Note from BW of Brazil: The topic of reparations for the horrors, violations and damages due to the inhumane practice of slavery has been a hot topic for a number of years in the United States. Thus, it comes as no surprise that it is also a controversial topic in Brazil, a country in which slavery lasted longer (350 years), was abolished later (1888) and where 9 times more slaves were imported (somewhere 4-5 million). But there are a number of complications involved in concluding how much slavery was worth to Brazil and how to go about successfully repairing such an injustice. Beyond all of the complexities, does anyone actually believe that any capitalist government would actually seriously consider such an act? Well, it’s still interesting to know a few of the details of the discussion.
CAE rejects compensation to descendants of slaves
The Comissão de Assuntos Econômicos (CAE or Economic Affairs Committee) took an opposing stance to the Senate bill (PLS 432/2012) which provides for the creation of the Comissão da Indenização aos Descendentes de Negros Africanos Escravizados no Brasil (Committee on Compensation for Descendants of Black Africans Enslaved in Brazil). The proposal, authored by the Comissão de Direitos Humanos e Legislação Participativa (CDH or Commission on Human Rights and Participative Legislation), aims to control the form of identification of beneficiaries and payment of damages owed.
The justification of the project is based on the fact that the Brazilian economy relied, until the abolition of slavery in 1888, the exploitation of slave labor of Africans who were forcibly brought to the country.
But for the CAE, matter is incompatible with the Lei de Responsabilidade Fiscal (LRF or Fiscal Responsibility Law) and contrary “to the most basic republican principles, which require transparency in public spending and prior legislative authorization” conforms the stance adopted.
According to the opinion of Senator Eduardo Lopes (PRB-RJ) (1), “given the impossibility of estimating the budget impact and financial proposition, its consequences on the public budget, federal debt and fiscal policy becomes unpredictable.” The matter will be further examined by the Comissão de Constituição, Justiça e Cidadania (CCJ or Committee on Constitution, Justice and Citizenship).
For lack of quorum, CAE desisted from examining, in terminative decision, determining that the project rate of interest charged on loans charged to retirees of the INSS does not exceed 5% per Selic (Sistema Especial de Liquidação e Custódia or Special System for Settlement and Custody) year rate.
The project (PLS 300/2005) excludes from this limit of five percentage points of the tax increases, the interest and the costs associated with credit recovery. If finally adopted, the text will change the law 10.820/03.
Indemnity proposal to the descendants of slaves in the country amounts to 600 US GDP
by Rodrigo Couto
July 9, 2009
The figure is quite impressive. And it should provoke a new controversy with extensive discussions throughout the country. The creation of the Committee on Compensation for Descendants of Black Africans Enslaved in Brazil was the subject of a public hearing held on July 8th, 2009, by the Commission on Human Rights and Participative Legislation Senate with a proposal that provides for payment in a lump sum of at least R$200 thousand (2) to those that proved a connection with slaves. If it was approved today and considering that the country is home to at least 80 million people of African descent, the measure would cost the public coffers the impressive figure of R$16 quadrillion, or about US$8 quadrillion.
“This amount would be somewhere around 600 US GDPs (Gross Domestic Product or PIB – Produto Interno Bruto in Portuguese),” predicts Mario Lisbôa, director of Cooperação e Desenvolvimento do Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (IPEA or Cooperation and Development of the Institute of Applied Economic Research). Despite being favorable to the reparation of State to the social group, experts interviewed by Correio (newspaper) were wary of the cash payment.
While admitting resistance to the issue, especially in Congress, Humberto Adami, president of the Instituto de Advocacia Racial e Ambiental (Iara or Institute of Racial and Environmental Advocacy or Iara), reminds us that the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and Japanese prisoners received compensation. “Why can other people be paid and not blacks?”, he asked. Defender for social policies for people of African descent, Mario Lisbôa argues that the proposal is positive, because it puts slavery into debate. But he admits that from the point of view of the ability of the State to pay these amounts, it is infeasible. “It is an ambitious project, considering that the black population represents more than half of Brazilians.”
Reparations would pay blacks for around 300 years of slavery. “Without any fear of error, the issue is one of the most important. The idea of financial reparation is extremely controversial,” said Senator Cristovam Buarque (PDT-DF) (3). Contrary to payment of reparations, the parliamentary advocates educational incentives to students of African descent, funding cultural projects related to black culture, and public recognition that abolition is not complete.
Journalist and publicist, João Roberto de Carvalho went further and filed a petition in June 2001, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concerning the violation of the Convention on Human Rights by the Brazilian State. “If we win in the OEA (OEA (Organização dos Estados Americanos or Organization of American States), the reparation money should be deposited in a fund to be applied in affirmative education, and will be managed by a board of notables from the Brazilian black community,” he explains.
Do you agree with reparation to the descendants of black Africans enslaved in Brazil?
José Vicente, President of the Universidade da Cidadania Zumbi dos Palmares (University of Zumbi dos Palmares Citizenship), Brazil’s only black college
“The purpose of financial reparation for the descendants of slaves is current, timely, fair, and would make a correction in the unfair treatment that was forced upon blacks throughout their trajectory in the country. We have a series of other paradigms on the same grounds, such as the reparation of political amnesties here in Brazil, the reparation of the Jews on the international level, including reparation to the slaveholders, when abolition was done, and reparation that was also given to the immigrants who came to our country. The matter already has legal precedent in Brazil, and from the economic point of view, it fits in the possibilities, given the suitability of the Brazilian economy. It is a measure that regardless of all the other grounds of the presence of the state in the production of public policy of any kind, it’s presented as a specific action, objective and fair in order to repair all damage suffered by African slaves to their descendants.”
Carlos Bacellar, professor in the Department of History at USP
“Any attempt to establish a policy aimed at indemnifying African descendants generates inevitably immense controversy. Again, as in the quota system for the university, it enters the dangerous game of the definition of who is a descendant of a captive African. In the case of reparations, the prospect of receiving some value reinforces the need to get a solid criterion, which cannot be restricted to skin color. Certainly whoever had a grandfather freed in 1888 will have plenty of opportunities to prove their ancestry, but the descendants of a captive from a more receded time, say, the 18th century, would have immense difficulties proving their genealogical rights, after two centuries of miscegenation and forgetfulness. On the other hand, how do you evaluate reparations like this? Do we pay any value, and the issue of slavery is resolved? Make no mistake: the economic inequality that thrives in this country remain intact.”
Source: Senado Federal – Portal de Notícias, Correio Braziliense,
1. Partido Republicano Brasileiro (Brazilian Republican Party) of Rio de Janeiro
2. The Brazilian currency known as the real (prural reais) and has consistently fluctuated in value in comparison with the US dollar. In July of 2009, at the time of this discussion on reparations, the dollar was worth on average about 1.90 reais, which would place the value of R$200,000 at about US$105,263. As of July 20, 2013, one US dollar was worth 2.24 Brazilian reais which would mean that R$200,000 would be worth US$89,285.
3. Partido Democrático Trabalhista (Democratic Labor Party) of the Distrito Federal (Federal District)