The controversial debate over reparations for slavery in Brazil

The controversial debate over reparations for slavery in Brazil

The controversial debate over reparations for slavery in Brazil
The controversial debate over reparations for slavery in Brazil

Note from BW of Brazil: The issue of reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans in the Americas is not new, but has gained steam in recent years in the Caribbean, Brazil and in the United States. As of February of 2016, National Reparations Committees had been set up in several nations of the Caribbean, including Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. There is also a CARICOM Reparations Commission has also been established made up of chairpersons of national committees.   

In the United States, official discussions of reparations go back to at least 1989 when Congressman John Conyers, from my home state of Michigan, presented H.R. 3745, a Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. Conyers vowed to continue proposing the bill until it is eventually approved and passed. The bill would later become known as H.R 40 and has become a popular a movement recently with the development of the term ADOS, meaning American Descendants of Slaves.

As should have been expected, the conversation has also been going in Brazil some time and has gained momentum with the creation of the Comissão Estadual da Verdade da Escravidão Negra no Brasil (State Commission for the Truth of Black Slavery in Brazil) (Cevenb). Although the commission composed of a group of black lawyers is avoiding discussions of an payment amount at this time and it is not a pressing issue.

Needless to say, it is absolutely clear that there is a historic debt that black Brazilians are owed by the State, and as Brazil is the country that was the recipient of the most enslaved Africans dating back to the 1530s, a number estimated to be somewhere between 4-5 million people, or more than 40% of all Africans shipped to the Americas, this figure could be beyond the imagination. The total of enslaved Africans represents anywhere from 8-10 times more Africans in Brazil than those that ended up in the United States.

The controversial debate over reparations for slavery in Brazil
The controversial debate over reparations for slavery in Brazil

Given this fact, any estimate of monetary conpensation would be astronomical, but also, as in any area that has to do with race in Brazil, there are a number factors that would need to be taken into consideration to even contemplate such as idea. And that is not the objective of today’s post, which simply presents a snapshot of how the discussion of reparations is happening in Brazil. The piece below is from November of 2015.

I present today’s post as a recent hearing on the subject just took place in Rio just a few days ago. As I’ve said, the discussion has been on the table for at least a few decades in Brazil, but it may be new to my English-speaking audience even as I have already posted a few pieces on the topic in past material. With that said, for those of you new to the discussion of reparations in Brazil let the analysis, comparisons and debates begin!

Between the 16th and 19th centuries, an estimated 4-5 million enslaved Africans were brought to Brazil (Photo courtesy of the Instituto Moreira Salles)

The controversial debate over reparations for slavery in Brazil

By Fernando Duarte

Historical research movement defends study of increase of affirmative actions against racism; historians accuse country of crime of the state

“Declare free all the slaves coming from outside the Empire and impose penalties on the importers of the same slaves.”

Promulgated on November 7, 1831, the Lei Feijó proposed exactly what the opening line of its text, above, suggested: Brazil finally adhere to the fight against the slave trade, after almost three centuries of the import of forced labor.

Unfortunately, the commitment was only on paper – a way to save time in the face of pressure from the British Crown, which 24 years earlier had opened a diplomatic battlefront against trafficking. Historians estimate that by 1850, when the Second Kingdom passed the Eusébio de Queiroz Act, the first to have a significant impact on slavery in Brazil, more than 500,000 blacks had been brought illegally from Africa to the country. With the connivance of the authorities. (The controversial debate over reparations for slavery in Brazil)

The possible crime of State is one of the points guiding the activities of a special commission of the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (Brazilian Bar Association), inaugurated at the beginning of the year to make a detailed survey of  escravidão negra (black slavery) in Brazil and openly discuss ways of redressing and compensating the descendants of imprisoned blacks.

