Bruzundangas: the Republic that persists

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By Maria Salete Magnoni*

Posthumously published The Bruzundangas is often evoked by intellectuals, politicians and journalists when they wish to refer to our eternal ills in an ironic and even mocking way

On May 13, the date that marks (legally) the end of African slavery in Brazil, the writer Lima Barreto, grandson of enslaved people, would have turned 139 years old. On his 7th birthday, he attended, with his father, the celebrations alluding to the signing of the Golden Law, of which he kept memories expressed in a chronicle of 1911 entitled May. In it, she narrates that “with that mental nature of a child”, only one thing remained, the idea that she was free! However, time and maturity taught him that that freedom was a chimera, “how far we are from being free! How we get entangled in the webs of precepts, rules, and laws”[I], he wrote by way of conclusion.

Freedom, a value dear to the writer, which consists of the “greatest, if not the only happiness”[ii] it was never fully exercised by the Brazilian people, mainly by the suburban and peripheral people, who, through their writings, entered Brazilian Literature. Throughout our republican history, freedom has always been and continues to be limited, diminished, dwarfed, and granted to the taste of economic and political elites. Is a people free, who, in the midst of a pandemic, do not even have the right to life respected and guaranteed by the President of the Republic and his ministry?

Lima Barreto is the author of novels, chronicles, articles and short stories, among which stand out the novels Sad end of Policarpo Quaresma, Memories of clerk Isaías Caminha, the tale The Man Who Knew Javanese, and the satirical work The bruzundangas, in which the writer drew caricatures about a country that does not exist on the World Map, but is very similar to Brazil, being merciless in the caricatural description of men and customs of our Old Republic, quite present in Brazil in 2020, or as the writer and journalist also wrote João Antonio, “everything is there for Afonso Henriques de Lima Barreto, alive, jumping in the streets, moving, incredibly unresolved. ”[iii]

Posthumously published The Bruzundangas is often evoked by intellectuals, politicians and journalists when they wish to refer to our eternal ills in an ironic and even mocking way. In the Republic of Bruzundangas, its president, who stands out for the most complete mediocrity is called Mandachuva, in Brazil the hero of that land has always had strong competitors, among them the current president, called Mito by his co-religionists. The politicians of the Republic of the United States of Bruzundanga, especially those who occupy high positions, believe themselves to be different from the majority of the people, suppose they are of “different flesh and blood”[iv], and in power they try “not to meet the needs of the population, not to solve their vital problems, but to enrich and strengthen the situation of their descendants and collateral”. It is not by chance that yesterday, May 12, we learned that the President of Brazil linked the change in command of the Federal Police to the persecution (sic) of his relatives in the city of Rio de Janeiro. In that country, imagined by Lima Barreto, politicians and their allies also have the habit of employing relatives in public bodies, “there is no influential man there who does not have at least thirty relatives occupying State positions”. Last year we learned through the media that the current Brazilian president and 3 of his sons, who are also politicians, appointed 28 people to their offices over the course of 286 years, who received an amount of R$105 million in salaries, and that 1% of that amount went into the hands of people from 62 families linked to Bolsonaro and his children.

The curious country of Bruzundangas does not have an Armed Forces, however it has “one hundred and seventy-five generals and 87 admirals. In addition, there are four or five thousand officers, both on land and at sea, who occupy themselves with carrying out offices in the departments.” Upon assuming the presidency of Brazil, the retired captain Jair Bolsonaro, whose running mate is a reserve general, took a mob of military men to the government, who control 9 of the 22 ministries, including occupying the Civil House, a fact that had not happened since the last of the military governments, that of General João Baptista Figueiredo. And they spread across the second and third echelons of government, and many more who take care of writing official letters, try to ensure the permanence in power of the indomitable captain, to defend his corporate interests and to prevent the construction and implementation of public policies demanded by the social movements that would serve popular interests. And what about the ministers of that Republic with such a peculiar name, the one from Bruzundanga? Chico Caiana, from agriculture, had been made minister by Mandachuva to honor the word pledged with Tupinambá, governor of the “province of sugarcane”, where he had been elected senator. That guy, who owned sugar mills, didn't understand anything about them, someone else ran them. Upon taking office in the ministry, he was amazed at the paperwork and asked: “Where is agriculture here? …These papers… This is not practical! …. I want practical things! … Cane fields … Engenhos…What! This is not practical! I'm going to do a makeover!"

