Brazil's Roswell: The Varginha UFO
It happened in January of 1996, and came to be known as the most compelling proof of alien visitation in Brazil. Varginha is a municipality deep inside Brazil's coffee region; many Brazilian plantations' coffee output flows through there. But unfortunately it is less well known for that than for the evening of January 20, when three young women saw an oily brown creature kneeling in the mud and rain, and fled. They reported they'd seen a devil. But that wasn't all. A series of strange events throughout town, most of it involving military police and trucks, attracted even more attention. Today, UFOlogists have pieced together a story: that an alien spacecraft had crashed, that both craft and occupants had been seized by the military; and that the military covers it up to this day.
If you want the entire story as told by the UFOlogists, you have a great source. The 2022 documentary Moment of Contact interviews a number of the people who were involved, and presents it as a true case of alien visitation. It also offers a stark example of how these stories grow and change enormously over the years. Original eyewitnesses tend to add story elements, often bridging their own recollections to those of others; new people intrigued at the prospect of some notoriety always "come forward" and claim to have been there; and imaginative authors always, always, always add no end of creative enhancements that, over time, blend in and come to be accepted as part of the standard narrative. The inevitable result is a story full of incredible events, all supported by amazingly trustworthy eyewitnesses, all inexplicable as anything Earthly. Such a tapestry offers fertile soil for any documentary filmmaker. One thing such filmmakers hope you never do is go back and read the original newspaper accounts, because what you tend to discover is that almost nothing particularly interesting happened — until later years festooned the facts with embellishments.
Calling the Varginha UFO the most compelling proof of alien visitation is a very strong statement; especially given that today, nearly 30 years later, there is still not a single piece of evidence that aliens walk among us, nor even any evidence that anything at all happened in Varginha in 1996. So let us take a very hard, and very critical, look at this event.
The three young women, aged 14, 16, and 22, saw the creature during a blustery rainstorm. The younger two were sisters who ran home and sent their mother to go see; the mother reported nothing but a smell of ammonia. Even though the winds were reported to be quite strong, the UFOlogists still attributed that smell to the creature the girls had seen.
Once this was reported in the local news as an alien, two farmers — a married couple — reported that they'd watched a UFO hovering over their field several days earlier. This was reported as well, and that's when people started taking account of just about anything unusual they'd seen over those days. Some of the most commonly retold events are that a convoy of military trucks went roaring through town; a pair of short alien beings were seen being treated at a local hospital; and also at the same hospital, mysterious trucks delivered a large amount of mechanical equipment or parts, as well as a body in a body bag.
Brazilian UFOlogists wrote and spoke a lot about the incident, but the government itself took no notice. At least, they didn't until the death of a military police officer, Marco Eli Cherese. Only 23 years old, he died some weeks after the incident. It was said that no cause of death could be determined, but that unidentifiable toxins were found in his body. It is reported that after having handled the body of the alien, he became infected with some disease and succumbed to it. Investigators later wanted to exhume his body for study, but were refused by a judge for reasons of national security. With this final straw, public outcry for the truth about the aliens was such that the military opened an official investigation into the reports.
UFO author Stanton Friedman got into this story as well. Although Friedman died in 2019, he appears in Moment of Contact and tells the basic story of the crashed spaceship, the wandering aliens, and the military trucks hauling away the wreckage. He's usually introduced in UFO films as a "nuclear physicist," but in fact he was a career UFO author and lifelong promoter of alien visitation claims.
Friedman's whole career, in fact, consisted of compiling bits and pieces of poor-quality evidence, mainly unverified eyewitness testimony usually taken years or decades after an event; and then composing an original alien visitation story that incorporates all those bits and is presented as the factual account of what happened. He's best known as the original author of the Roswell mythology, in which he worked with a retired mortician named Glenn Dennis. In 1989 — more than four decades after the 1947 Roswell crash was alleged to have happened — Friedman carefully wove together a string of snippets of Dennis' assorted memories of having worked in that town, and created the story we know today of a spaceship crash and small alien bodies being recovered. It was published in 1991, the first time that story even existed. Friedman couldn't have cared less that the things Dennis thought he remembered actually took place over a span of twelve years and had nothing to do with each other; his goal was to craft an original UFO narrative. That was Friedman's thing. That was what he did professionally. So take Stanton Friedman's appearance in Moment of Contact with a very large grain of salt, and be aware that what you're hearing comes from a man whose job was to take a few random, unrelated, unverified reports, and tie them all together into an alien visitation story.
