Monday, August 15, 2005

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SLAVERY IN BRAZIL

Knight Ridder's Kevin G. Hall writes: "Jose Silva came to the Macauba Ranch in Brazil's eastern Amazon hoping to earn a few hundred dollars clearing jungle. Two years later, he was $800 in debt and terrified that if he tried to leave the ranch, Gilmar the field boss would pull out his .38 revolver and kill him.

"'I would cry alone at night in my hammock and ask God to help me escape. I felt like a slave," he told Knight Ridder. Silva was a modern slave, working with 46 other men and a boy to clear jungle with machetes, chain saws and tractors from sunup to sundown in the tropical heat, seven days a week, for no money. He and the others got one meal a day of rice, beans and a little chicken or beef, which they were made to eat standing up to discourage resting. There were no toilets or latrines at the workers' camp, only bushes.

"Rat feces flecked the sacks of rice in the camp's storehouse. Flies covered raw meat hung on clotheslines in the tropical heat. Workers got no medical attention, even though one of them shivered with malaria, a disease spread by the Amazon's ubiquitous mosquitoes. Brazil abolished slavery in 1888. Earlier this year, however, the government acknowledged to the United Nations that at least 25,000 Brazilians work under 'conditions analogous to slavery.' The top anti-slavery official in Brasilia, the capital, puts the number of modern slaves at 50,000.

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