The Guanabara Palace in Rio de Janeiro

There is a famous saying in Brazil that justice may be slow, but it never fails. The maxim is certainly half right. An insufficient amount of judges and almost never-ending availability of appeals means that cases invariably take an unreasonably long time to process. The so-called “congestion rate” of Brazil’s trial courts—the percentage of cases yet to have been concluded—stands at 74 percent, according to data from the National Council of Justice. But sooner or later, these cases need a decision.

This week, with a view to finally getting around to that long-forgotten to-do list, the Superior Court of Justice has set a date for the trial of the oldest pending case in Brazil: a royal feud which was originally filed in 1895.

The case concerns the possession of the Guanabara Palace in Rio de Janeiro, a neoclassical residence built in the 1850s and subject to a long-running tiff between Brazil’s old royal family and the Federal Government. The case in question, a possessory action, was actually filed by Princess Isabel herself, daughter of Emperor Pedro II and one of the most important figures in Brazil’s history, being responsible for signing the so-called Golden Law in 1888 which abolished slavery in the country.

The Guanabara Palace was bought by the Imperial Family and made the official residence of Isabel and her husband Gaston, the Count of Eu, in the 1860s. When Brazil’s Republic was proclaimed in 1889, overthrowing the monarchy, the palace was seized by the government, having been regarded as public property. The argument of Princess Isabel was that the residence was, in fact, the private property of the House of Braganza, and therefore it should be returned. Today, the Guanabara Palace is the seat of the Rio de Janeiro state government.

trial princess isabel count of eu

Princess Isabel and her husband, the Count of Eu, in France (1919).

The Princess decided to file the motion one year after she and her husband were forcibly removed from their home by the Armed Forces in 1894. The Proclamation of the Republic, celebrated by a national holiday on November 15, stated that all property endowed upon the couple was to be handed back to the government.

One of the surviving heirs of the royal family, “prince” Luiz Philippe de Orláans and Bragança—who in January will become an elected congressman for Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right Social Liberal Party—took to social media on November 15 to express his unpopularly scathing opinion of the national day off.

“People who know history know that today’s holiday is nothing to celebrate,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “[The Proclamation of the Republic] was just a coup to take control of the country.”

The trial, over a century later

At the time of filing the action, 123 years ago, Princess Isabel demanded that the property be returned to the royal family, or that they be compensated for their loss. Today, the heirs of the monarchy are fighting her cause, and while there is no longer any interest in recovering possession of the building itself, they are adamant on receiving compensation.

After being overthrown by the military, having their property seized, fading into complete obscurity, and becoming something of a national joke, the Brazilian royal family looks set to be dealt another blow. According to the contract of matrimony between Princess Isabel and the Count of Eu, Guanabara Palace was acquired to be the residence of the couple and therefore is the property of the state.

It is unclear exactly why the case has taken this long to be processed. The most plausible theory is that the case record went missing, as once found, a long discussion began regarding the potential statute of limitations of the complaint.

The case was ready for trial today (November 27), but the appellants requested it be delayed by two sessions and it has now been slated for December 6. After 123 years, another week can’t hurt, can it?

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PowerNov 27, 2018

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.