Last May 2008 marked the 120 anniversary of the Lei Áurea – the law which abolished slavery in Brazil. In theory. Lamentably, slavery persists today: over the course of the past 14 years the federal government has rescued 30,000 farm workers, six thousand of these in 2007.
Appeal to the Brazilian Congress
Today, members of Congress have the opportunity to abolish slavery in Brazil for the second time. In order to achieve this, it will be necessary to expropriate lands where slave labor has been discovered. Expropriation of lands where slave labor has been used is both just and necessary, and will be one of the chief ways of eliminating impunity.
The Brazilian Constitution mandates that rural properties must fulfill their social function. Therefore the land may not be used as a means of oppressing anyone or placing them in a state of submission. Yet when we look at this country, and particularly at the areas of the agricultural frontier, what we see are cases of landowners who reduce their workers to a state similar to slavery – defined in article 149 of the Penal Constitution as a crime.
Depriving a person of his liberty and dignity are characteristics of contemporary slavery. The slaveholder is a person who robs others of their dignity and liberty. Slavery is a violation of human rights and should be treated as such. If a land owner uses his land as an instrument of oppression, he should lose the land, without indemnity.
For this reason, I, as a friend of Brazil and citizen of the world, petition the Brazilian Congress to approve the Constitutional Amendment 438/2001 in the matter of expropriating lands where slave labor has been discovered, and designating the land for land reform. This amendment was passed by the Senate in 2003 and approved at the first hearing in the House of Deputies in 2004. Since that time the amendment has been awaiting the vote.
The time has come to abolish this shameful practice! On the 120th anniversary of the law that abolishes slavery in Brazil, Congressmen and women, please do not lose this historic opportunity to guarantee the dignity of workers in your country.