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Slavery in Brazil
by Louis Proyect
25 March 2002 15:47 UTC
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NY Times, March 25, 2002
Brazil's Prized Exports Rely on Slaves and Scorched Land


XINGUARA, Brazil  The recruiters gather at the bus station here in this
grimy Amazon frontier town, waiting for the weary and the desperate to
disembark. When they spot a target, they promise him a steady job, good
pay, free housing and plenty of food. A quick handshake seals the deal.

But for thousands of peasants, that handshake ensures a slide into slavery.
No sooner do they board the battered trucks that take them to work felling
trees and tending cattle deep in the jungle than they find themselves mired
in debt, under armed guard and unable to leave their new workplace.

"It was 12 years before I was finally able to escape and make my way back
home," said Bernardo Gomes da Silva, 42. "We were forced to start work at 6
in the morning and to continue sometimes until 11 at night, but I was never
paid during that entire time because they always claimed that I owed them

Interviewed recently in his hometown, Barras, about 600 miles east of here,
Mr. Gomes da Silva said particularly troublesome workers, especially those
who kept asking for their wages, were sometimes simply killed.

"I can't read, so maybe a half-dozen different times I was ordered to burn
the identity cards and work documents of workers who I had last seen
walking down the road, supposedly on their way out," he said. "We also
found heaps of bones out in the jungle, but none of us ever talked about it."

Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888,
and forced labor for both blacks and whites continued throughout the 20th
century in some rural areas. But government authorities admit that despite
a federal crackdown announced seven years ago, "contemporary forms of
slavery" in which workers are held in unpaid, coerced labor continue to
flourish. The reasons range from ranchers in cahoots with corrupt local
authorities to ineffective land reform policies and high unemployment. 

Perhaps most important, though, is the growing pressure to exploit and
develop the Amazon's vast agricultural frontier, in part to supply foreign
markets with two prized goods: timber and beef.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/25/international/americas/25SLAV.html

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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