1995 to 2004, the Ministry of Labor’s Special Group freed
nearly 12,000 people from the debt that indentured them to
slavery. Among the people charged were those who held
political office: Jorge Picciali and his son Leonardo
Picciani, members of the state and federal House of
Representatives respectively, representing Rio de Janeiro, and
charged for slaving at their Mato Grosso farm; Inocêncio de
Oliveira, a Pernambuco member of the House of Representatives,
was charged at his farm in Maranhão; and, for the practices
on their farm in the state of Pará, João Braz Da Silva,
mayor of Unaí, Minas Gerais, and Francisco Donato de Araújo
Filho, Secretary to the Governor of the State of Piau were
brought to justice.
for debt 
1995 to 2004, a special group in the Ministry of Labor has
been able to release nearly 12,000 people from slavery. The
special group continues in its activity, focusing on the state
of Pará, which has the greatest concentration of known cases.
the people charged are those who hold political office: Jorge
and Leonardo Picciani, a father and son who hold state and
federal office in their respective House of Representatives in
the state of Rio de Janeiro, who have a farm in Mato Grosso; a
Pernambuco member of the house of representatives, Inocêncio
de Oliveira, who owns a farm in Maranhão; and, with a farm in
the state of Pará, João Braz da Silva, mayor of Unaí, Minas
Gerais (MG), and Francisco Donato de Araújo Filho, Secretary
to the Governor of the state of Piauí.
the slave labor, it is not rare to find, weighing against such
elected officials, accusations of other crimes. It is what has
happened with Antério Mânica, the new mayor of Unaí, Minas
Gerais, whose term begins in 2005. Mânica is considered, with
his brothers Norberto and Luiz Antonio, to be the largest
producer of beans in the country. Antério is accused of using
slave labor in Minas Gerais with his brother Norberto. Both
are suspected of ordering the assassination of a driver and
three Ministry of Labor inspectors in Minas Gerais. The former
Deputy of State in Pará, Vavá Mutran, is also accused in the
case. He has been charged, with other members of his family,
of having used slave labor on at least five farms
in the south of Pará for almost 20 years. Vavá has also been
charged in the homicides.
locations of the crimes are in remote regions of the Amazon,
in areas of low demographic density, where the roads are
precarious and river and aerial transport are at times
necessary. But it
can also occur in densely populated regions, served by tarred
roads and in the presence of an organized civil society.
Diverse cities in the state of Rio de Janeiro,
for example, have been cited in recent years in charges of
press neglected the problem of slavery for a long time,
despite the fact that it affected a large number of people,
especially in the north of the country. However superficially
and briefly, the press did begin to wake up to the subject.
has changed in Brazil with regard to slave labor? The social
status of those charged with involvement in the crime had
changed; this changed the behavior of the government and
certainly changed the level of knowledge of the problem for a
great portion of the public. This was the result of a long
mobilization of civil society. The Pastoral Land Commission
(CPT) was a pioneer in the systematic, continuous
denunciations. Isolated in the beginning, it was as if they
were speaking to stones when they addressed the issue, but,
beginning in the early 1990s, a few other organizations
embraced the cause and, a decade later, the number of
organizations and concerned people working for the eradication
of slave labor grew significantly.
the Office of the Attorney General, headed by Dr. Aristides
Junqueira, formally took on the cause, and the Attorney
General’s office held monthly meetings with the
participation of grassroots organizations. This discussion
helped to guide policy proposals in the following years. In
1992, Valdir Ganzer, a representative for the state of Pará,
which has the greatest concentration of known cases, proposed
a constitutional amendment that would enforce the
"immediate expropriation" of property that used
slave labor. Other parliamentarians, including some from Pará,
such as Paulo Rocha and Ademir Andrade, sponsored similar
projects in the following years. The bill by Ademir Andrade
was approved in the Senate and is still the subject of debate
in the House of Representatives.
Slave as a Migrant Worker
we examine the charges, we find evidence of some coincidences.
In general, the "victims" are not from the areas
where the crimes take place. Studies conducted by the Pastoral
Land Commission confirm that the majority of the workers
enslaved in Pará come from other regions. They are people in
transit, who had come to Pará in search of work. The
phenomenon also happens in Minas Gerais, Piauí, Alagoas, São
Paulo, Paraná, Maranhão, Espirito Santo, and Rio de Janeiro.
there must be a reason to leave a place where one lives, where
one’s values and relationships have been formed. Someone can
leave because of an illness, a war, a desire to study, for
sentimental reasons, for adventure, marriage, economic
necessity or another motive. In the case of slave labor, the
main reasons are usually poverty and unemployment.
with a high poverty level are more vulnerable to enticements.
It is also possible that these workers are illiterate or have
a low level of schooling and do not have any job training;
they have no land or have insufficient land for productivity
if there are reasons to migrate, we could ask why the workers
still submit themselves to slavery? Why don’t they end the
cycle of exploitation? The mechanisms of coercion are many:
the distance between the farm and the place they came from;
the lack of money to travel home; the retention of their
documents [by the land owners]; physical threats and in some
cases armed guards. Are these enough to explain the slavery in
the country? Certainly there are other factors.
to professor Neide Esterci (1994: 17), citing M. Weber,
domination is not supported exclusively by force. In fact,
domination is more efficient if it is based on some apparent
“right”, and the person dominated is convinced of this. In
the case of slave labor, this is created by a system of debt.