The controversial debate over reparations for slavery in Brazil
Prohibition in the slave trade did not prevent more than 700,000 slaves from being brought illegally to Brazil between 1831 and 1850 (Photo Courtesy of Instituto Moreira Salles)

“Crime of the State”

“It’s a Truth Commission on Black Slavery. We will carry out an investigation along the lines of the group that investigated the crimes of the dictatorship. Brazil has not yet done something of the sort when it comes to one of the greatest crimes against humanity ever committed. This becomes even more important when a portion of the Brazilian population still does not understand the need for affirmative action against racism in our society, which is an obvious legacy of slavery,” says the committee’s president, lawyer Humberto Adami.

The controversial debate over reparations for slavery in Brazil
Brazilian slaves were not compensated with the signing of the Lei Áurea (Golden Law) (Photo courtesy of the Instituto Moreira Salles)

The subject is not new. At the time of Brazilian abolition, in 1988, abolitionists defended the payment of reparations to the freed slaves, including presenting models of calculation. In 2013, the Federal Senate reviewed and overturned a proposal for individual payments, which established a minimum of R$200,000 for slave descendants.

Overall, the issue came to an end in October when British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Jamaica was overshadowed by a request by the Caribbean island’s prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, for the UK government to agree to discuss both damages as well as a formal apology for British involvement in the scourge of slavery.

Jamaica, by the way, is part of a commission of nations of the Caribbean that two years ago prepared a lawsuit against the British, Dutch and French governments in search of reparations for slavery in colonial times.

“The case of these nations is different from what is happening in Brazil, because the great crime in the country was the moment in which the State allowed a clear violation of the legislation by not repressing the illegal traffic that continued between 1831 and 1850. Connivance can be drawn from public officials to Emperor Dom Pedro II”, says Brazilian historian Sidney Chalhoub, a professor at Harvard University whose research focuses on analyzing illegal slavery in the country.

The controversial debate over reparations for slavery in Brazil
Humberto Adami (in white hat) during the Inauguration of the Comissão Estadual da Verdade da Escravidão Negra no Brasil

“The Brazilian state needs to recognize even more a debt it has with the descendants of illegally trafficked slaves. What is necessary is from an apology to an intensification of affirmative action public policies. Even more so because the relative position of the black population in Brazilian society remains the same.”

Errors assumed Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, one of the historians who testified before the Federal Supreme Court (STF) during the judgment of the constitutionality of the system of university quotas in 2010, is also in favor of reparation through affirmative action, arguing that the preto e pardo (black and brown) population is the majority in Brazil.

“Indemnities and reparations are for minorities. An example is the demarcation of indigenous lands, for example. For the black population, there is a crucial need for affirmative policies, as a matter of interest to the Brazilian democratic spirit. No country on the American continent practiced slavery on such a scale as Brazil, and all slaves brought in after 1831 were illegally trafficked. The case is scandalous and needs to be discussed publicly more and more, because there was a general collusion of the Brazilian state, an implicit pact in favor of violation of the law,” says Alencastro. (The controversial debate over reparations for slavery in Brazil)

Adami of the OAB agrees that the path of affirmative action is more feasible for reparations to slavery. “The moment you start talking about money, things get complicated, but I don’t think anyone who defends the payment of damages is wrong. My biggest concern, though, is the lack of a stronger government policy to promote more education about what slavery was. Law 10.639, which makes teaching about Afro-Brazilian history and culture compulsory, for example, has not been fulfilled as it should be,” says the lawyer.

Proponents of financial reparations point to the example of payments made by Germany to the descendants of Jews – for six decades, Germany paid the equivalent of $89 billion in compensation for the assets of Jews confiscated by the Nazi regime.

But in addition to the technical difficulties involved in tracing human rights violations over the centuries, the costs of individual reparations can become gigantic. If the proposal rejected by the Senate had gone ahead, for example, payments would quickly reach astronomical figures – an estimate by economist Mário Lisboa Theodoro spoke of R$16 quadrillion, more than 600 times the annual GDP of the United States, for example.

