Law turns on Brazil slaves' saviour

A YOUNG Brazilian accused a politician of allowing slavery on his land - and was sentenced to a year in prison for slander.

Last week human rights activist Darci Frigo, who was in London after reporting to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, said: 'People who denounce slavery are punished, while those who perpetrate the crime go free.'

In 1984, 12 children and a handful of adults from shanty towns near Ponta Grossa, in the southern province of Parana, were lured by promises of good wages into working on a plantation. 'The families were reluctant,' Mr Frigo said, 'but the gatos, the recruiters, said, 'You'll be well paid, working nearby and brought home at weekends.' '

They were taken in trucks to an estate in Cerro Azul, more than 60 miles away. 'They worked from 6am to 6pm clearing an area for planting. The foreman was armed to prevent anyone escaping. An adult got away and contacted the mother of one boy, who repeatedly urged the police for help to get her son back. She got nowhere and finally she contacted us.'

'Us' was a human rights centre in Ponta Grossa. Mr Frigo went to the estate, found the children ill and malnourished, and brought them home.

'Two years later, no action had been taken, so I publicly accused Luciano Pizzatto, a local landlord, businessman and state deputy, of permitting debt-bondage on his estates. He sued me for slander and I was found guilty.' The sentence was eventually reduced to six months and, after a protracted delay, cancelled on appeal.

The southern region of Brazil is no impoverished outback, but the most developed part of the country, containing 80 per cent of its industry. Farms using slave labour are not feudal estates but modern, highly mechanised operations.

Mr Frigo told the UN that of nearly 20,000 documented cases of slave labour in Brazil, more than one-third were in the developed south.