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Brazil’s Monarchy Gone But Not Forgotten

When celebrate Brazil has a strange habit of marking milestone anniversaries. In 1921, a hundred years before the city was founded, it brought back the remains of the last emperor, Pedro II. At the ripe old age of 150, it summoned the remains of his father, Pedro I: the military regime of the time placed his coffin across the country over the course of five months. Considering that post-independence Brazil has only had two monarchs, you might think that no remains would need to be airlifted on September 7, the country’s bicentenary. It’s not like this. On August 22, Brazil will receive a glass jar full of formaldehyde from Portugal with full military honors. Inside floated a bloody gray tentacled mass: the heart of Pedro I.

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With two months left in the tight presidential campaign, the royal organ may not receive widespread attention amid fears of unrest. For decades, the monarchy, overthrown by the army in 1889, remained an ancient relic. But while right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro is enamored with the armed forces first, he has grown closer to those who want a return to royal rule. The foot soldiers of this obscure movement have found new life in the tide of the president’s modern populism, entering parliament and the cabinet. Once it arrives, this heart may further ignite the enthusiasm for monarchism.

Obtaining it required months of negotiations. It will stay in Brazil for 20 days before returning to Portugal, which will not leave it. But sharing is fitting because Pedro I (pictured) is a royal who owns two houses. In 1807, with the advance of Napoleon’s army, his father moved the royal court from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. In 1822, after several attempts by a Portuguese to conquer a troubled colony, at the age of 23 he drew his sword and cried out, “No independence, no death!” The will left the heart to the city of Porto.

For Luiz Philippe, a royal descendant, MP and ally of Mr Bolsonaro, the display of the heart will shine a light on what he sees as an impressive record. The only monarchy to rule independent Latin America for any length of time, the monarchy kept Brazil intact while the hemisphere’s Spanish colonies fell apart after independence.

Moreover, activists argue, republican life since 1889 has been marked by coups, corruption and chaos. Suely Silveira said she became a monarchist when she “woke up and started studying history”. She says republican Brazil has stagnated, while many parliamentary monarchies abroad have become enviable. Of the nine presidents since the end of military rule, one died before taking office, two were impeached and five faced corruption investigations. Monarchists wonder if the country will be strengthened by the king’s calming influence.

But those who believe that the resurrection of the past is the answer to Brazil’s problems are “rediscovering a past that never existed,” says Jurandir Malerba of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. To the millions of indigenous or poor Brazilians, going back to the 19th century sounds less glamorous. In the 1993 referendum, voters were asked whether Brazil should be a republic or a monarchy. The Republic won the day 87 percent to 13 percent. Current polls show a similar landslide.

The militarists and monarchists who were once rivals get along better today. In 2018, Bolsonaro considered choosing Filip as his vice president. The president declared an official day of mourning on 15 July following the death of Luis of Orléans-Bragança, head of the defunct royal family.

The current quasi-emperor is 81 years old and has no children. But in third place many monarchists believe Rafael Bragança, a 36-year-old adviser who lives in west London, is a royal. In Britain, Mr Bragança explained, sipping a double macchiato, that he could appreciate a good constitutional monarchy, which brought continuity and unity to a stormy political environment. Does he want to do the same at home? “I don’t want to impose anything,” he said without hesitation. “There needs to be a referendum. But I’ll be there if needed.”

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