Freedom is land
Several abolitionist projects invaded Brazilian political scene in the last quarter of the 19th century. André Rebouças’ was one of the most radical ones. Maybe that is why it ended up being defeated.
A mulatto from Bahia, son of a prominent member of the Empire’s political elite, Rebouças very soon became accustomed to life in the court. He graduated as a military engineer at the age of 22, and dedicated himself to the modernization of ports and the construction of roads, in order to provide Brazil with the infrastructure compatible with the so-called Second Industrial Revolution, which mobilized the technical imagination of two young emerging nations: the United States and Germany. However, he was frustrated on successive initiatives towards the material modernization of the country.
His life was reanimated by abolitionism. It was the first movement of opinion making in Brazil, and to it the engineer and businessman employed his whole energy. Dedicated to understand the mechanisms that propelled the country’s development, he came to the conclusion that we were living a structural blockage in the emergence of free individuals. And that freeing slaves alone would not be enough. He understood abolition as a first step, to be followed by a necessary elimination of land monopoly, once individual autonomy could only be possible through the transformation of the former slave into an independent little producer. This was, for Rebouças, the only path for freeing poor countryside men, whether black or white, former slaves or immigrants.
His convictions resulted in several proposals, like the progressive territorial tax. However, just like other Brazilian liberals of his time, he feared a popular agrarian revolution would initiate a civil war. And so he saw his project of national re-foundation canceled. From the mid 1880’s, he began to consider that only the Emperor would be able to conduct the process of freeing slaves and making an eventual agrarian reform. Therefore, when D. Pedro II is banned, Rebouças concludes that there is nothing left for him in Brazil and chooses to go into exile on Madeira Island.
He commits suicide in 1898, convinced that Brazilian civilization, like ancient Greece’s, would be extinguished. With the difference that, around here, it had not even yet flourished.
MARIA ALICE REZENDE DE CARVALHO IS A PROFESSOR IN THE SOCIOLOGY AND POLITICS DEPARTMENT AT PONTIFÍCIA UNIVERSIDADE CATÓLICA (Pontific Catholic University) IN RIO DE JANEIRO AND AUTHOR OF THE BOOK O QUINTO SÉCULO. ANDRÉ REBOUÇAS E A CONSTRUÇÃO DO BRASIL. (RIO DE JANEIRO: REVAN, 1998)
(RHBN. No. 32. May 2008. P. 19)