Note from BBT: From the time I started studying issues of race in Brazil, I became aware of the lengths that citizens would go to deny that differential treatment according to race or color actually existed in the country’s history and present time. In other words, people generally believed that even though the country had enslaved Africans and African descendants for three and half centuries, it still treated people equally independent of the race in which they were categorized. But even after two decades of investigating the Brazilian belief in a mythical ‘racial democracy’, it still amazed me to see such disregard for human life, most of the time involving those very same descendants of Africans.
Slavery officially ended in 1888, 25 years after this dehumanizing practice ended in the United States, but here it is a full 134 years after abolition, and still we hear numerous stories of people being found in conditions that are basically equal to slavery, and no matter how many of these stories I discover, it never seems to end.
There have been too many stories of this kind to cover, and these are just those that make it to the press. I mean, as many of these stories that I have covered, there are many more that I haven’t covered, not to mention those that never even made the headlines and continue to this day. Here are just a few of the headlines of stories posted on the BBT blog.
Today, I report on yet another horrific instance of human exploitation. The story was reported as such…
89 year old black woman subjected to slavery in the city of Santos for 50 years
“She didn’t clean the milk out of my fridge. Tell her to come and clean it up here.”
It was under these and other words that are part of the story of Yolanda Ferreira, who spent 50 of her 89 years subjected to a situation of slavery in the city of Santos, located in the state of São Paulo, on the Atlantic coast about an hour to an hour and a half from the capital city. Yolanda happened to have crossed paths with Zilmara de Souza Dantas, the neighbor of the place where the elderly woman lived, without making eye contact with anyone.
“I said good morning to her, good night, but she wouldn’t answer me. She was always looking down. She seemed coerced not to communicate,” Zilmara told the TV Globo news program, Fantástico, adding that the situation made her suspicious.
“I really wanted to understand what her context was in that apartment, within that family,” she said.
From there, Zilmara decided to record what she used to hear and issue a complaint. Thus, the story, discovered in 2020, reached the Public Ministry of Labor (MPT), which asked the courts for recognition that Yolanda had been subjected to conditions of work analogous to slavery.
According to police, Yolanda, her husband and two daughters were evicted from their home in the 1970s. Then, the woman started to wander around the city asking for food and help from various houses.
In one of them, the then 39-year-old woman got the invitation to work as a maid — and remained there for five decades. No pay, no time off, and no contact with anyone in her family.
Throughout her time at work, Yolanda was kept not only without labor benefits, but also under physical and verbal abuse. “A daughter of my neighbor visited this mother and I started to identify a lot of screams and insults,” Zilmara revealed.
In addition, Yolanda, at an advanced age, was often in situations that she didn’t deserve. According to the neighbor, the victim appeared to be wearing “very worn and ragged” clothes and had a wound on her leg “that never healed”.
Yolanda’s defense team filed a labor lawsuit. Until the decision came out, the Court ordered payment of a pension for her, for anticipatory relief. The Public Ministry of Labor also requested that the family pay 1 million Brazilian reais for collective moral damages.
The police also revealed that Rosana Fernandes Simão — 67 years old at the time — confirmed the attacks in her testimony. Her sisters also confirmed the occurrences, even classifying Rosana as a “time bomb” due to her explosive personality.
In the course of the investigations, Nirce, the boss, died, as well as two of her three daughters, one them, the aforementioned Rosana.
The employer family informed the television program that the process is under secrecy and didn’t wish to record an interview.
Despite speaking little after decades of seclusion, Yolanda confirmed what she had been through, saying ‘’I cleaned and cleaned… did family service; washing, ironing, cooking. She didn’t pay me a salary. Her daughter, Rosana, wanted to hit me all the time, she yelled at me a lot. “
The police call was received with surprise by Viviane, Yolanda’s granddaughter.
“She said my grandmother’s name, asked if I knew her. I said: “I do. This is my grandmother,'” she told reporters from Fantástico, adding that she told the authorities that the family thought her grandmother had died after more than 50 years without hearing from her.
Deeply moved, Viviane remembered her mother, already dead, who believed in Yolanda’s survival. “Because until the last day of her life, she believed her mother was alive. But she didn’t have the opportunity to be able to meet with her again”, she lamented.
Yolanda was 89 years old and worked as a victim of ill-treatment from 1970 to 2020. The family must pay compensation of 670 thousand reais to the victim. From 1970 to 2020 she suffered physical and psychological violence.
The decision was made by the Santos Court of the Regional Labor Court of São Paulo [TRT-SP] and was made official on Tuesday, April 26th. The aforementioned amount refers to compensation for moral damages.
This story only hit the news in 2022, after the Public Ministry of Labor asked the court to recognize the conditions that the woman was submitted to in working from 1970 to 2020. According to the decision of the Court, the family will pay a pension in the amount of 1,212 reais a month, a health care plan and daily fine of 200 reais.
According to the agency, the elderly woman, 89 years old, was admitted in the 70s as a maid, to work at a woman’s house in Santos. The victim, who is black, told the court that she lost her ID card, known as the RG in Brazil, and still at that time, that she was “hired” after the promise that her bosses would help provide a new one.
Over the years, the health of the maid worsened, and physical and psychological violence intensified. The boss’s daughters uttered insults and constant humiliations screaming at her, who reported having also suffered physical aggressions, such as “slaps and punches”.
In the lawsuit, the Public Ministry of Labor requires an injunction to seize the property in which the victim was kept, and also the blocking of movable and immovable property, vehicles and assets of the defendants in the amount of 1 million reais. It also requests confirmation that they submitted the worker to the situation of work analogous to slavery, and that they be, therefore, condemned to the payment of collective moral damages of not less than 1 million reais.
Slavery in 2022. As you took in this story, I’d like to know what you thought as it sunk in. Please feel free to leave a comment and start a discussion. If this story grabbed your attention, angered you or saddened you express that as well, give it a thumbs up or a like. While you’re at it, don’t forget to share and subscribe so you get notifications when I post new material.