The number of cases of slave labor in the states of Mato Grosso
and Maranhão kept increasing: in the first 7.5 months
of this year, reports received by the CPT Campaign Against
Slave Labor in the states of Pará, Mato Grosso, Tocantins
and Maranhão already totaled 229 cases (involving 7,623
workers), as opposed to 127 cases and 5,089 workers in 2002,
for the same period. The rescues made up to the end of September
(4,256 workers liberated, 895 by the DRT and 3,361 by the
Mobile Group) represent almost double the whole year of 2002
(2,152 liberated), although they are still short of the amount
needed, if compared to the total number of requests.
Slave Labor Denunciations Result in New
Threats Against CPT Agents, Workers, and Federal Prosecutors.
In March 2003, the Federal Government adopted a National Plan
for Eradication of Slave Labor, issued by President Lula.
The CPT (Pastoral Land Commission) has contributed to it enormously,
starting with the National Campaign of Combat Against Slave
Labor kicked off in 1997, especially in the states of Pará,
Maranhão, Mato Grosso, and Tocantins.
Plan already started with an intensification of inspections
by the Mobile Group and some from the Regional Labor Police
(Delegacía Regional do Trabalho, DRT) and by innovative
interventions by the Justice of Labor (mobile courts), by
the Public Ministry of Labor (fines for moral damages, with
dissuasive value) and by the Federal Public Ministry (several
requests for imprisonment followed by prison sentences decreed
by the Federal Justice). However, the Plan is still far from
producing the expected results.
spite of insufficient information regarding the states of
Mato Grosso and Maranhão, the number of referrals keeps
growing: in the first 7.5 months of this year, the reports
received by the CPT Campaign teams against slave labor, in
the states of Pará, Maranhão, Mato Grosso and
Tocantins already totaled 229 cases (involving 7,623 workers)
in 2003, as opposed to 127 cases and 5,089 worders in 2002,
for the same period.
rescues that have been carried out up to the end of September
(4,256 workers freed, 895 by the DRT and 3361 by the Mobile
Group) equal almost double the whole year of 2002 (2,152 workers
liberated), even though they are still short of what is necessary,
compared to the total number of requests. Although the dividing
line is often vague, a higher rate of cases (12%) can be described
as super-exploitation (informality, extremely precarious work
conditions, non-payment), without evidence of additional characteristics
of slave labor (restriction of liberty, by violence, pressure
or isolation). This may be an indication of change in the
in the complaints taken in 2003, in which Pará continues
to be the leader (52% of the cases, 70% of the workers involved:
3,475), the increase in number of cases in Tocantins is impressive
(20 cases already, involving 859 workers).
intensification of inspections has unleashed a strong reaction
from suspected ranchers. In March of 2003, they persistent
started a defamation campaign against the CPT in southern
Pará, especially against Father Henri des Roziers.
They also intensifyed the number of death threats in northern
the regions with the greatest occurrence of slave labor, the
region of Iriri, situated between Iriri and Xingu rivers in
southern Pará, is characterized by the striking absence
of public services. In a recent inspection - after three years
of practical absence of any operation - several ranches were
investigated, based on complaints taken by agents of the CPT
of Pará and Tocantins. As a result of this work, serious
threats were made against workers, CPT agents, as well as
the Federal Attorney of Palmas, in Tocantins.
death threats probably came from a local rancher, Aldimir
Nunes Lima, nicknamed "Branquinho", in whose ranch,
during the period between June and July 2002, the CPT received
news of five suspected deaths of workers who had been lured
into the Ananás region (where Branquinho has a house,
although he fled from it more than two years ago). These accusations,
made at the time by CPT in front of the Special Commission
to Combat Slave Labor (SEDH), resulted in a Federal Police
operation with 10 arrest warrants, including one for Branquinho
(who still remains a fugitive).
December 2002, three CPT agents have received death threats
(Silvano Lima Rezende, Edmundo Rodrigues Costa, and Fr. Xavier
Jean Marie Plassat), besides the Federal Attorney of Palmas,
Dr. Mario Lucio de Avelar, and rural worker Jair Matos de
Alencar, from Ananas, as detailed below:
In December 2002, we found out a plan against the Attorney
General of Palmas, Dr. Mario Lucio de Avelar, and against
Fr. Xavier Plassar, coordinator of the CPT National Campaign
Against Slave Labor. The document also included "all
the rest involved in the campaign", who they called "small
fish". Rancher Branquinho would have commented that "he
had already taken precautions to wipe out" those people
"who caused him so much damage". In mid-May 2003,
he "let it be known that he already knew who had denounced
him to the Federal Police".
mid-June, someone told Silvano and Edmundo, CPT agents in
Araguaina (Tocantins), to be very careful walking around the
city of Ananas (where both live with their families), as some
ranchers might be planning something against them, for being
considered as "the little priests who inform Fr. Xavier
for him to file complaints against slave labor". Between
May and June, three inspection operations were carried out
in two ranches in Ananas, with more than 150 workers rescued.
At the end of June, Silvano was informed his life was in great
In Ananas, rural worker Jair Matos de Alencar, also received
death threats. In mid-June, he was approached by Clodoaldo
(a gunman and informant for several ranchers, whose name is
associated with several crimes by contract) who warned him
that "in a few days they will start falling one by one".
He showed a 7.65 gun and added that doubts remained as to
who had filed the complaints: "otherwise they'd have
already been eliminated", At the end of June, Jair, in
a bar conversation, heard someone saying: "Over there
in Ananas people like Jair, Mario Lucio and Silvano should
be already gone. Those three are marked men".
There is also evidence of death threats against the Federal
Attorney. During three days, a Fiat Palio vehicle, with dark
windows, tailed Dr. Mario Lucio Avelar's car. The following
week, on August 7, 2003, two strangers riding a motorcycle
stopped the Attorney's car (that was driven by a friend).
One of them drew a gun as the other yelled: "No, that's
September 24, 2003, as the police siege was closing in around
him, rancher Aldimir Lima Nunes turned himself in to the Federal
Police in Marabá, and preventive imprisonment was ordered
by the Marabá federal judge, where he is still held
*Fr. Xavier Plassat is the coordinator of the National Campaign
Against Slave Labor for the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT).