurious dinners with the big shots, Daina preferred to have a snack on the subway with the volunteers of the Latvian Culture Festival.

After all this, it is easy to understand how demanding the physical and mental exercise of the Consulate is. Of course, I don’t want to belittle the work of other very dedicated volunteers from the Latvian community (each deserves an article in its own right), but Daina really is an example of someone who gave everything she could. It is a great shame that she is leaving the office – but between us – she also deserves a rest.

Thank you!

This Universal Disease Reached Our Home

How did the Latvians face the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic in Brazil?

A week ago Brazil completed 100 days of lockdown. Our country is the second largest Covid-19 hub in the world, accounting 55,000 deaths. Latvian communities in Brazil had to cancel their events because of public health concerns. For the first time in 70 years, the LBBA will not hold the yearly Latvian Congress. The traditional Līgo party in Nova Odessa was canceled, as well as the Latvian Meetings in Curitiba.

Although alarming, 2020 is not the first time Latvian Brazilians face a global pandemic. 102 years ago, the dreaded Spanish Flu plagued Brazilian cities and piled up corpses on the street – and threatened the young latvian colonies in Brazil.

Thanks to the Letters from Rio Novo Archive, we can get a sense of what the colonists thought at the time. On the website are numerous letters exchanged between friends and relatives. In this article, we will only highlight the parts concerning the Spanish Flu, but the complete letters can be accessed by clicking on their respective headings (place and date).

As we have already discussed in previous articles, the first immigrants from Latvia arrived in Brazil in 1890, creating the colony of Rio Novo, in the state of Santa Catarina. In the following decades, several of these colonists spread throughout the south and southeast of Brazil, building cities like Ijuí, Urubici and Nova Odessa.

The epidemic was brought to Brazil by English sailors in Rio de Janeiro in September 1918. But the Brazilian authorities neglected the news of the alarming pandemic that engulfed Europe. At the same time, the population was ignorant of the danger that was to come. It didn’t take long for the disease to reach exorbitant figures. In Rio de Janeiro, 600 thousand fell ill, 66% of the city.

In the year of the pandemic, some Latvian students from the colony of Rio Novo studied in the capital. The first mention of the dreaded disease was in a letter written by Pastor Karlis Leimanis (Carlos Leiman) to his friend Reinalds Puriņš (Reynaldo Purim), who at the time studied at the Theological Seminary of Southern Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro.

Karlis Leimanis (Riga, March 7, 1880) was pastor of the Baptist Church of Rio Novo and director of the colony school.

Cachoeiro do Itapemirim, October 27, 1918

The rumors here, coming from Rio, are to frighten the world. What’s the reality there? Has the “Hespanhola” reached the College yet? Is it still working? We closed our school even without reasons of “bigger force”, because here the “one” does not inspire fear, but the people are alarmed and are the worst. What is your destination for holidays? Already decided? I am proposing a deal to Mr. Reno – If he accepts …? I don’t know – but I want to know your opinion – directly and frankly.

Reinalds Puriņš, born in the colony in 1897, attended the same school and church that Leiman was a pastor. Almost like a mentor, they were both great friends and discussed the issues of the colony. Reinalds had left Rio Novo the previous year, 1917, to study theology in Rio de Janeiro.

The next mention of the infamous disease was made by her sister, Olga Puriņa, in a letter from Rio Novo:

Olga Puriņa (Rio Novo, 1901), Reinalds’ sister, lived in the colony with her family.

Rio Novo, December 18, 1918

(…) It has been a long time since we heard from you, and that is why we did not know where you had been on vacation. The letter of 18 November was lost, as well as that of 7 October.

(…) The letters are probably lost, since several ships were not allowed to enter the port of Laguna because of many passengers with the “disease”. So, no wonder that so many letters were lost.

We are all healthy. None of us got this disease. Here in Rio Novo some caught the flu and in Orleans some have already died, but none of us. Some are so afraid that they will not leave their property to avoid getting the disease, but I often go to Orleans and I didn’t get anything.

Weeks ago the Griķi were sick, but nothing serious. Old Somers is very sick, but not with the flu. So Lūcija sent Dad to make the coffin. Dad was there with the Griķi all day and we were worried about the possibility that he got the disease, but nothing. Well, there would be again [the possiblity].

