Monday, June 4, 2012


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


  1. I feel as if I've just heard a bunch of classic American coal mining and railroad folk songs sung in Portuguese; the lyrics are identical.

    All that differs is the century.

  2. Some members of the human race don't have any humanity. Which makes others suffer. Sobering stuff.

  3. That's really disturbing and horrible ... the child particularly laden down with sugar cane.

    It's awful that the government can't stop this. Glad to see that it saves 4,000 people a year, but that must means tens of thousands of people are imprisoned like this.

    I'm sure there are also people in organizations who are trying to stop this.

    I am reminded of the courageous nun who was targeted by a wealthy landowner, who took years to be arrested.

  4. Lenny, I thought that too. I wrote it with Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons" ringing in my head.

    Lil & Kathy, There are no statistics on how many people actually live in the conditions I've described - but they are many.

    The Nun to which you refer, Kathy, was Dorothy Stang. Unfortunately, she's just one of many, but she got a lot of press, both because she was a nun and because she was American-born.

    I have previously written about her (and others) here on MURDER IS EVERYWHERE:

    But, in the case of Dorothy (and many others) slavery wasn't the issue. It was another aspect of rural violence, one I'll be dealing with in my 2013 book THE WAYS OF EVIL MEN.

    Unfortunately, you're going to have to wait a while before you can read it.

    I touch lightly on the subject, however, in PERFECT HATRED, the sixth in the series scheduled for publication in December, and already up for pre-sale on Amazon:

  5. Yes, I know the issues with Dorothy Stang, who advocated for peasant farmers' rights to their land and more, are different than those involving enslavement of agricultural workers.

    I was more making the point about the wealthy, powerful landowners -- and in Stang's case, a rancher -- who act outside and above the law.

    Although Stang's killers were arrested and imprisoned, it took awhile for those who ordered the killing to be brought to justice. And it sounds like a very jagged road, not a straight line from arrest to prosecution to incarceration.

    Whichever issues you write about in your books, if they involve the rights of agricultural workers and peasant farmers, up against the wealthy and powerful, it will be interesting.

  6. You do know how to make a pointed point, my friend. Can't wait to get my hands on PERFECT HATRED.