Woman living in conditions similar to slavery for 38 years released by authorities

Note from BW of Brazil: I became of this story last week, but I’ve been simply to busy to get to it. When I heard about it, I hate to write this and I hate to repeat myself, but as shameful as it was, it’simply wasn’t shocking. In the archives of this blog there are numerous stories of Brazilians living in conditions equal to slavery and I haven’t covered nearly as many as I could have.

The fact is, as was discussed in another piece from several years ago, Brazilians seem to have a certain nostalgia for the three and a half centuries in which Africans and their descendants were enslaved, sold and treated as property. The days of slavery seem to have left an indelible imprint on the Brazilian psyche. I mean, it’s the 21st century and as recent as 2016, there were two novelas set in the slavery era. You still hear jokes/comments (see here or here) that people make in reference to slavery and even business ventures based on that era (see here or here).

When we know all of this and combine it with the fact that so many things happen in Brazil in a sort beneath the carpet, don’t ask, don’t tell sort of matter (in which privileges and penalties depending on race and class are just sort of accepted), these sorts of things sometimes come across as just o jeito brasileiro, the Brazilian way. If you talk to any Brazilian long enough, it becomes apparent that they KNOW how things work in their country. Whether it’s some politician getting caught up in some corrupt transaction or another black body being struck down with a stray police bullet, people know how things work in Brazil.

So, when this report broke over a week ago on a top-rated news program, I just wondered, how many people were really shocked by this, how many pretended to be shocked and how many weren’t shocked at all?

You can place me in that last category.

Madalena Gordiano was was held in conditions similar to slavery for nearly 38 years

After almost 40 years in conditions similar to slavery, woman is released in Minas Gerais

Investigation by the Ministry of Labor released the woman, who lived with no salary and no labor rights

Courtesy of Último Segundo and Patos Hoje

Madalena Gordiano, 46, worked under conditions analogous to slavery for 38 years in Patos de Minas, a city in the state of Minas Gerais. According to a report by the Globo TV news journal, Fantástico, which was aired on December 20th, she was responsible for housework, but didn’t receive a salary or vacation and lived as a recluse, under the supervision of her bosses.

The woman was released in November, after an investigation by the Ministry of Labor and action by the Federal Police. Madalena told Fantástico that, at the age of eight, she was hungry and knocked on the door of Professor Maria das Graças Milagres Rigueira’s house to ask for bread. According to the victim’s report, the response she received was: “I won’t give it to you. You will move in with me.”

Madalena Gordiano didn’t receive a salary and had no labor rights

Madalena was taken out of school and didn’t have access to children’s games. “I didn’t play. I didn’t even have a doll,” she said. After a few years, she was rejected by Maria das Graças’s husband and was “donated” to Dalton Cesar Milagres Rigueira, also a university professor.

In the new house, the routine was the same. The woman worked without rest and started, usually, at 4 am, according to the neighbors.

Madalena’s situation was discovered when she started sending notes to neighbors, on pieces of napkin and notebook sheets, asking for basic personal care products and money. “Lend me some soap to shower. You will receive my prayer. Madalena”, said one of the messages.

“Lend me some soap to shower. You will receive my prayer. Madalena”, read one of Madalena’s notes to neighbors.

Maria das Graças Rigueira, Dalton Rigueira and Valdilene Rigueira, Dalton’s wife, are being investigated for the crime of reducing her to the condition analogous to slavery. The latter two may still account for human trafficking and embezzlement.

After exploiting Madalena, Maria das Graças (left) “donated” her to Dalton Cesar Milagres Rigueira. Both are university professors.

Madalena’s twin sister also reportedly lived with the Milagres Rigueira family

by Maurício Rocha

Gordiano’s sister also lived in conditions similar to slavery and by the same family of Milagres Rigueira. The report had access to the testimony of university professor Dalton César Milagres Rigueira, who was under investigation.

According to the report, Filomena went to live with Maria da Conceição, Dalton’s aunt, at the same time that Madalena was taken to live in the house of Maria das Graças, Dalton’s mother. She was eight years old at the time. Statements collected by UOL news state that Filomena went through situations similar to those of her sister, with exhaustive working hours and without any labor rights.