(…) [Jurgis Karklis] said that in Porto Alegre people die like flies and that vehicles walk around the streets picking up corpses – more than a thousand a day, which makes it impossible to bury everyone. In São Paulo and Rio it is also the same; he was saved because he carried a glass of cresol close to his nose at all times. But he is gaudy, very pompous. (…)

The colony’s relative geographic isolation – close to the coastal mountain range – delayed the arrival of the disease for only a few months. While entire Brazilian cities were devastated, the settlers only knew about the news from travelers. The first infections among Latvians began on Christmas 1918.

Olga Puriņa. Unfortunately, the letters sent by her brother have not been preserved.

Rio Novo, January 8, 1919

(…) This time I have nothing good to write to you. We would be doing well if it weren’t for this epidemic, this universal disease, which reached our home. You may have already forgotten about this disease, but it is only now that it has come this far.

This epidemic has been in Orleans for a long time and here in Rio Novo too, but here at home it started with a headache and tiredness, body slack. As the day was very hot, I thought it was because of that. The other day I had nothing more, just a little cough, and so my illness gave way with a good sleep. Lūcija had to lie down on New Year’s eve. Arthur and Mamma after the New Year. We are hardly bedridden, but only with a lot of cough. But with Papus [“dad”, Jānis Puriņš], who always held on while the others were sick, started on Sunday and he went to bed- and it’s longer than us all together. Today it looks a little better.

It seems that there was no home where no one was sick. Now the Klaviņi and Leimani are sick. Here in the colonies it is not so strong, but there in Orleans several Brazilians have already died due to this disease; also many, after having a hard time, came to recover.

In Orleans, two “hospitals” were improvised: one at the cinema and the other at Jurkis Jakobsons’ house. Some Latvians who went to visit these places said that in a place like this it is very likely that the patients will only get worse and will hardly be able to heal, as there is not the slightest ventilation: the windows are all kept completely closed and it gets hotter inside than a sauna.

(…) [About Christmas festivities] Visitors were not as many as the other years; one explanation is that due to the flu epidemic, several people have avoided gatherings, (…)

[Written on the side:]
9-1-19 – Today I received the newspapers from 12/14/18. Letter, none. I will have to wait longer. Sincere memories from Olga.

Fortunately, Olga’s family survived the epidemic. However, the disease took some of the older settlers. It is not known how many Latvians died due to the Spanish flu of 1918, but reports seem to indicate that colonies were not hit as hard as cities.

Olga passed away due to hookworm complications in 1926.

Rio Novo, February 5, 1919

(…) We are thankful now, thank God, all are healthy and we can all work again. As I already wrote in another letter, that “Spanish” [Spanish flu] settled in at home, but now he’s gone and not all of us were very affected. The one who stayed in bed the most was Paps who stayed a whole week.

Work, as always, we have too much. (…)

[Postcard dated with Orleans’ stamp: 12 February 1919]

Old Somers died on December 20 at the Griķi’ house and the funeral was the following day. Recently, he was so bad that he didn’t recognize anyone and couldn’t move.

Jurgis Karklin, as I already wrote, is at home, but now he doesn’t hear the great “pompe” telling those great things, nor does he talk about leaving. (…)

Then, by the end of 1920, the pandemic slowly loosened its grip. Without hospitals or any aid, the latvians survived the Spanish Flu. The Colony withstood this arduous test of resilience and continued to be the home of the many, many immigrants who had made Brazil their home. However, this was not the Latvian’ last encounter with the disease:

Karlis Leimanis, before being pastor of Rio Novo, had run away from home to live among natives. The rest of his life he was a missionary in Paraná and Bahia.

Castelo (ES), July 25, 1921

Yesterday I arrived back from Vitória, where I spent a whole month traveling, I am now leaving behind 9 more leagues on horseback [almost 60 kilometers], I will be home on Saturday to start classes on Monday.

The weather is very cold and rainy and the people are sick with the Spanish flu. (…)

So it leaves us – those who live today – the task to learn from our ancestors. No matter how desperate or worrying the following years become, we can always look back and see how different, but how similar, our lives are. In the future, it will be our turn to tell our stories to new generations. The Covid-19 pandemic will become one of many challenges in the history of Latvians Brazilians. So, it is up to us to learn and preserve these stories to be told in the future.

Cover image: 1918 field hospital set up at Club Athletico Paulistano in 1918 / Reproduction
Autor: Andreis Purim
Special thanks to Alice and Arvido Purim