121 Years After Abolition Brazil Is Still a Slave-ocratic Country

Slave work in BrazilAt a ceremony held at the Brazilian Academy of Letters (ABL), Marcos Vinicios Vilaça recalled the words of Joaquim Nabuco: “Ending slavery is not enough. It is necessary to put an end to the work of slavery.” Nabuco’s words, repeated by Vilaça in the ABL, demonstrate the grandeur of the greatest of all those from Pernambuco State, Joaquim Nabuco, who died exactly 100 years ago.

He was a politician who dared to think, an intellectual unafraid of action, a thinker and activist with a cause, the principal artisan of abolition within the slave-ocratic regime in Brazil. Despite the victory won, however, he recognized that complete liberation had not been achieved.

The work of slavery still exists under the form of social exclusion: poor people, especially poor black people, without land, without work, without housing, with neither running water nor indoor plumbing, many even without food. Above all, without access to quality education.

Were he still living, Nabuco would look around and take offense at the work still incomplete. We, his successors, have not done what he defended while campaigning to represent Pernambuco in the Chamber of Deputies: giving land to the slaves and education to their children. Without this, 121 years after Abolition, Brazil continues as a slave-ocratic country.

Although we no longer accept the selling and imprisonment of human beings or condemning them to forced labor, we condemn millions to unemployment or to humiliating work due to lack of training.

We are slave-ocrats when we allow the differentiation of the schools according to the income of a child’s family, differentiation as severe as that of the lives in the Manor House and the Slave Quarters. We are slave-ocrats because we have still not undertaken the distribution of knowledge, a decisive instrument for liberty.

We are slave-ocrats because all of us who study, write, read and obtain employment thanks to our diplomas, are, in fact, benefiting from the exclusion of those who have not studied. Just as in times past, the free Brazilians benefited from slave labor.

The exclusion from education replaced the kidnapping from Africa, the shipment to Brazil, the imprisonment and forced labor. We are slave-ocrats who do not pay to have slaves: now slavery comes much cheaper and the money formerly used to buy the slaves can be used to benefit the new slave-ocrats. As in slavery, manual labor is reserved for the new slaves – those without education.

We have refused to eliminate the work of slavery.

We are slave-ocrats because we still find the new forms of slavery to be natural. Our intellectuals and economists, moreover, commemorate the minuscule distribution of income, just as previously the slave-owning gentlemen took pride in improving their slaves’ alimentation in the years when sugar brought a high price.

We continue to be slave-ocrats, commemorating partial gestures. Before, these were the Prohibition of the Slave Traffic, the Law of the Free Womb, the Emancipation of Sixty-Year-Olds. Now, they are the bolsa família, the vote for illiterates or the rural pensions. Generous measures para inglês ver – just for show – but lacking the courage to achieve full abolition.

We are slave-ocrats because, just as in the 19th century, we are oblivious to the stupidity of not abolishing slavery. Mired in the pettiness of our immediate interests, we refuse to make the educational revolution that could complete the quasi-abolition of 1888. 

We dare not break the chains that shame us and are impeding our leap forward into a civilized society, just as, for 350 years, slavery shamed us and restrained our advance.

One hundred years after the death of the Pernambucan Joaquim Nabuco, Vilaça, another Pernambucan, did well to recall that the work created by slavery continues. By denying quality education to all, we continue insisting upon the permanence of the cursed work, which Nabuco dare to confront.

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br

Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome LinJerome@cs.com.

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