About heroes and betrayal

Image: Frame (TVE-RS Reproduction)
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By GIOVANNI MESQUITA*

The still open story about the Black Lancers in the Farroupilha Revolution

1.

“The existence of a letter was revealed, between Sergio Moro and Ibaneis Rocha, which can definitively clarify the participation of the Lula government in the attacks on the headquarters of the three powers that took place on January 08, 2023. According to the document, Moro would have made an agreement with Lula to provoke, in exchange for a vacancy on the STF, riots with the aim of putting an end to the inconvenient camps in front of the barracks and criminalizing Bolsonaro. The text describes in detail how the DF PM troops should act and what the infiltrators would do. Everything happened exactly as scripted in the letter. The document, due to the details it presents, unequivocally proves Lula's machination against the patriots and against Jair Bolsonaro. The letter is dated January 2, 2023.”

On January 8, 2023, the Black Lancers were included in the Book of Heroes and Heroines of the Fatherland by the Lula Government. You have to ask yourself why? Since the text that justifies the act does not make the reason clear. Were they included because they fought in a republican revolution against a monarchist, slave-owning government or were they cast as heroes because they were betrayed?

The choice had a lot of repercussion, especially in Rio Grande do Sul, below I analyze what was said.

2.

Na Brazil agency, from Brasília, came the following article written by Fabiola Sinimbú with the title “Black Lancers enter the Book of Heroes and Heroines of the Fatherland”. The article was published on 08/01/2024.

Fabiola Sinimbú spoke with Sionei Ricardo Leão, author of the book Kamba'race: Afro-descendants in the Brazilian army, about the war in Paraguay. The journalist and researcher made some statements that exposed his limited knowledge on the issue. According to him, around “100 unarmed spearmen were betrayed by the revolutionaries and shot…” the black spearmen were not unarmed, there is no proof that there was betrayal and they were not shot, they died fighting. The term shooting, used by someone who works on the subject of war, ends up indicating the killing of an enemy who is immobilized, unarmed and has no chance of defending himself.

Despite all the unfavorable conditions for the spearmen, that was not what happened. He also states that some of them were taken enslaved to Rio de Janeiro and remained there in these conditions until the Lei Aurea. It would be good if the researcher cited which source he found this information from. The long time established in the statement draws attention, between the end of the war, 1845, and the Lei Aurea, 1888, 43 years passed. This suggests that the statement was more of a guess than information…

And he continues, “[…] but it wasn’t just them who didn’t receive recognition, other groups also didn’t receive what was promised.” In this excerpt, Sionei Ricardo Leão, unintentionally, raises an important question, “[…] but, it wasn’t just them who didn’t receive recognition…” in fact. In the lancer corps there were, for example, indigenous people and they were not included in the honor. The black infantrymen, who were there and went through all the journeys of the Revolution that the spearmen went through, did not enter either. Furthermore, it is important to remember that the Farroupilhas were defeated and were not in a position to fulfill promises made by a republic that ceased to exist.

Sionei Ricardo Leão joins the group of researchers and historians who have been treating the issue of the Black Lancers in an increasingly careless and incongruous manner. Let's see what was written in the G1 RS by Gustavo Foster on 09/01/2024. The Lancers formed a “Group of enslaved black people (who) were incorporated into the Farroupilha army during the Farrapos War with the promise of freedom, but ended up betrayed. About 100 were killed, and another 300 were re-enslaved.”

Already in this small paragraph you can see the extent of the confusion. If “enslaved blacks” were recruited “with the promise of freedom” how were they “re-enslaved”? The phrase hides, or suppresses, that in some period, between one thing and another, there was manumission. If there was manumission, the “promise” was long. But who re-enslaved black people? As far as we know, it was the Empire and not the Farroupilhas. But, from what we can understand, the Farroupilhas betrayed and this caused re-enslavement. Ok. But, what remains to be asked is what is the proof that there was betrayal?

The title chosen by Gustavo Foster for his article was: Who are the black lancers, included by Lula among the heroes of the country?

The article explains, according to its understanding, what were the reasons that led the proponents to place the Lancers in the books of heroes. “The black lancers, enslaved black men who fought alongside the Gaucho troops during the Farroupilha Revolution and ended up betrayed in the Porongos Massacre”. A basic study of the period demonstrates that the use of the term gaucho to identify the entire population of the time is extremely misleading. The free white population called themselves Rio Grande do Sul or Continental. Other social sectors were named in the following ways: blacks (free or enslaved), Indians and gauchos.

