Were he to be resuscitated today, Brazil’s last emperor, Dom Pedro II, would
feel as relieved as someone waking from a nightmare, convinced that Deodoro da
Fonseca had not proclaimed the Republic. A lover of the arts and sciences, our
emperor would be dazzled by the Brazil around him after sleeping for over a
century. And he would tranquilly perceive that, as for the rest, little had
changed; it had merely grown.
In place of the barons, dukes and viscounts that he had named over the course of 50 years, he would now discover the “doctors” and “excellencies” composing the present Brazilian aristocracy. While the titles and the quantities have changed, they still remain the manifestation of a people divided.
In place of the slaves running behind the carriages, he would see children begging, their existence apart from those traveling inside the cars, isolated and distant.
He would note that, surrounding his modern carriage, without horses and with the strange cold of the air conditioning, the black people seemed to have lost their slave demeanor but that they continued to be poor, different, separated. Dom Pedro II would soon perceive that the climate of revolt in the provinces had ended. But on the road from one place to another, in Rio de Janeiro itself, he would hear frightening gunshots nearby.
Reading his ministers’ reports, he would learn how the number of children in school had increased. Surprised, however, he would see that none of their schools had the quality of the one, Colégio Pedro II, that he created before going to sleep. He would be astonished by the sad state of today’s school buildings and by the decrease in the prestige of the teachers.
He would not understand how children could possibly arrive in the fourth grade without learning to read. Above all, he would not understand how the number of illiterate adults could have increased: in his time it was 13 million and nowadays it is 15 million.
Should he travel in the Northeast, he would find it still necessary to sell his crown to provide for the needs of the semi-arid region’s poor since the help that they receive these days is still insufficient. And he would soon know that nothing new had been proposed to solve the problems of these people. And that, despite the marvels of today’s buildings, the situation of the Northeast remains exactly the same.
He would even think that his sleep must have been a short one because his plans to divert the São Francisco River are still under study today.
He would see too that his fear of the republicans’ proposal to put an end to the privileges of the aristocrats had been a mere nightmare. He would feel relieved since the nobles still maintained their privilege and special prisons whenever they committed crimes; all that is needed for this is the possession of a title of nobility in the form a diploma issued by a university.
In place of him, it was the university rectors who granted the title of nobility. And he would see that the ideas of equal rights, defended in his day by those who called themselves republicans, had not flourished.
Dom Pedro would even see that the nobles’ houses and festivities continued to be equally sumptuous, dazzling, and distant from the common people. Their homes were even larger; they contained bathrooms, air conditioning and a quantity of apparatuses that even he, curious scientist that he was, would not understand very well.
But the number of servants living in the domestic slave quarters, now called “maid’s rooms,” remained equally large. Our emperor perhaps would even fear he was still dreaming since his daughter had abolished slavery a year before the Republic was proclaimed, and he suspected that slavery still existed: a new type, with some nuances but, even so, slavery.
Upon reading the current newspapers, he would certainly laugh when he remembered when, around 1870, he had asked his friend the Viscount of Paraná what good the political parties were if, after the elections, they all remained equal. Reassured, he would perceive that the documents about the crimes committed during the War of Paraguay in the 1860s are still guarded, kept secret, so as not to compromise the Duke of Caxias’s army.
In his desire to make a civilized country of Brazil, he would perceive that the nightmare had been to wake up and discover that Brazil remains the same.
Cristovam Buarque has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PDT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). He is the current president of the Senate Education Commission. Last year he was a presidential candidate. You can visit his homepage – www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at email@example.com
Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.