Brazil Has The World’s Largest Slave Reparations Program, But It Needs Enforcement

July 14, 2014  |  

The Atlantic slave trade had long-lasting repercussions and today many of the affected people and countries are seeking some form of reparations from their former enslavers.

Caribbean nations not long ago agreed to seek slavery reparations from Europe, for example. The Caribbean Community (Caricom) gave the okay to a 10-point plan for reparations and declared that European governments in addition to being responsible for conducting slavery and genocide, also imposed 100 years of racial apartheid and suffering on freed slaves and the survivors of genocide, reports Reuters.

Caricom seeks a full formal apology for slavery, repatriation to Africa, a development plan for the native Caribbean people as well as funding for cultural institutions. It also points out the need to address chronic diseases and psychological rehabilitation for trauma inflicted by slavery, among other items.

Caricom has planned a conference in London later this summer for European and Caribbean nations to discuss the issues. If the complaint is rejected by the European nations, Caricom will take their individual cases to the International Court of Justice.

In America meanwhile the debate about reparations surges on.  Many think the United States should compensate its African-American citizens for the injustices suffered by their slave ancestors. And a group of noted lawyers and scholars have created a group called the Reparations Coordinating Committee to focus on the institutions it believes have profited from slavery, reports ABC News. As far as the government approving reparations, that seems a long way off as Congress has consistently rejected bills calling for merely a study on the issue.

But over in Brazil they have made some strides in the issue of reparations. In fact, its Quilombo Movement may actually be the world’s largest slavery reparations program. Luiz Pinto lobbies for the land rights of people who live in communities that were founded by runaway slaves. These communities are known as “quilombos” and according to Brazilian law, residents of quilombos have a constitutional right to land settled by their ancestors. The law is one thing, the reality is another. Pinto is working to make sure the quilombos get their rights.

Brazil, which imported more slaves from Africa between the 16th and 19th centuries than any other country in the Americas, was the last nation in the Western Hemisphere to outlaw slavery in 1889. “Today, more people of African descent live in Brazil than in any country in the world besides Nigeria. People of color make up 51 percent of Brazil’s population, according to the most recent census,” reports The Huffington Post.

For the most part, black Brazilians are poorer and live in the worst housing and attend the most underfunded schools. They also are disproportionately in jail. According to its 2011 census, 51 percent of Brazilians identify as either black or mixed-race. Among the poorest 10 percent of the population, 72 percent are black and a whopping 70 percent of homicide victims are black.

Now, more than 1 million black Brazilians want the government to honor their constitutional right to land. Because of their sheer numbers, Brazil’s quilombos may become the broadest slave reparations program ever.

In 1986, after Brazil’s military dictatorship ended, then-Congresswoman Benedita da Silva was one of 11 Afro-Brazilians among the 594 members of Congress elected to draft the country’s new founding document. Under da Silva’s law, quilombo members own their land outright.

The problem was that the term “quilombo” was not legally defined for years and in 2003. President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva issued a presidential decree that categorized quilombo descendants as an ethnicity so literally any black community could become certified as a quilombo if a majority of its residents wanted to do so.

The number of  recognized quilombos went from 29 to more than 2,400, comprising more than 1 million people. And there are hundreds more communities who have also applied to be recognized.

Despite all these efforts, the Brazilian government has yet to deliver all the land titles promised by the constitution. So far, only 217 quilombos have gotten land titles.

Photo by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images

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