At last the military investigation released its report, called an IPM for Military Police Inquiry. It was 357 pages and managed to track down the original cause of each of the many events reported — none of which had anything to do with each other, and none of which involved aliens or crashed flying saucers.
Cherese, the young military police officer who died, did indeed die. The IPM report was not even necessary to tell us this, as there was nothing secret or strange about his death, which was reported in the newspapers. Cherese had had, for some time, a cyst under his left armpit, and had been scheduled for an operation to remove it even before the incident. Later, in the hospital, the surgical site became infected and he died — tragic, but neither unusual nor unexplained — and certainly insufficient to grant UFOlogists permission to exhume his body. The one thing the IPM report did add was that Cherese had not been involved with any events on January 20 — despite any number of people coming out in the decades since to claim that he had been. An easy claim to make, since Cherese was no longer around to defend himself.
The IPM report even successfully identified the creature seen by the three young women. The place where the creature was spotted was the home of Luiz Antônio de Paula, about 30 years old and intellectually disabled, who lived there with his parents and family. As de Paula was nonverbal, locals had nicknamed him Mudinho, which means "little mute." Mudinho was known to the neighbors to spend his time crouching and examining small objects he found, like cigarette butts and sticks. There are photographs of him floating around the Portuguese language Internet — very skinny, hunched over, squatting as he studies a twig, and apparently wearing a diaper. At last report, Mudinho still lives there to this day, and still continues his favorite activity. The lead author of the IPM report, Lt. Col. Lúcio Carlos Pereira, wrote:
As Mudinho did live there, and that was his typical behavior, then for the young women to have seen a space creature there would have to have been two such beings — the known one, Mudinho, and the hypothetical one, an alien — but as they reported only one skinny humanoid crouching in the mud, and not two, we are left with no rational support for there having been any beings present other than Mudinho.
Today, the three women do still give interviews about their experience. There is one very important detail that has changed since their original story: Today, they say they knew Mudinho well, and had even given him cigarettes in the past; so of course they would not have mistaken him for an alien. However, in their original reports from 1996, they said they didn't know him, and took him for a devil when they saw him. It's one more example of stories changing and growing to fit a changing and growing narrative that gains mass traction in pop culture. Everyone wants to be in on it, and everyone wants to be seen as credible and correct.
The convoy of military trucks going through town was nothing more than a convoy of military trucks going through town to be dropped off for scheduled maintenance, which was exactly what happened to them. The trucks dropping off strange mechanisms at the hospital were delivering new cardiovascular equipment. The ambulance was dropping off a corpse that had been exhumed as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. The pair of small aliens at the hospital were expectant parents having their baby delivered — and they were little people.
All of this information is widely available and pops right up during the most cursory search, and so the producers of programs like Moment of Contact absolutely had this information — for them to have not come across it, they would have had to be implausibly incompetent researchers. They'd have known the history and practices of writers like Stan Friedman. So when programming comes out that suggests something mysterious or suppressed took place, we can confidently conclude that its creators had no interest in being truthful, but were merely just another in a long assembly line of generic, sensationalized UFO mythology.
Time and time again, from the Roswell non-event of 1947 to the Phoenix Lights of 1997, we see UFO stories explained with verified facts down to the last detail with all the evidence presented, yet there are still true believers who scoff at that, dismiss it as fake evidence that proves a coverup conspiracy, and insist upon their preferred "alien visitation" explanation with no evidence at all. Some minds are absolutely closed to any but their own preferred explanation. While some say that the Varginha UFO story is the most compelling proof of alien visitation, I come to a different conclusion but I'm still willing to grant it "most compelling" status. It is the most compelling example of a case where literally nothing at all happened that was remotely unusual, and was magnified into a case considered unassailable proof of alien visitation by many. To those believers, I would suggest recalibrating where you set the bar for quality of evidence.
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