LXXXIII - (Re)leituras: Cláudio Manuel da Costa by Laura de Mello e Souza - Comments by André Bandeira

Some are aware that there was an attempt, once upon the final years of the
XVIII century, in Brazil, of declaring the independence of the Province of Minas Gerais from the Portuguese Crown. The regime which held that time, in Lisbon, was a kind of illuminist despotism of which foundations were the ones set by the autocratic Marquis of Pombal,a mercantilist, busy in keeping all the gold he could gather from distant regions such as Minas Gerais, in Brazil. In the rush for gold, there was an accumulation of immigrants, slaves, culture and power in that region, not very faraway from Rio de Janeiro, but still protected by a double mountain range. At a certain point in time, a group of the local ruling class decide to forge a conspiracy which was delated by some of the conspirators, who had to gain both from the conspiracy's success and from its timely delation, since they were crushed under debts to the Crown. In 1789 the conspiracy was uncovered, most of its members were sentenced to death and automatically sent to exile in Africa, all except one, a lieutenant, Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, named the «Tiradentes» (dentist), who became not the first, but the most coherent martyr of Brazil's cause for independence. But, among the conspirators, there was an old and respected magistrate who didn't get to be interrogated by the Viceroy in Rio. He was Cláudio Costa, who got arrested in Vila Rica de Ouro Preto, by the local Governor, and who was found hanged in his cell before the Viceroy's envoyees could reach him. People say that his obscure suicide made brazilian politics, thereafter, forever secretive and mistrustful. As a matter of fact, Cláudio Costa was the only one to disclose during his first interrogation that there was a plan for the local Governor, the Viscount of Barbacena, an illuminist portuguese aristocrat who was sent to Brazil because of his far-reaching ideas, to become a kind of Emperor in an independent Minas Gerais. Kenneth Mawxell, author of «Conflicts and Conspiracies: Brazil & Portugal 1750-1808» thinks Cláudio has been assassinated, as a good half of brazilian historians does. In this book, Laura de Mello e Souza explores the divided soul of an old magistrate and respected poet, the only one who genuinely hesitated between Monarchy and Republic, and concludes with his suicide. The «Inconfidência mineira» (the name of the crime the conspirators have been accused of, that meaning the treason to the Crown) will go on having a corpse which cannot be fully explained.

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