UOL’s report spoke to Cláudio Renato, Maria da Conceição’s son. He confirmed that she lived with her family and had no formal contract, but assured that there was no exploitation. According to him, Filomena didn’t work as a child and started to receive wages as soon as she started to provide services to the family.

Filomena’s situation is really different from that of Madalena. In addition to being paid for the services provided, she also left Maria da Conceição’s house to live with her husband and son in 2010. According to the report, even today they have a friendly relationship, so much so that Filomena’s son, Bruno, 28, still lives with Maria da Conceição’s family.

Claudio Renato said that his mother always encouraged Bruno’s studies and paid for part of the young man’s studies. He has a degree in History.

Madalena Case

The Fantástico program returned to talk with Madalena for last Sunday’s episode (27). In the report, she tells how it was to spend her first Christmas, after 38 years living with the Milagres Rigueira family. The case has had repercussions in different parts of the world and is still being investigated by the Public Ministry of Labor.

Professor Dalton’s family, who lives in an apartment in downtown Patos de Minas, has not been seen in the city since the Madalena case was revealed.

Snippet from 2016 Reuters article

Modern day slavery still a problem in Brazil

The slavery era supposedly ended on May 13, 1888, but reading recent stories of people living in conditions similar to slavery are still more common than most people would believe. On labor analogous to slavery, the Public Ministry of Labor said that, in the northeastern state oif Bahia, 3,270 people were removed from this condition in 16 years

In the city of Elísio Medrado, in Bahia, a woman was maintained in work analogous to slavery for 35 years. Her employer, Arlinda Pinheiro de Souza Santos, was convicted in the Labor Court for maintaining her domestic worker working without pay for more than three decades.

The Labor Prosecutor’s Office also reported on Thursday (11) that the victim had been rescued on December 21, 2017, after anonymous reports. She was found at the house and confirmed in a statement that she worked without pay.

The housekeeper informed the MPT that work was exchanged for survival: housing, food and clothing. After the rescue, she received up to 6 unemployment insurance installments, but due to “lack of experience living alone”, she returned to the residence in mid-2018. There is still no information if she is still in the location.

The sentence determined the payment of approximately BRL 170 thousand to the victim for indemnity for moral damages and payment of severance payments, in addition to the recognition of the bond and collection of INSS (social security) and FGTS (401k type plan) for the period of work. The termination of the employment contract, however, was limited to the last 5 years of employment, because the economic rights prior to that expired.

There was recognition of the employment relationship from 1981, when the victim started working for the employer.

The Public Ministry of Labor decided to file a lawsuit. In a decision, the judge decreed that if the debts are not paid within the defined period, the income tax refund amounts may be retained.

The MPT also states that it obtained authorization to enter the employer’s house and verify the complaint, since the accused was called upon to provide clarifications at the hearing, but she refused to receive the notification.

The state of Bahia ended 2019 with 21 workers rescued from situations similar to those of slavery, according to data from the Public Ministry of Labor, being the state with the fifth largest number of workers removed from this condition since 2003. In the period, 3,270 cases of slave-like labor were recorded.

In 2019, six tax actions were concluded as a situation of slave labor, five in rural areas and one in urban areas. The agency says that farming is the economic activity with the highest incidence of this crime and that more than 2,500 workers have been rescued in the last 20 years.

Note from BBT: Several things jumped out at me about this story. Number one, the people who exploited this black woman, just a child nearly 40 years ago, were college professors. One would think that a college professor would have certain moral standards, the integrity, knowledge of right and wrong, as well as some sort of decency and respect for other human beings, but then again, they are people just like anyone else, and as exploitation is the name of the game in Brazil, that is EXACTLY what happened. What I don’t get here is, the son of one of the professors says that the victim’s sister also lived at the home but was treated totally different than the slave-like conditions of which her sister was subjected to. I don’t get that. They treated one sister like a slave but paid the other and are still on good terms with her to this day. Something about that part just doesn’t add up to me. If I learn anything else about this story, I will post a follow-up.

For now, shame, shame, shame.

Source: Último Segundo (1), Último Segundo (2), Patos Hoje

About Marques Travae 3554 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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