This last group was marginal, at the time they were wandering knights who eventually sold their labor or lived by hunting raised cattle. One cannot think of society at the time as having the same formation as today. Even with this caveat, the statement “they fought alongside the Gaucho troops” makes no sense, as the state's population fought on both sides of the dispute, as imperials or farroupilhas. This mistake is reinforced in the phrase “war of Rio Grande do Sul against the Empire” and the statement “they ended up betrayed” appears once again. By whom? By the “Gaúcho troops”? At another point he uses the now traditional “according to historians” to say that “Enslaved blacks were incorporated into the farroupilhas in the last years of the war.”

It would be good to know who these historians are, since the troops of black lancers and infantrymen were decisive in the battle of Seival, won by the Farroupilhas, which led to the proclamation of the Republic. And this occurred in September 1836, in the second year of the war that lasted almost ten years, a battle in which black troops (lancers and infantrymen) stood out.

To “better understand this story” he uses historian Adriano Viaro. Viaro explains that “Rio Grande do Sul needs to exorcise its ghosts, without fighting or denying its history. There’s no problem saying that black people were betrayed by Davi Canabarro’s troops.” Considering that, in times of war, treason is the most heinous crime possible, it seems that: yes, treason is a problem? And, once again, it is not clear who cheated. Was it Canabarro? Was it Canabarro's troops? Or both? Is it credible that six or seven hundred soldiers were aware of the alleged plot against their brothers in arms?

Later on, the version undergoes a significant change “the episode was marked by the betrayal suffered by black fighters by the commanders of the Farroupilha army”, which commanders? All of them? The statement demonstrates the careless way that common sense has lent the stance of some professionals who have been dealing with this issue. Further on, to better wrap up his thesis, the journalist adds “Furthermore, documents prove that farroupilha leaders went to Rio de Janeiro to discuss peace and the handover of black people to the Empire” what documents are these? Where can you find them? And it says, once again without providing a source, that 300 spearmen were re-enslaved.

It is quite difficult for anyone who studies the subject to know exactly what happened to the spearmen. It is known that some of them went to Uruguay with Neto, some of them were recruited by Caxias for the Imperial army and an unidentified number were sent to Rio de Janeiro, where they were the subject of a legal dispute between their former owners who they wanted back. However, the petition was not accepted by the Court authorities. It is worth saying that for the Empire it was worth much more to have elite soldiers in its army than a handful more slaves without jobs.

Lancers were professional soldiers of the highest order and returning them to “forced service” would be a waste of resources. Soon after, Farroupilha, black soldiers fought in Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay. At the time, in the midst of a period of expansion and border fixing, the demand for experienced troops was great.

In all cases above, when there is a reference to Lancers, it is emphasized that they were enslaved black men. This does not match reality. There were no slaves in the Rio Grande do Sul republican army! The moment the enslaved person accepted to be part of the army he was, by law of the Republic, freed. In other words, he was a free soldier, as obviously free as any soldier can be in time of war. The condition of the black Farroupilha soldier becomes crystal clear when the Imperial government threatens to flog black soldiers who fall into their hands as prisoners.

In response, the Empire is informed by the Farroupilha minister, Domingos José de Almeida, that “from the moment there is certain news that a free man of color in the pay of the Republic has been flogged by the Government of Brazil, the General Commander of the Army or the commander of any Division, will draw lots among the imperial officers, of any rank, our prisoners and will cause the officer whom the lot designates to be put into arms.” Note the apparent disproportionality between the penalties. It turns out that the penalty threatened by the Empire was in reality not a flogging but rather humiliation for the imprisoned soldiers. It seems that the excerpt makes the status of the black soldier in the republican army and its government very clear.

But, “There is no problem saying that black people were betrayed by Davi Canabarro’s troops.” according to historian Adriano Viaro. Is there no problem accusing someone of cheating without proof? Canabarro's troop? Does this mean that everyone knew about the supposed betrayal? As we have already seen, the “farroupilha commanders” are also accused. The fingers that point to treason run across the entire republican spectrum: Canabarro, troops, commanders… after all: who is the defendant?