In its counterpart, Brazil 2020, we saw a doctor, who seems to have emerged from a tomb, being appointed minister of health, who is completely unaware of the Unified Health System (SUS) that serves the majority of the Brazilian population, and is responsible for the line at the forefront of care for those infected with the coronavirus. It must be due to their lack of knowledge of the needs of the public health system, that more than R$ 2 billion from parliamentary amendments from state benches, intended for states and municipalities to exclusively face the pandemic, have been stopped at the Ministry of Health for more than a month . What to say about the minister of education who insists on maintaining the schedule for carrying out the National Secondary Education Examination (ENEM) in the midst of the pandemic, with thousands of poor young people and students from public schools, who, even under normal classroom conditions, are already at a disadvantage compared to their peers from the middle and upper classes who study in the best private schools, now having distance classes, without quality internet access and decent housing and food conditions? And that lady minister who solemnly proclaimed, almost like a scientific truth that “boys wear blue and girls wear pink”, what planet did she fall from? Or did it come from the country of Bruzundangas? And we cannot forget the minister of foreign affairs who, among the pearls uttered, compared the need for social isolation, one of the ways used around the world to combat the coronavirus pandemic, to the Nazi concentration camps, and which has been systematically destroying all tradition of Brazilian foreign policy, and fully submitting to US interests. But the ministerial team would not be so brilliant if we did not have the “super” minister of the economy, Jair Bolsonaro’s “Posto Ipiranga”, who together with his boss wanted to pay R$200,00 in emergency aid, instead of R$600,00, 1, to informal workers and people who do not have an income, so that they can minimally feed and take care of themselves and thus run less risk of contamination by the coronavirus; but who did not hesitate to release BRL 2 trillion to banks to maintain market liquidity during the pandemic. And finally, we had that recently resigned minister of justice, who rose to the post for having arrested, without concrete evidence, Bolsonaro's main competitor in the 2018 elections. Just like Chico Caiana won the position for the service rendered. As we can see there are many similarities between the modus operandi of Brazilian politics and that of the Republic of Bruzundangas, among us he has a popular nickname, the well-known “take there, give it”.

Lima Barreto, quoting Jacques Bossuet, stated that “the real purpose of politics was to make people happy; the true aim of the politics of the Bruzundanga politicians is to make the people unhappy”. But it is not just in its imaginary Republic that things like this happen, despite all the economic, social, educational, technological, and institutional progress experienced by Brazil throughout the XNUMXth century, at the end of the second decade of the XNUMXst century in the we face recurrent social problems and the same political practices that exist in that distant Brazil where Lima Barreto lived and produced his literary work. And at this burning moment in our history, such permanence responds to the name of the Bolsonaro Government, whose policy of dealing with the pandemic caused by the coronavirus, goes far beyond causing unhappiness to the people, it is genocidal!

*Maria Salete Magnoni, PhD in Brazilian Literature from USP, is a professor of History at the São Paulo State Network

Notes:

[I] BARRETO, Lima. Fairs and Mafuás. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1961. p.257.

[ii] BARBOSA, Francisco de Assis. The Life of Lima Barreto. Belo Horizonte: Itatiaia; São Paulo: EDUSP, 1988.p. 241.

[iii] ANTHONY, John. Ordeals and drunkenness of the Afonso Henriques de Lima Barreto pendant. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1.977.

[iv]  From here all quotations in quotation marks are from BARRETO, Lima. The Bruzundangas. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1961.

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