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Brazzil - Social Issues - August 2004

Brazil to Expropriate Slave Owners

More than 6,400 Brazilian workers have been freed from slave-
like work conditions since the beginning, 18 months ago, of a
national operation to crack down on slave work. Now the Brazilian
Congress is debating a bill that would change the Constitution in
a way that those guilty of having slaves would lose their land.

Juliana Andrade


Picture Brazil's Minister of Human Rights, Nilmário Miranda, says that the National Plan to Eradicate Slave-type Labor, launched 18 months ago, has had positive results.

According to Miranda, out of a total of 76 action plans, 65 have been implanted. The result was that up to July 2004, Ministry of Labor inspection teams had undertaken 99 operations in 387 rural properties, freeing 6,465 workers from slave- type labor situations.

Miranda said one of the highlights of the effort was the approval by the Chamber of Deputies, in a first vote, of a constitutional amendment (PEC), which would permit the expropriation of land used to exploit slave-type labor. The amendment still must be approved in a second vote and return to the Senate.

Finally, Miranda called the arrest of land owner, Norberto Mânica, in the case of the assassination of three inspectors and their driver at the beginning of this year, an example of a crackdown on impunity.

"Some people think they are above good and evil, above the law. Well, those who practice slave-type labor in Brazil are going to pay a price for it. And with the constitutional amendment, we will take their land away, as well," said the Minister.

Berzoini for Expropriation

The debate on how to punish land owners who practice slave-type labor has going on for some time now in the Brazilian Congress. The controversial item in the debate is whether or not land used for slave-type labor should be expropriated by the government. Because the constitution guarantees private property, such expropriation would require a constitutional amendment.

Minister of Labor, Ricardo Berzoini, testifying, in mid March, at the special commission dealing with the matter, said the hearings were a positive factor in the attempt to understand exactly what slave-type labor was.

"Legally the concept is clear. But it is not always clear for the layman. Slave-type labor is an infringement on the fundamental rights of workers," explained the Minister.

Berzoini made it clear that he is in favor of expropriating land belonging to people who use their land for slave-type labor because this is, according to him, an appropriate punishment for the criminal use of labor for economic advantages.

Representing a different opinion, the vice president of the CNA (Confederação Nacional da Abricultura—National Agriculture Confederation), Rodolfo Tavares, also testified.

Tavares declared that existing punishments for people who practice slave-type labor are already "extremely grave." He added that exacerbating the punishment was a return to the Middle Ages.

He pointed out that expropriating property was extending punishment beyond the criminal to his family, his children and wife. "Removing the property of a person to benefit the state cannot be justified," he declared.

Also testifying at the hearings, minister of Human Rights, Nilmario Miranda, disagreed with Tavares saying existing legislation on slave-type labor was not severe enough.

"Our first concern should be with the fate of workers who receive no compensation and face hunger, misery, sickness and early death," he declared.

Miranda also pointed out that nowadays a person found guilty of keeping workers in slave-type labor conditions is likely to be sentenced to giving poor people basic food baskets and nothing else.

Juliana Andrade works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Allen Bennett.

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