Alexander, good for the country

In History, Alexandre is a name of great weight. We are led to think of Alexander the Great, who crossed Asia to reach India, giving rise to a great cultural exchange in the West. This type of feat would only be surpassed by the Great Navigations, millennia later.

And the Great Navigations have the finger of Portugal, the homeland that gave rise to Brazil, from which we inherited the languages ​​and, until the end of the 19th century, political institutions. In our history there is also a great Alexandre, Gusmão. He is from the village of Santos, São Paulo, and is the brother of the notorious flying priest, Bartolomeu de Gusmão.

The third edition of “Alexandre de Gusmão (

-1753): the statesman who drew the map of Brazil”, by ambassador and retired professor Synesio Sampaio Goes Filho. It is a short, informative and pleasant book, which is worth reading by anyone who wants to learn about the History of Brazil.

What we learned at school is that the Treaty of Tordesilhas (1494), which divided the world in half and left Portugal with just a hint of South America, was the most important treaty for the Brazilian map. After that, all the interiorization of the territory would be attributed to the pioneers and map fraud. This is not true: following the author’s well-founded arguments, the most important treaty is the Treaty of Madrid (1750); the Treaty of Tordesillas did not divide the world in half, but only the “Ocean Sea”, later called the Atlantic Ocean; the action of the bandeirantes and gauchos was important, but it only gained support thanks to the new principle introduced by Madrid, the uti possidetis.

The negotiations

Alexandre de Gusmão was reputed to be a great connoisseur of Brazil. Thus, he was the best man to represent the interests of the Portuguese Crown in its negotiations with the Spanish.

At the time, the state of Brazil exported tons of gold to Portugal and had no defined borders. Furthermore, there was not a single Portuguese state in America; there was also, apart and without communications, the state of Maranhão and Pará. The goals of the Portuguese Crown were to have control of the mouths of the Amazon rivers, to the north, and Prata, to the south. Therefore, he wanted to keep the Colonia del Sacramento at the mouth of the River Plate, a place that today belongs to Uruguayan territory.

The scope of the Treaty of Tordesillas did not cover the newly discovered Pacific Ocean. There were the Moluccan Islands, rich in spices, which attracted the attention of Spain. Alexandre de Gusmão knew that the Colonia del Sacramento was under constant siege by the Spaniards and that it had not integrated itself with the cities on the coast of Rio Grande do Sul. At the same time, he knew that the Jesuit lands of the Seven Peoples of the Missions were good and fertile. Thus, he proposed exchanging the Colonia del Sacramento for the Seven Peoples of the Missions and relinquishing sovereignty over the Moluccas Islands, current Philippines.

In addition, Alexandre de Gusmão introduced two principles: the uti possidetis and that of natural boundaries. One is linked to the other. At the time, cartography was, in itself, a very difficult job. If making a map was difficult enough, imagine the work of demarcating a long border in virgin forest using the abstract line of some meridian or parallel. Impractical. Thus, borders should use things that are easy to recognize, such as rivers and hills.

Another landmark to be used was that of existing settlements. The principle of Roman law would apply uti possidetis, ita possieatis, or “as you now possess, so you may possess in the future”. No breaking up existing villages to make future agreements. In this topic, that dose of cartographic trickery entered, as we saw in school. The map offered by Alexandre de Gusmão placed Cuiabá, Vale do Javari, Belém do Pará, São Luís do Maranhão, Goiás, Vila Bela and the Pantanal much further east than reality. Brazil doubled in size and unified its territory; but from the map, it looked like it had increased by only a third.

Madrid was very fond of the mouth of the Plata and the Moluccas; so he accepted the deal. The Brazilian Midwest had been occupied by pioneers in search of gold, and the Amazon by Portuguese missionaries in search of catechumens. The mouth of the Plata was so important to the Spaniards because it was through this waterway that the silver from Potosí, present-day Bolivia, flowed. From the Portuguese shores came the smugglers. On the other hand, Portugal shipped gold from Minas through Rio de Janeiro, which had become the capital of Brazil.