For this, it is essential to convince the workers that they do
not have the right to leave the farm; that they are indebted
because they received transportation, food, working tools,
debt "captures" the person. It is an imprisonment
that captures not only the body but the soul. To escape, to
run away from the author of the persuasion, is considered to
be a crime. To not pay the debt is perceived as robbery.
is surprising is that the farmers can in fact believe it is
"morally" right to compel the "debtor” to
keep working, as is evidenced in a interview with Jairo
Andrade. He denied that he used slave labor, but candidly
acknowledged that under the system of “debt” nobody ever
left his farms (Rouard, 1998: 13).
example is the case of Antonio Barbosa de Melo – condemned
by a federal court for the intentional crime of using labor in
circumstances identical to slavery,–
castigated his victims. According to him, “the workers were
liars and drunks who did not know how to work and he had been
generous in offering them a chance to be of service.
Has Been Done
human rights organizations, it is necessary to work against
notions that legitimize or naturalize slave labor. They have
created permanent commissions and working groups, as well as
campaigns for the eradication of slave labor, like one called
"Open Eyes Prevent Slavery" organized by the
Pastoral Land Commission (CPT). The International Labor
Organization, the National Association of Federal Judges, the
National Association of Labor Relations, the Bar Association
of Brazil and other organizations have expanded efforts to
assist the Brazilian government in its actions against
is important to point out the actions of the office of the
Public Prosecutor in the Ministry of Labor. The office has
acted with efficiency and creativity in order to disseminate
information on the subject. In Bahia, for example, after
fining the large farms of Roda Velha and Tabuleiro for labor
crimes, the Public Prosecutor required both to sign legal
declarations of adjustment of behavior. The farmers promised
to fulfill the laws, and these statements were made public and
published in two local newspapers.
Another judicial measure with a pedagogical objective was
undertaken in Mato Grosso. In the legal settlement, the farmer
agreed to pay R$250,000 to support activities to eradicate
of the most important measures proposed recently is a
constitutional amendment that would enforce the immediate
expropriation of farms that use slave labor. In order to
guarantee its approval in Congress, grassroots organizations
are pressuring the Federal Government to take a more direct
role. It has to mobilize its own influence in the House of
Representatives and in the Senate.
Neide. Slaves of Inequality: a Study of the Repressive Use of
Forced Labor Today. Rio de Janeiro: CEDI, 1994.
Claude. Anthropology of Slavery - The Womb of Iron and Money.
Rio de Janeiro: J. Zahar, 1995;
Jr, Barrington. Injustice: The Social Bases of Obedience and
Revolt. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1987;
Moacir. "House and Work: Note on Social Relations on the
Reviewed in Revista Contraponto (Counterpoint
Magazine), year 2, no. 2, November 1977;
Xavier. Confiscation of the Land: The Tree and the Forest
(article received by e-mail on September 2, 2004, distributed
for the International Labor Organization (ILO);
FIGUEIRA, Ricardo. Stepping Outside of
the Shade: Slavery for Debt in Contemporary Brazil, Rio
de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2004;
Danielle. Le Monde (April 25, 1998: 13);
Abdelmalek. Immigration –
or the Paradoxes of the Other. São Paulo: EDUSP, 1998.
suggestions to the text, I thank the teacher Gelba Cerqueira
and journalist Sonia Benevides, of the Group for Research on
Slave Labor (GPTEC), a function of the Center for Philosophy
and Human Sciences/Federal University-Rio de Janeiro
Priest, chairman of the board of the Social Network for
Justice and Human Rights, researcher of GPTEC and one of the
directors of the Human Rights Movement (MHuD).
Between 1986 and 2004, there were charges of slave
labor, for example, on the Baguá farms, Cabeceiras, Castanhal
de Cabeceiras, Espirito Santo and Mutamba/Gameleira.
Araruama, Cabo Frio, Campos de Goytacazes, Cantagalo,
Carapebus, Magé, Petrópolis, Resende, Quatis, São Fidelis,
Some aspects of the text concerning the migration and the
resistance have been treated at greater length by Rezende
On this aspect, the Valley of Punishment, read Sayad
‘Dwelling’ means more than ‘to inhabit.’ It is to
inhabit, but also to work the lands of the farm. Read Valley
of Punishment, on the category of ‘dwelling’ in the
stimulating text by Moacir Palmeira (1977).
the book on the subject by Neide Esterci (1999).
the conditions that make the indignation possible see B. Moore
149 of the Brazilian Criminal Code.
[ "... the employee,
beyond all the defects already told (...), is a person
addicted to drink and a liar; he also adds that, having the
interrogated them, Francisco Machado and Francisco Ferreira
did not know how to work in weeds, but he gave jobs to them
because they were dying of hunger “(...) (farmer Antonio
Barbosa de Melo, in interrogation by the Federal Police:
[ One of more national
character, O Jornal do Brasil, in Rio De Janeiro, and the
other more regional one, the Bahia newspaper, A Tarde. The
first one, on September 9, 2004, page A22, for example,
published: "Worse than to be without work is to not be
able to leave it.” ”No to Slave Labor: Docket No.
0800710990, Fazenda Tabuleiro in partnership with the MPT, 5th
District, Salvador, Bahia.”