Officially, as every Brazilian schoolchild knows, it was abolished in this country on the 13th of May, 1888.
That was the date upon which Princess Isabel, the daughter of Dom Pedro II, signed the Lei Áurea (Golden Law) that put an end, forever, to the practice in her father’s empire.
Or so the official story goes.
Now, if by slavery you mean the outright and legal ownership of one human being by another human being, the story is certainly true.
But, if you by slavery you mean a practice in which people are forced to exercise an activity against their will under the threat of starvation, or physical harm, or even murder, then it’s not.
This is one example of what it looks like.
And here’s another.
And still another.
It’s not that people are unaware of the fact that modern agricultural slavery is currently going on in Brazil.. Here’s a recent cartoon on the subject:
On the left, it says, “Brazil,1723; Manoel, a slave, cuts sugarcane more than twelve hours a day. The only thing he receives in exchange for his labor is a roof over his head and food.”
On the right: “Brazil, 2011; Manoel, who isn’t a slave, cuts sugarcane twelve hours a day and receives, in exchange for his labor, money insufficient for his food and lodging.”
It’s a condition bringing suffering to young and old alike, and there are strict laws against it.
But in certain more isolated parts of the country, the local landowners are more powerful than any law.
Here, for example, is how it generally works in the State of Amazonas:
Agricultural workers from surrounding states like Bahia, Piauí and Maranhão are recruited by people (called gatos - cats) who promise them good incomes and work conditions. Those who accept are loaded into buses and transported hundreds of kilometers to remote farms. And it’s only when they get there that they discover they’ve been sold a bill of goods.
Their every “expense” from initial transport, to lodging, to food, to medical care, to the tools they use for work, to small “luxuries” like soap, cigarettes and batteries for their radios are sold to them, on credit, at exorbitant rates.
With each successive payday, their debts to their employers rise.
And, if they attempt to flee, armed capatazes capture them, bring them back, beat them, sometimes even kill them to discourage others from committing the same “crime”.
Recently, the government has been rescuing about 4,000 people a year from this kind of servitude.
But no statistics exist to tell us how many are still out there, right now, still suffering this kind of abuse.
Leighton - Monday