“We would need a very serious legal investigation to begin discussing individual reparation issues, especially to discuss the merits of compensation actions. No one here is denying that slavery is a scourge in Brazilian history, but at the same time Brazil should also be praised for the way it avoided, as in the United States, a civil war over abolition,” says Ibsen Noronha, a professor at the University of Coimbra in Portugal and a specialist in the history of Brazilian law.

The discourse of reparation made through public policies is repeated by Ronaldo Barros, Secretary of Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality. He mentions the fact that Brazil is a signatory to the Durban Declaration at the end of the UN World Conference against Racism in 2001 in South Africa as evidence that the country has not turned a blind eye to the past.

“We are signatories to a statement in which we assume Brazil’s responsibility for the history of slavery and our commitment to diminish its effects on Brazilian society. The State has admitted the crimes committed. And the Brazilian government has done just that in the last 12 years with the creation of legal systems ranging from quotas for access to higher education to laws such as 10.639. Brazil is one of the most advanced countries in the implementation of the Durban recommendations,” says the secretary.

Barros also argues that the famous apology made by then-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to African countries during a visit to Senegal in 2005 deepened Brazil’s relationship with the continent, which was already very different from that maintained by countries like France and the UK. And that, in his opinion, prevented movements similar to that of the Caribbean commission from questioning more harshly the responsibility of the Brazilian government in slavery.

“The demands of the Caricom countries (Caribbean Community) are legitimate and it is not up to Brazil to judge them. We have also been victims of slavery, but we have a different philosophy of dealing with this historical debt also with the African countries, in a South-South partnership. Our reparation is through the development of cooperation with these nations.”

