The perverse legacy of racist colonialism


The African slave trade to the American continent, organized mainly by the Portuguese and Brazilians for more than three and a half centuries, was the largest and longest-lasting forced migration in all of history.

By Fábio Konder Comparato*

According to a study released in October this year by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, the chronic social inequality that has marked the entire course of our history, since Pedro Álvares Cabral landed here at the dawn of the 2018th century, increased in 1. richest 34% of the country was almost XNUMX times greater than that of the poorest half of our entire population.

It is not difficult to see that such scandalous data represent the rotten fruit of exclusionary capitalism and genocidal racism, implanted here since the beginning of the colonization process.

It is estimated that in 1500, when the Portuguese arrived here, the indigenous population in our territory was around 3 to 4 million people. During the colonial period, as historians report, an average of 1 million Indians were exterminated each century. Now, such genocide runs the serious risk of being resumed with the current federal mismanagement; which led the Human Rights Advocacy Collective – CADHu and the Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns Commission for the Defense of Human Rights, of which I am honored to be a part – to send a Communication to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor, in which they require the opening of a preliminary proceeding on incitement to the genocide of the indigenous population, by the current Chief of the Federal Executive Power.

At the same time, the African slave trade to the American continent, organized mainly by the Portuguese and Brazilians for more than three and a half centuries, was the largest and longest-lasting forced migration in all of history. Today, it is precisely known that twelve and a half million slaves were transported from Africa to the Americas between 1500 and 1867, of which less than eleven million survived the crossing of the Atlantic. Almost half of this vast captive population was landed in Brazilian territory, with 5% dying during the process of sale and transport to the workplace; and another 15% in the first three years of captivity in our territory.

The slave trade to Brazil was, for almost three centuries, our most lucrative commercial activity and the slave traders formed, during all this time, the wealthiest layer of our population. Incidentally, our landowners always preferred to buy slaves brought by traffickers, than to use those who were already born here, since the life expectancy of a captive born in Brazil, as verified in 1872, was only 18,3 years, while the average for the general population reached 27,4 years.

On May 13, 1888, we were the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, and we did so peacefully, because of our “cordial character” as some said; but also without paying a penny of compensation to the manumitted. Slave owners, among whom several congregations of the Catholic Church have always been, did not feel in the least responsible for the consequences of the nefarious crime, practiced for almost four centuries.

The history of slavery of Africans and Afro-descendants in Brazil is now being recounted by Laurentino Gomes, in his monumental work Slavery (GloboLivros, 2019) whose first of three volumes has already been published. It is my hope that this execrable story will become an important part of our elementary school curriculum.

*Fabio Konder Comparato Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Law of the University of São Paulo and Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Coimbra.

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