Sunday, August 28, 2005

Rolling Stone discovers slavery

Rolling Stone has discovered that slavery still exists.

Although Brazil outlawed slavery in 1888, landowners like Manica continue to hold thousands of men captive in the vast scrublands of Brasil Profundo -- Deep Brazil -- a desolate, sun-scorched region that sprawls across a million square miles in the country's vast interior. It's a brutal, lawless land, where drugs and small arms flow north through the "cocaine corridor" and mahogany and other rare woods stripped from the rain forest make their way to American furniture showrooms. Here, on huge cattle ranches and farms known as fazendas, enslaved men are forced to work without pay from sunrise to sunset under inhumane conditions. Those who refuse to follow orders are beaten and tortured; those who demand payment or attempt to flee are killed, their bodies mutilated and dumped in unmarked graves. Human-rights advocates in Brazil have documented the murders of more than 1,200 forced laborers, and many more killings are passed off as farming mishaps. One recent "accident" victim, a twenty-year-old named Carlos Dias, was killed by a bullet fired into his eye. "It's like your Wild West," Moreira says. "In the hinterland, the landowner is king." ...

The government puts the number of slaves at 25,000, but others say there are as many as 100,000. "No one really knows how many slaves there are in Brazil," says Patricia Audi, head of the anti-slavery program for the International Labor Organization in Brasilia. Around the world, an estimated 27 million people are held in bondage -- more slaves than at any other time in human history. In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of slaves toil in brickmaking kilns. In India, desperate parents sell their children to weave carpets. The Burmese government forces villagers to build roads and bridges, and the "Lord's Resistance Army" in Uganda kidnaps children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves. Gangs in Eastern Europe enslave women into prostitution, and more than 10,000 people in the United States are forced to work in brothels, farms and sweatshops.

Compared to some countries, Brazil has relatively few slaves -- but its effort to end forced labor is widely regarded as a model. Since 2003, the government's antislavery squads have freed nearly 7,000 workers. "They're among the leaders of the world," says Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves and author of Disposable People, the most comprehensive book on modern slavery. "While other countries pretend slavery doesn't exist, Brazil uses mobile squads with just one purpose: to find and eliminate slavery. That's what other countries should be doing."

If Brazil is the front line in the global war on slavery, the general is President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva -- known throughout the country by his nickname, Lula. A month after his inauguration in 2003, da Silva unveiled the seventy-five-point "National Plan for the Eradication of Slavery," which increased funding for the mobile squads and stiffened penalties for slaveholders. Critics said the plan was too ambitious, but the issue is clearly a personal one for Lula: He is the first chief executive in his nation's 500-year history to rise from the favelas, the slums that fester on the outskirts of major cities. When Lula waved to the crowds of working-class supporters who jammed the streets of Sao Paulo the day after his election, they saw the evidence that he was one of them: a gap on his left hand where the little finger should have been, amputated by a machine press when he was a young factory worker.

This is a powerful, important article about a subject the almost never makes it into the major media outlets. Rolling Stone is to be congratulated for the effort.


At 1:46 PM, Blogger Jacob Patton said...

Hi Tim, thanks for posting this to your blog. The RS article is a powerful piece.

I work for Free the Slaves, one of the organizations cited in the piece. Osha Davidson, the author of the article, has offered to sit for an interview with us, which we'll post to our blog. If you have any questions you'd like to ask Osha, email them to me--if you get them to me soon enough, we might be able to include them in the interview.

Jacob Patton
Director of Outreach and Technology
Free the Slaves


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