A major impact of the treaty was to transform Brazil into a contiguous land mass. The treaty was later undone by a repentant and conceited Spain, but its design is very reminiscent of today’s Brazil: with a large chunk of the Amazon, with the Pantanal and with a chubby Rio Grande do Sul, without Uruguay. This was due to the effectiveness of the implementation of uti possidetis and natural boundaries.

Where did this Alexandre come from?

Alexandre de Gusmão is a native of Santos, the son of a Portuguese man with a Mameluca from São Paulo, of probable Jewish origin (the matter would be an issue when his brother, Padre Voador, converted to Judaism) . In Santos there was nothing; just a port and a handful of Mamluks. It was a poor and rather peripheral location in the Kingdom. At the time, the most chic and richest area in Brazil was still sugar, with Bahians and Pernambucanos living like feudal nobles. The way to get ahead in life was through the Church; So Alexandre de Gusmão, along with a handful of brothers, was sent to study at the seminary in what was then Vila de Belém, today a rural district in the municipality where I live, Cachoeira, Bahia. Like his brother, he was given the surname “de Gusmão”, given by the priest – another Alexandre de Gusmão – who was a friend of the family, perhaps a relative, and received them at the seminary. There, his cleverness was recognized as out of the ordinary, as was his brash temper. It was clear that he was not fit for a priest. For some centuries, the Portuguese would cultivate the memory of Alexandre de Gusmão because of his brazen letters addressed to the authorities.

He was sent to Portugal, and there he fell in the favor of D. Luís da Cunha, an important Portuguese diplomat. He recognized a pupil in him, took him with him on important missions and it didn’t take long for D. João V to like him too. He ended up succeeding Luís da Cunha and became the King’s Secretary, a kind of royal handyman, full of power and responsibilities. On the king’s death, he was succeeded by none other than Pombal, who detested him. Possible consequences of this were his efforts to restore the way the tax was levied in Minas, as well as undo the exchange between Sacramento and the Sete Povos. The Pombaline tributary changes ended peace in Minas, and Rio Grande do Sul ended up being more or less as it is today despite this.

Good elites

The case of Alexandre de Gusmão clearly shows that being born poor and without a birthplace in Brazil was not a catastrophe in itself. Although the overwhelming majority of the population was illiterate, there was a considerable supply of literacy thanks to the Church. The idea that everyone has to be literate is recent in human history. It came about with the Reformation, which placed knowledge of the Bible as necessary to go to heaven. Catholics thought that biblical language was a metaphor for even simple old women to understand how to go to heaven. They didn’t need to learn to read; it was enough to receive instructions from the priest. With the Reformation, this unreal demand was created for everyone to become a theologian in his or her own private sphere. It is the modern evil of uniformity. (Earlier we saw how uniformity affects female sexual behavior; before all had to be good wives and no one could be a nun or prostitute; later, all have to be prostitutes.)

The Reformation brought about secularization from the government. Thus, it is not surprising that the education project, once considered by Protestants as a means to salvation, came to be considered an end in itself, in secular terms. And since then, we have only seen the increase in schooling as an end in itself: from literacy we have moved on to basic education, from basic to high school, from high school to higher education. In the end, the rich countries have more than half of their adult population educated and duly ideologized. Let’s educate ourselves, yes. But let us always keep in mind the question: education for what? To get a good job? To be more competent in dealing with practical issues? Very good. The only thing that does not derive from this is superiority over the ignorant. After all, we are all ignorant in many matters; and the ignorant recognized as such surely has a practical knowledge that gives him his place in the world. It is not unworthy to be a poor, ignorant peasant; it is not worthy to be a rich and “enlightened” graduate who consciously works against his own country.

When higher education is considered an end in itself and a right for all, it ends up in egalitarianism which is contradictory to the very notion of elite. Every country has to have a governing elite that values ​​national interests. And what I can say is that the country of illiterates was better served in terms of Alexandre than the current one, with minister Haddad’s federal allowances.

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