Maria da Conceicao Tavares



When Conceição Tavares spoke, she shone brightly and left unforgettable marks

The commotion caused by the death of Maria da Conceição Tavares is yet another demonstration of the incontrovertible strength of her volcanic personality. She impressed not only with her knowledge and intelligence, but also – and in this she was unsurpassed – with her verve and eloquence.

Brazil has had two great speakers in recent decades – she and Leonel Brizola. When Conceição Tavares spoke – and especially when she managed to contain her outbursts a little – she shone brightly and left unforgettable marks. I still remember her at an event in Buenos Aires, in the 1980s, irritated by the radicalism of Argentines, exclaiming: “You are German romantics!” and then develop a whole argument in favor of moderation and balance. A sharply insightful observation of hers. Anyone who knows Argentina and German romanticism will agree that there is, indeed, a kinship that helps to understand the attraction to the abyss of our beloved neighbors.

On another occasion, I witnessed her debate with students from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Pressured by hyper-leftist interventions from the audience, she exploded: “Ideology is a precarious platform!” Fundamental warning. Conceição was still an ideologue herself, as she naturally is, but she taught us that without study, knowledge and science you won't even get to the corner.

These two episodes reveal a trait of his character. Conceição Tavares was a walking paradox – he defended caution with the utmost exaltation, preached moderation loudly. Only those who knew her a little more closely knew that her rhetorical fury hid an essentially moderate personality.

I tell you another revealing episode. In 1987, I was part of a small team of advisors to the Minister of Finance, Dilson Funaro – another giant, by the way – that prepared the moratorium on foreign debt in the greatest secrecy. Despite our care, as the date set for the suspension of payments approached, some leaks began to occur.

The rumors reached her ears, who at the time was advising the Minister of Planning, João Sayad, leaving her worried, not to say alarmed. Conceição Tavares went in search of information. Arriving at the Ministry of Finance, she bumps into me in the corridor that led to Minister Dilson Funaro's office. She grabs my arm tightly, almost knocking me down, and says: “Paulinho, you don’t think you’re going to make a moratorium, do you?” And she looked at me fixedly, staring into mine. I didn't want to lie, I looked the other way and ignored the conversation, saying something like: “Don't worry, the debt issue is being handled with great care”. She snorted and continued forward, walking steadily, perhaps on her way to question Dilson Funaro himself.

Conceição Tavares was like that: she thundered and flashed, she seemed crazy at times, but she was careful and considered in critical moments. That's why I always say: beware of the meek, the discreet, those who rarely raise their voices. These are the ones who take the Bastilles by storm.

I would like to highlight another notable aspect of her career. Remember, reader, that two circumstances greatly limited its public impact. First: she never held important positions in the federal government. At a certain point, in the 1990s, I believe that Conceição Tavares intended to become president of the Central Bank. “We have to take the Central Bank out of the hands of criminals”, she shouted. She didn't make it. Since then, this position has almost always been occupied by big names in the financial market. Conceição Tavares was left out and never had the projection automatically conferred by prominent roles in the government's economic area.

Another adverse circumstance: she was sent to Siberia by the traditional media. It's forever. She suffered a kind of internal exile. She never returned from the icy steppes. She was rarely interviewed, her articles almost never reached the newspaper pages, her voice did not reach the radio, much less television.

Despite this, despite the systematic censorship, despite not rising to positions in the government, Conceição Tavares' voice echoed loudly throughout the country. She was admired, respected and feared. Woe to anyone who was careless in her presence! Any slip or inconsistency provoked fulminant reactions. I myself, when I met her, took great care not to say anything remotely controversial and trigger an explosion.

With the emergence of social networks, its projection has expanded. Conventional media lost its monopoly and people like Conceição Tavares were able to participate more in the public debate. Many who did not yet know her were dazzled by her brilliance, controversial capacity and vast knowledge – not only of economics, but of politics, history and culture. They saw his unwavering commitment to Brazil. And, at the same time, his indignation at social injustices and the extreme inequality in the distribution of income and wealth in our country. Recordings of his classes and lectures went viral.

She has been intensely and deservedly honored in recent days. However, many of those who speak glowingly about Conceição Tavares, post photos with her and mourn her death have little or nothing to do with her thinking and her preaching. Crocodile tears. She would have received these tributes with kicks.

Machado de Assis said of a recently deceased person, through the mouth of one of his characters: “He is dead, we can honor him at will”. I only regret that Maria da Conceição Tavares was not even more recognized and honored during her lifetime.

*Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. is an economist. He was vice-president of the New Development Bank, established by the BRICS. Author, among other books, of Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard (LeYa)[]

Extended version of article published in the journal Capital letter, on June 14, 2024.

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