Note from BW of Brazil: Today, May 13th, marks the 125th year of the abolition of slavery in Brazil which lasted about 350 years until 1888. The country that would become as the Federative Republic of Brazil received nearly 40% of all Africans sent to the various countries in the Americas and nearly 10 times more than the total sent to the United States (about 4 million to 450,000). But all is not well. Although reports of racism, social/racial inequality and police brutality/murder are common, the existence of working conditions analogous to slavery is not something often talked about. In Brazil today, there are still people who are being forced to work in such conditions. Considering the historical importance of the day, there is perhaps no better day to discuss this topic.
125 years of Abolition: Modern Slavery sights today poverty
• Eight in ten persons freed from conditions similar to slavery are of African descent
by Alessandra Duarte and Carolina Benevides
They are taken to work far from home, arriving there with debts that the precarious wages cannot pay, indebting themselves even more in order eat. Some are beaten. They are contemporary slaves. And 81% of them are “non-white”, says a survey commissioned by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and conducted by a research group at the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). According to the study, which surveyed workers in conditions analogous to slavery rescued by inspection operations of the Ministério do Trabalho (Ministry of Labor) and the Ministério Público do Trabalho (Public Ministry of Labor or MPT), 20% those rescued are pretos (black), and 62% are pardos (browns) In 2012, 2,560 workers were found in this situation in Brazil.
“The percentage of non-whites among the enslaved today is much higher than what they represent in our population (51%), and even higher than the percentage in the North and Northeast, which have the highest percentages of nonwhites in the country,” says priest and anthropologist Ricardo Rezende, Grupo de Pesquisa Trabalho Escravo Contemporâneo (Research Group Contemporary Slave Labor or GPTEC), professor at UFRJ and one of the supervisors of the research, published in 2011.
Also the percentage of blacks is “2.5 times higher than that of the population (6.9%),” says the study, being also higher than that of Bahia (15.7%), which has the highest percentage of pretos in country.
“Until the nineteenth century, the outline of slavery was color. Now it’s poverty. But inside of of it there is an outline of color, because as blacks (pretos and pardos) are more present in the poor and are most vulnerable to this solicitation,” says Rezende.
According to the national coordinator for the Erradicação do Trabalho Escravo (Eradication of Slave Labor) of the MPT, Jonas Moreno, more than half of workers rescued in inspections are illiterate, and are, mainly from the states northeastern states of Piauí and Maranhão.
Francisco de Assis Félix, black and illiterate – “besides my name, I don’t know nothing,” is from Barras de Maratauã, the “largest exporter of slaves of Piauí and the largest in the country,” says the auditor of Labor Paulo César Lima, from Piauí. Felix was enslaved in Pará:
“We worked from 4am to 7pm. Nobody could leave the farm, one that wanted to leave, they beat him up. And to eat meat, we had to hunt armadillo.”
“I found food in caustic soda and ink cans, and people living in tents in the forest,” remembers Roberto Ruy Rutowitcz, MPT attorney in Pará, which supports the approval of a PEC (Proposta de Emenda à Constituição or Proposal to an Amendment to the Constitution) regarding Slave Labor.
Professor of History of Universidade Federal Fluminense (Fluminense Federal University or UFF), Ângela de Castro Gomes emphasizes the term “slave labor” used here since the 1970s:
“It is not fortuitous. It could be “forced labor” as the ILO uses. But talking about “slave labor” is a metaphor that has strength, because it mobilizes national memory. And a memory connected to the first great social movement in the country, abolitionism.