Another statement, without sources, that causes a species is: “in November 1844, the black lancers were disarmed and attacked by the imperial army”. The spearmen were not disarmed. On the contrary, they provided cover for the escape of other companions, notably the infantry, who were without cartridges. This coverage was possibly due to the large mortality in this detachment. It was the moment in which they demonstrated all their heroism, which, together with their many other performances on the battlefields during the longest republican Revolution of the country's century, makes it only fair that they be recognized as heroes of the country. Lancers should not enter the pantheon of the country's heroes as victims, but rather as fighters who fought for the republic and abolition. Betrayal in itself does not generate heroes, it generally generates martyrs.

But later he adds the slogan that has become a common introductory piece for those who speak on the topic “The Porongos Massacre, for many years, was hidden from official history”. Is not true! Porongos is one of the most discussed topics in the history of Rio Grande do Sul. The controversy has spanned three centuries. Right at the end of the conflict, when rumors arose that there might have been betrayal of Porongos' troops, which generated a tremendous crisis among the Farroupilhas, the emperor decreed silence on all matters related to the war.

Determination served both losers and winners. Around 1860, issues related to the Revolution were resumed and what happened in Porongos was one of the centers of discussion. The person who started the debate was the republican Alfredo Varela, a great enthusiast of the Farroupilha Revolution. The debate lasted more than half a century, until defenders of the treason thesis were convinced that it was a fraud. In the 80s, this discussion was exhumed by Moacyr Flores, who presented it in a partial way, as if it were something new.

The article finally gets to the crucial question of the artifact that is presented as the evidence. And it comes with the enigmatic title of “Document”. “The document that reveals the betrayal is preserved in the RS Historical Archive.” What document? Who wrote? Who was it sent to? In what period? Apparently the journalist, like many historians, thought this information was irrelevant.

This is the letter that was supposedly written by the then Baron of Caxias to Francisco Pedro Buarque de Abreu, aka Muringue, before the attack. Muringue was the most lethal, efficient and cunning of the imperial officers. He was the commander of the royalist troops that attacked the republicans in Porongos. The article reproduces part of the text “Regulate your marches so that, on the 14th at 2 am, you can attack the command at the command of Canabarro, who will be on Porongos hill that day. (…) In the conflict, spare Brazilian blood as much as you can, particularly from the white people of the province or Indians”, says the “letter”.

3.

At the beginning of this text I wrote a possible update of this complete “proof” of Canabarro’s betrayal. Since, even in the progressive camp, there are a fantastic number of people who believe in this type of “evidence”, I think that Jair Bolsonaro has a great chance of escaping the accusations of a coup d'état that are now emerging against him. And on top of that, he also compromises his main opponent. In the case of Canabarro and the minority faction of the Farroupilha Party who, in my opinion, could be responsible for some act of treason, there is no evidence to indicate the crime.

What there is is evidence that puts us in the realm of “don’t ask me for proof, I only have convictions”. But, unlike the famous “Letter”, a source created between enemies, there are testimonies from Muringue officers, who were there on the day of the massacre, who say the opposite. Manoel Patricio de Azambuja wrote to Alfredo Rodrigues, who was fighting the treason thesis, stating that he heard Muringue say “the bomb I threw among the rags had a good effect”. Hearing this, Manoel reports “I reunited with my body precisely at Bibiano's farm to which my brother-in-law's (Felix Rangel de Azambuja) notes refer. But then I didn't know about the plot hatched by Chico Pedro of the false officio and imitation of the Caxias firm by Capt. João Machado…”. They were on the march to Jaguarão and Manoel questioned Felix Azambuja Rangel about the matter and received from him a report on the plan to falsify the letter. But later, according to the same Manoel, “Barão do Jacuy (Moringue) himself” confirmed to him that he had set up this ruse.

I am preparing a small edition on the issue of Black Republicans, unfortunately there is not space here for everything that should be said about it. But, I am open to debate, especially because until now the debate does not exist, what exists is a unified voice that calls for revenge and destruction of the memory not only of Canabarro but of all the rags and of the Revolution itself.

* Giovanni Mesquita He is a historian and museologist. Book author Bento Gonçalves: from birth to revolution (Suzano).


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