Brazil, 7 Sept. 1822: The independence of slaveholders

Mário Maestri 06/09/2019

Commentary on Duplo Expresso (video), September 5

During Homeland Week, schools and the media celebrate September 7, the date of Brazil’s independence, to be honored by all Brazilians. 
Tradotto da John Catalinotto
Federal funds for health and education were cut to the bone. But there’s enough money left to celebrate the so-called “Great Feast of Nationality.” Jair Bolsonaro, like Fernando Collor de Mello, asks everyone to take to the streets in green and yellow, the colors of the Empire founded in 1822, inherited by the Republic in 1889. But, after all, is this a celebration of the suffering population and the good people of the country? The answer is: – No! Brazil’s independence came about driven by the needs of the exploiters, and against the exploited. Its after-effects still haunt us today.
Brazil’s was the most retrograde independence in the Americas. It came about with the enthronement of the crown prince of the metropolitan country, Portugal, from which it separated. It imposed a centralist and completely non-liberal order. It maintained the despotic slave system then in force. Its program included compensation for the Lusitanian crown for its loss of the country that it had been exploiting for centuries. Only months after this “gradual and safe” separation, the ignorant emperor launched the first military coup in Brazil and bestowed a despotic Constitution that ruled the country until 1889. Following the coup, he drowned the liberal Northeastern revolt in bloodshed. 
Portuguese America has always been a mosaic of economically and socially semi-autonomous regions administered by the Portuguese colonial state. The contacts of the various captaincies (capitanias, a hereditary post appointed by the crown to rule the administrative regions) with Portugal and Africa were closer than among themselves. With enslaved labor, they produced the colonial products sent to Europe via Lisbon, from whence manufactured goods arrived for consumption in Brazil. The workers exhausted by the harsh working conditions were replaced by so-called “new slaves” torn from the African coasts.
The hereditary captaincies, by Luís Teixeira. Lisbon, 1586
Nobody was Brazilian
The regional lords exploited their captives harshly and exported and imported what they needed through the ports of the coast – Belém, São Luís, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande, etc.. There were no monopoly ports, such as Buenos Aires, in La Plata. There was almost no domestic market. Portugal limited the already scarce contacts between the captaincies, where the local ruling classes controlled the essential economic and social power. They lived under the Portuguese state, which protected them from foreigners and from the revolts of the exploited and subjugated classes. 
The ruling classes of the captaincies considered themselves members of the Portuguese empire, possessed regional identity ties and ignored “national” feelings for Brazil. They were, therefore, Portuguese and, at the same time, Pernambucans, Paulistas, mineiros (from Minas Gerais), etc. The Brazilian nation-state and national identity were products of the Revolution of 1930. These ruling classes were irritated that mainly native Portuguese dominated the colonial administration and trade. Brazil was a mere foreign administrative entity, a bit like the current European Union. 
By the end of the 18th century, the Iberian colonial order had become an anachronism. The emerging capitalist powers circumvented the metropolitan monopoly with smuggling and the regional ruling classes wanted to buy and sell without intermediaries. They wanted to take political control of the regions they socially and economically dominated. Previously, regionally circumscribed attempts at independence had taken place, such as the Inconfidência Mineira (Minas Gerais Conspiracy) in 1789 and the Bahian Revolt in 1798.
Independence in Spanish America 
Due to the same regional dispersive forces, from 1810 onwards, the economic and social nuclei of Spanish America exploded in a rosary of republics dominated by the local oligarchies. In some regions, the regional oligarchies managed to extend their radius of domination, as in Argentina and Mexico. The dream of a unified Ibero-American homeland sank against the obstacles of objective material and immaterial conditions. 
The same dispersed forces acted strongly in the Luso-Brazilian colonies, called provinces after the arrival of the royal family in 1808. In January 1821, in Rio Grande do Sul, Auguste de Saint-Hilaire wrote in his diary that the Kingdom of Brazil could explode in independent nations, “like the Spanish colonies,” considering the great difference between them. “Not to mention Pará and Pernambuco, the captaincy of Minas and Rio Grande, already less distant, differ more from each other than France from England.”
