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Day 58: Parati

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Dom Joćo's house at Parati. Chinese influence in the door and window surrounds.
Michael Palin - BrazilThe elegant, shining white rectangle of Dom Joćo's house stands looking out onto a flat foreshore, at a ninety-degree angle to the bay. The arches of the doors and windows are picked out in green. The 'raised eyebrow' style of their design shows Chinese influence, via Macau, a reminder of the global extent of the old Portuguese empire. Inside the house dark wood furniture and well-chosen antiques are perfectly placed and beautifully lit. A cool breeze blows across a floor of heavy stone paving and through the room which we share with Dom Joćo's distinguished ancestors. Alongside Dom Pedro, the first Emperor, is his wife Leopoldina who was Napoleon's sister-in-law, and behind us, above a period writing desk, is their son Pedro II, Hapsburg jaw jutting proudly. Pedro was only fourteen when he was crowned second Emperor of Brazil. He was able and enlightened and managed to steer Brazil clear of a series of local rebellions whilst the economy, particularly thanks to the world demand for coffee, began to grow and increasing numbers of European immigrants poured into the country. In the hallway hangs a charming portrait of two princesses. One of them, Isabella, Dom Joćo's great-grandmother and Pedro's heir apparent, was fiercely opposed to slavery. She made secret visits to the communities of freed slaves they called quilombos and, in May 1888, despite strong opposition from big landowners, she signed the Lei Aurea, the 'Golden Law', which finally abolished slavery in Brazil. Her humanitarian action could be said to have spelled the beginning of the end for the only monarchy in America. Deprived of the support of the slave-owning landowners, the Brazilian monarchy was unable to resist a bloodless coup which deposed Pedro and his family. In November 1889 Brazil finally became a fully fledged republic.

Dom Joćo maintains that the constitutional monarchy that his family set up was much more protective of civil rights than its successor. Under Pedro II and Isabella Brazil, in marked contrast to the general-run regimes in the rest of South America, enjoyed a civil government and freedom of the press. The republic that followed them brought in press controls and a military government. Having set the record straight, Dom Joćo leads me out to a small courtyard at the side of the house where we discuss something that animates him just as much – the state of Brazil today. He talks about the false dawns of the 1940s and 1950s, when Brazil seemed set for great things, to the present when at last, he feels, Brazil 'has arrived in the future'. He seems to be very well informed. When the subject of Brazil's place among the BRIC countries comes up, Dom Joćo bemoans the fact that I've just missed Jim O'Neill, the British economist who first coined the acronym.

'He was here yesterday!'

For the record, Dom Joćo thinks Brazil is in a better position than the other BRICs. He cites a big internal market, a flourishing democracy and a lack of internal ethnic divisions as evidence. The miscegenation of the past has, he thinks, resulted in a degree of racial unity, and the bold economic policies pursued by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, President of Brazil for eight years before Lula, have dealt with the perennial problem of cripplingly high inflation. This proved a turning point for the country. Since then Brazil has succeeded in implementing what Dom Joćo calls the biggest redistribution of wealth on earth.

'Forty-five million people brought out of poverty in the last fifteen years.'
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 58: Parati
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Parati
  • Book page no: 247

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