The old people of Restelo

Image: Eleanore Stohner
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By PEDRO BENEDITO MACIEL NETO*

Velho do Restelo was wrong in his criticisms, as everyone who asks for less State is wrong, the great navigations turned Portugal, a small country, into a rich country

The days following Christmas are long and lazy, at least that's my perception, that's why I occupy them by reading, writing, watching some series on online services. streaming and, eventually, visiting the sun that offers itself generously in this summer of unprecedented heat.

I write to chase away loneliness
Letters patiently build words.
These draw the contour of the soul
Now revealed to all
And to no one…

I have the habit of stacking the books in the small library that I keep at home, I do it with the honest intention of reading or re-reading each one of them, I always fail (thankfully Rosana, a librarian who serves us with Tibetan patience, puts everything back in its place, etiquette and tries to educate me, in vain, to keep everything “tidy”).

Among the books I removed from the shelves is The Lusiads, a work by Luís de Camões that everyone knows, but few have read, which leads us to Hildebrando Siqueira: “There are erudite men who resemble waiters. The waiters know everyone… By sight.”

Luís de Camões's poem, his life's work, aims to celebrate Portuguese national identity.

From a structural point of view, it is divided into ten corners, structures that are equivalent to the chapters of a prose narrative; the name “song” comes from classical epics, it has its origins in ancient Greece and Rome, they were originally sung, The Lusiads They are to be declaimed and not sung, but the name song is used as a necessary tradition.

I learned from D. Maura, my mother's mother, that, to understand Luís de Camões' poem we have to keep in mind the logical parts, or stages of reasoning, which are: proposition, invocation, dedication, narration and epilogue (in addition to of overcoming the difficulty related to some words and expressions, such as, for example, “It is in all this land a certain scale”; “Possessed by Malina; “[Venus] summons the white daughters of Nereus / With all the most cerulean company…” ; “Where I hope it would always end”).

One of the parts that I reread is in Canto IV and is called “The Farewells and the Old Man of Restelo”.

Imagine the party. An equipped fleet with Vasco da Gama as captain would leave Belém, on the banks of the Tagus, in search of riches, honor and adventures. At the time “Praia de Restelo”, where the Torre de Belém is today, but, at the moment of departure, when people were coming from everywhere to say goodbye, an old man appeared: the “Velho do Restelo”, a venerable figure who among the crowd he stands up and gives a speech condemning the adventure the Portuguese were in, pointing out the harmful effects of State spending, he also says that such an investment would put an end to the Portuguese family, all that was left to say was that Portugal would become a Venezuela in six months.

The Old Man of Restelo says:

Known sagacious consumer
Of farms, kingdoms and empires
They call you Illustrious, they call you sudden
Being a source of infamous vituperation
They call you fame and sovereign glory!
Names that fool people with!

From what we can see, the criticism of State investments and its protagonism is old, poetic and, in many cases, simply prejudiced, as it was the State throughout History that, in the role of normative agent and regulator of economic activity, financed and carried out the great transformations; in Brazil in the first half of the 20th century, it was up to the State to create Petrobrás, Vale do Rio Doce, Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional, pillars of the country's industrial development; The creation of Petrobrás, and its maintenance as a state-controlled company, cost the life of a president and, six decades later, the privatization rage led another president to prison, despite the lack of evidence.

The Old Man of Restelo was wrong in his criticism, as is the mistake of everyone who asks for less State, the great navigations turned Portugal, a small country, into a rich country.

At the time, Portugal met political, economic, commercial and geographical conditions that made its pioneering role possible; The result of this investment was the “discovery” of several places unknown to Europeans, in addition to the opening of new routes and the emergence of new trade possibilities. For the Portuguese, this entire process culminated in the arrival of Pedro Álvares Cabral's expedition to Brazil, in 1500.

Perhaps the Elder of Restelo did not take into account that in the 15th century, Portugal was a politically stable nation. This stability was guaranteed by the Avis Revolution in the 12th century. As a result, Portugal had better conditions to invest in the development of commerce and nautical technology. In comparison, neighboring nations (Spain, France and England) that were still seeking political stability in the same period, without institutional peace there is no progress.

Another factor was the territorial issue, since Portuguese territory had already been consolidated since the 13th century, when the Algarve region was reconquered from the Moors (Muslims who invaded the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century). The Spanish neighbors, for example, only guaranteed a certain territorial unification at the end of the 15th century.

Without investment from the Portuguese State there would not be the Sagres School and all the technology and nautical knowledge developed there would not exist; There, research was carried out to develop better navigation techniques, that is, despite what the “old people of Restelo” think, State investment in technology is fundamental, without any prejudice in relation to private investment, as it is worth highlighting that Lisbon received large investments from Genoese merchants, who were interested in transforming the city into a large commercial center.

The sum of all these factors meant that Portugal had the necessary conditions to be the pioneer nation of the Great Navigations, a process that resulted in great “discoveries” since 1415; Portugal's pioneering spirit catalyzed a series of changes, already underway in Europe since the XNUMXth century; Europe began its transition to the Modern Age and continued to strengthen trade and currency, thus guaranteeing the mercantilism, economic practices that made the transition from feudalism to capitalism, that is, without the State nothing would have happened, without investment and state regulation nothing would have happened.

The Old Man of Restelo is a symbol of the pessimists of yesterday and today; represents those who in the past did not believe in the success of the epic of navigation and, in the present, those liberals who, despite knowing everything, have never read either Adam Smith or Luís de Camões.

*Pedro Benedito Maciel Neto He is a lawyer and holds a master's degree in civil procedure from PUC SP. author of Reflections on the study of law (Comedy).


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