Impunity Induces Slavery in Brazil

Interview with Brazilian Ricardo Rezende Figueira, who worked for 20 years in the state of Pará as a member of the Catholic Church’s Land Commission.  He holds a doctorate in Anthropology from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Question: Statistics show that slave labor is increasing here in Brazil.  What are the reasons that in this the 21st century slavery continues to be a reality in this country?


Ricardo Rezende Figueira: Debt slavery is a reality not only here in Brazil, but in various other countries as well, including some First World countries. 


One of the reasons that explains this type of slavery is that on the one hand, you have extreme wealth, and on the other, extreme poverty. 


Where there are people without work, without economic conditions to lead a dignified life, there are also other people who can easily allure these others with false promises of employment and salaries. 


Misery, or the absence of the alternative to stay where one was born, where one has family ties and friendships, forces people to emigrate. 


And the slave is always someone who has emigrated, who is far from his/her land where s/he has nets of protection.  In these situations of great vulnerability, they easily become victims. 


Another reason for the existence of slavery is impunity or the absence of harsh measures which would deter the practice of this crime. 


If, for example, there were a law which stated that those who held slaves would automatically lose their land, then they would be afraid to engage in this practice. 


There has been such a proposal tied up in Congress for years now which would make this a constitutional amendment.  This would be an important instrument for eradicating slavery in Brazil.


Q: Slave labor is a recurring practice in rural areas of the country.  But how is the situation in urban areas?


RRF:   Yes, it is a recurring problem in rural areas and we have information about it. 


The Catholic Church’s Land Commission does an excellent job of monitoring the situation and there are government groups seriously working to resolve the situation. 


But regarding urban areas, where certainly the crime happens with frequency, there are no social organizations that have the same antennas, ready to identify the problem and denounce it. 


Probably the most common urban slaves in Brazil would be from neighboring countries, or from Asia or Africa. 


The problem affects foreigners who come here without official documents and are afraid of being deported from the country. 


They come to Brazil for economic reasons or fleeing persecution in their countries of origin. 


But there are also Brazilians who are also in slave-like conditions in the city, including domestics.


Q: Besides big landowners, have big agribusinesses also participated in the problem of rural slavery?


RRF: Slavery happens not only on the properties of uninformed landowners, but also on the estates of the most sophisticated businesses which have all of the latest technology.


Q: How can we eradicate slavery?


RRF: Eradication depends on a consciousness of the problem on the part of civil society.  Citizens must be alert and pressure authorities; punishment must be carried out. 


Besides this, there must be a series of measures enacted besides that of the law which would take away land from those engaged in the crime: namely, literacy and professional training for the victims, generation of new jobs, and social justice. 


Jornal Sem Terra

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