The oligarchies of Rio Grande do Sul, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, etc. wished to separate from Portugal, nationalize the Lusitanian trade, resist British pressures for the end of transatlantic slave trade and reign sovereign over their regions. Even if there were monarchic or republican federalist feelings, the separatist tendencies were very strong in the North, Northeast, Center-South and South. Everything pointed to the emergence of a constellation of nations speaking the Portuguese language. 
However, in 1822, the regional ruling classes emerged from the colonial crisis having as emperor a Portuguese crown prince and under the centralist and despotic heel of the Court in Rio de Janeiro. The large provincial landowners did not even obtain a provincial assembly and the right to elect the president of the province. Except for the National Assembly, closed and castrated by Pedro I in 1823, little has changed in relation to the Brazil, as Kingdom united to Portugal, of Dom João VI. 
-This is a copy of the painting on Independence day 
-Auntie, what does it mean, Made in China ?
Cabral discovers Brazil
Brazilian historiography presents as a paradox the unitary, centralist, antiliberal independence, despite the provincial centrifugal forces. In general, this contradiction is concealed with teleological reading of the past, in which Brazil appears already predestined, already done, all ready, as it appeared in 1822 and as it continues today, since Cabral stepped on the then unpolluted sands of the current Bahian coast. Brazilian independence and unitarism are the twin offspring from the single egg of the slave system. They were established to keep the enslaved workers in submission and so that others would not fail to arrive in waves to experience the sad fate of captive labor in Brazil. 
In 1820, when the Liberal Revolution of Porto tried its project of recolonization, the Kingdom of Brazil continued to be the most enduringly slave region in the Americas. Brazil had imported the largest number of enslaved laborers and produced with enslaved labor of the most varied types. All its regions were sustained by slavery, in a more or less intensive way. For the ruling classes of all these regions, the problem arose of how to achieve independence without threatening the slave order.
The independence of the main provinces would lead to a strong war for boundaries. The Republic of Rio Grande do Sul would strive to extend the borders to São Paulo, which also intended to swallow Paraná and Santa Catarina. And so on. Captive people would be mobilized to fight in the armies of the new republics. The war was for the interest of the exploiters; death was of the exploited. The enslaved people would take advantage of the war to flee and rebel, as they had done in Haiti in 1804, and when the Dutch invaded the Northeast, in 1630, which had led to the confederation of the quilombos of Palmares. Separated, some small nations would be reconquered by Portugal. Others would bow to the British abolitionism of trafficking. Those that abolished slavery would receive the escaped captives, as the neighboring republics already did.
The unitary, monarchic, authoritarian and centralizing independence took place under the conservative baton of the great planters and slave traders. The republican, separatist and federalist provincial ideologies were repressed. The great slaveholders broke with the crown and Portuguese absolutism and enthroned the authoritarian heir of the Portuguese kingdom, assuring the interests of the house of Bragança and the Portuguese merchants rooted in Brazil. They remained united to guarantee the plentiful supply and harsh exploitation of the enslaved. 
Damn, after independence, our life has improved a lot!
Unfulfilled promise
The liberal and regional federalist forces received the promise that provincial autonomy would be discussed at the time of the Constituent Assembly, convoked even before Independence. However, in November 1823, Dom Pedro, through the military coup d’état in Brazil, put an end to the constitutional regime and to federalist and liberal hopes. The provinces experienced the heel of Rio de Janeiro. In 1824, the Emperor drowned in blood the Pernambuco liberal and separatist revolt, executing its leadership without a trial. The leaders of the Confederation of the Equator never proposed the abolition of slavery.
The authoritarian and centralist constitution imposed by Pedro I represented the wishes of the great slaveholders of all the provinces, who did not want liberalism or democracy, even if it was restricted to the rich. They accepted the emperor’s heel, as long as they could keep their power of life and death over their workers. On September 7, 1822, a nation was born where slavery would continue until 1888. Brazil was the last nation in the world to abolish colonial slavery. In 1822, it was the independence of the slavers against the enslaved that was proclaimed. Brazil still awaits an emancipation promoted by workers, wage earners and good people, in which finally the nation is not the dreadful stepmother of its children.