Source: Último Segundo


About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. Psychological Africanity (Racial
    Identity) and Its Influence on Support
    for Reparations
    by Azibo, Daudi Ajani ya
    Importance of Psychological Africanity. Supportive of the second hypothesis, high
    psychological Africanity indices were associated with support for reparations down
    payments and low indices were associated with nonsupport. It seems meaningful that a
    composite Africentric orientation would positively predict the reparations support index
    at the total reparations score. Africentric-oriented persons probably can envision the
    benefits of reparations as a real and realizable contributor to African-U.S. recoupment.
    That the Pro-White motivational orientation would predict nonsupport of reparations
    makes sense because it indexes the “Negro” aspect of African-U.S. identity forced on
    Africans in the slavocracy (Jennings, 2003). Pro-White orientation has been linked to a
    need for approval from Caucasians (Azibo, Melton-Arnold, & Dale, 2006). This
    orientation may simply be the psychological gearing which acquiesces to Caucasian
    dominance. Also, it is sensible that the Third World motivational orientation, while found
    to be susceptible to socially desirable response (Azibo, Melton-Arnold, & Dale, 2006),
    positively predicts reparations support. Since it operates as being in kindred spirit with
    all oppressed people, Third World orientation would by definition imply the desire to see
    that oppressed people everywhere receive justice to which reparations is inextricable.
    In the chi-square analyses, low psychological Africanity is indexed by an incorrect
    orientation. This category consists of persons with psychological Africanity profiles that
    are more Anglocentric than Africentric. It was found that these persons reject reparations
    down payments for economic development and political prisoners. Could incorrectly
    oriented African-U.S. people be unaware or discounting of (a) the economic abuse of
    enslaved ancestors, (b) routine antiAfrican-U.S. practices of American businesses
    (Anderson, 1993), and (c) the political oppression of African-U.S. people (e.g., Scale,
    1991; Shakur, 1987; U.S. Senate, 1976; Walters, 2003, 2005)? Apparently, being more
    Anglocentric in orientation, more Pro-White, and Anti-Black, militates against
    psychological Africanity’s fundamental feature of defending, developing, and maintaining
    African life and life chances (Azibo, 1991).
    Limitations and Future Research
    The low number of participants could limit generalization of the results. Also, findings
    that approached significance may have been reliable with a larger sample size due to the
    greater statistical power. Nevertheless, the numerous reliable findings suggest that power
    limitations as a function of small sample size did not have an undue impact on the
    While the likelihood that the potential demand characteristics influenced the participants
    was discounted above, future research could eliminate them altogether by using the 1997
    N’COBRA Reparations Survey items without informing respondents of prior survey
    results or that the results will be used in making demands of Congress or other entities. In
    addition, studying intra-race diversity reconceptualized as variability in psychological
    Africanity seems a supportable idea. A research framework to accomplish this has been
    articulated (Azibo, 1996c).
    African-U.S. people’s support for reparations down payments should be investigated in
    different college settings such as, private versus public HBCUs and predominately White
    institutions (PWIs). High schoolers and adolescents are also appropriate groups when
    studying for support of reparations. Grassroots and general community samples,
    additionally, should not be overlooked. In all cases, research should include demographic
    variables such as socioeconomic status, education level, gender, racial socialization, or
    “Afrocizing” to use Williams’s (1981) term, and especially, the subject variable diversity
    in psychological Africanity.
    Thinking on the Educational Experiences of African-U.S. People
    For many, the preeminent goal of education of African-U.S. people is nation-building
    (Afrik, 1981; Akoto, 1992; Carruthers, 1999; Council for Independent Black Institutions,
    1990; Lomotey, 1981; Wilson, 1992). It refers to establishing racial self-reliance through
    education. For most, however, the preeminent goal appears to be narrowed to meaningful
    incorporation into the extant American nation. Both goals are within the bounds of
    pluralism that permits, if not compel society’s distinct groups to articulate and pursue
    their special interests (Myers, 1981). Reparations down payments as called for by
    N’COBRA would seem indispensable in achieving either goal. Therefore it is incumbent
    on African-U.S. educators to develop, advocate, and implement curriculum for
    reparations education at all levels. It is as reasonable for secondary and postsecondary
    studies to cover formal, legal, and historic aspects of reparations as it is for them to
    cover human and civil rights. It is equally as reasonable for pre-, elementary, and middle
    schools to teach basic principles and concepts of fairness, righteousness, and justice that
    are the foundations for later formal teaching about reparations.
    Psychological Africanity (Racial
    Identity) and Its Influence on Support
    for Reparations
    by Azibo, Daudi Ajani ya
    Anderson, T. (1993). Introduction to African American studies. Dubuque, IA: Kendall-
    Ani, M. (2004). To be Afrikan. In J. Kamara & T. Van Der Meer (Eds.), State of the race
    (pp. 137-166). Boston: Diaspora Press.
    Austin, A. (2006). Getting it wrong: How Black public intellectuals are failing Black
    America. New York: iUniverse.
    Austin, R. (1995). “The Black Community,” its lawbreakers, and a politics of
    identification. In R. Delgado (Ed.), Critical race theory: the cutting edge (pp. 293-304).
    Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
    Azibo, D. (1983a). Perceived attractiveness and the Black personality. Western Journal of
    Black Studies, 7, 229-238.
    Azibo, D. (1983b). Some psychological concomitants and consequences of the Black
    personality: Mental health implications. Journal of Non-White Concerns in Personnel
    and Guidance, 11, 59-66.
    Azibo, D. (1989). African-centered theses on mental health and a nosology of
    Black/African personality disorder. Journal of Black Psychology, 15, 173-214.
    Azibo, D. (1991). An empirical test of the fundamental postulates of an African
    personality metatheory. Western Journal of Black Studies, 15, 183-195.
    Azibo, D. (1996a). Black Personality Questionnaire: A review and critique. In R. Jones
    (Ed.), Handbook of tests and measurements for Black populations (vol. 2, pp. 241-249).
    Hampton, VA: Cobb and Henry.
    Azibo, D. (1996b). Mental health defined Africentrically. In D. Azibo (Ed.), African
    psychology in historical perspective and related commentary (pp. 47-56). Trenton, NJ:
    Africa World Press.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.