Klaus Hart Brasilientexte

Aktuelle Berichte aus Brasilien – Politik, Kultur und Naturschutz

“Happy New Year.” Brasiliens wichtigster Befreiungstheologe Frei Betto 2012. Sklavenarbeit unter der Lula-Rousseff-Regierung.


Why wish a Happy New Year when there is so much unhappiness around us? Will the next year be happy for Afghans and Palestinians or for US soldiers under the orders of an imperialist government which qualifies wars of genocidal occupation as “just”?

Are African children who are reduced to skeletons and whose look is confused by torture and hunger, happy? Can we all be happy when we are aware of the failures of Copenhagen, where profits are saved and sustainability is compromised?

What is happiness? Aristotle pointed out: it is the greatest good we all desire. And my co-friar Thomas Aquinas warned: even when we practise evil. From Hitler to Mother Teresa of Calcutta everyone seeks their own happiness in all they do.

The difference lies in the selfishness/altruism equation. Hitler thought about his heinous ambitions of power. Mother Theresa thought of the happiness of those whom Frantz Fanon called “the Earth’s condemned”.

Happiness, the most desired good, does not figure in the market’s offers. It cannot be bought, it must be earned. Advertising tries to convince us that it results from the sum of pleasures. For Roland Barthes, pleasure is “the great adventure of desire”.

Stimulated by advertising, our desire isolates itself in consumer goods. Advertising tells us that to wear brand clothing, possess a certain car, live in a luxurious condo – will make us happy.

To wish Happy New Year is to hope the other will be happy. Is it also to hope that it will make others happy? Does the cattle rancher who doesn’t pay medical insurance for his workers but spends a fortune on vets for his herd hope that others will also have a Happy New Year?

Opposing consumerism, Jung agreed with St. John of the Cross: desire does, yes, seek happiness, “life in abundance” mentioned by Jesus but it is not to be found in the finite goods offered by the market. As Professor Milton Santos used to say, it is to be found in infinite goods.

The art of true happiness consists in channelling the desire within oneself and, starting from a subjectivity filled with values, giving meaning to existence. Thus one can be happy even while suffering.

It is a spiritual adventure. Being capable of extracting the various layers which cover our ego.

However, when probing the dark corners of the inner life, guided by faith and/or by meditation, we trip on our own emotions and especially on those which “betray” our reason: we are offensive with those we love, rude to those who treat us gently, selfish with those who are generous and arrogant with those who welcome us with solicitous generosity.

If we manage to go deeper, beyond selfish reason and possessive feelings, then we come closer to the source of happiness hidden behind the ego. As we tread the deep paths which lead us to it, the moments of joy become consubstantial in a spiritual state. As in love.

Happy New Year is, therefore, a vote for spiritual emulation. Of course many other victories can give us pleasure and a happy feeling of success. But they are not enough to make us happy. A world without poverty, inequality, environmental degradation and corrupt politicians would be much better!

This unhappy reality which surrounds us and for which we are responsible by option or omission, constitutes a loud appeal for us to get involved in the search for “other possible worlds”. However, it will still not be a Happy New Year.

The year will be new if, within and around us, we can overcome the old. The old is everything that does not contribute towards happiness as a right for all. In light of a new measure for civilisation the development-consumerist model must be done away with and instead of the GDP, the Happiness Domestic Product (HDP), founded on a sustainable economy of solidarity must be introduced.

If the new enters our spiritual life, then we shall certainly have, with no miracles or magic, a Happy New Year, even if the world continues to be in discord with cruelty disguised in sweet principles and hatred disguised as loving discourse.

The difference being that we will be aware that, in order to have a Happy New Year, it is necessary to embrace a resurrection process: become pregnant with ourselves, turn ourselves inside out and leave pessimism for better days.

*Frei Betto is a writer, author of “A arte de semear estrelas” (The Art of Sowing Stars) (Rocco).


Frei Betto*

In January 2004 three labour inspecting auditors and their driver were murdered in Unai (state of Minas Gerais) while investigating slave labour on a bean plantation. This month it will be nine years of impunity. Until now nobody has been condemned for the massacre which took the lives of auditors Eratostenes de Almeida Goncalves, Joao Batista Soares Lage, Nelson Jose da Silva and of the driver Ailton Pereira da Silva.

Brazil maintains efficient inspection regarding degrading labour. The Mobile Group has been in action since 1995 and as from 2003 has freed more than 35,000 workers according to information from the CPT (Pastoral Land Commission).

There are permanent obstacles to be faced, as my co-friar Xavier Plassat (National Human Rights Prize 2008) says, like bureaucracy which delays the investigation of denunciations, operational difficulties for hastening the Federal Police which acts as a judiciary police and resistance to effective inspection by some regional sub municipalities.

Inspection, however, has improved. Only 1/3 of denunciations are still to be investigated. This does not mean that freeing workers ends slavery. It has laid deep roots in Brazilian soil: we had the longest period of slavery in the Americas, 358 years (1530-1888) and today profit, poverty and impunity favour this heinous crime.

Slavery does not only occur in rural areas. It expands into large urban centres such as the Sao Paulo garment industry which exploits the manual labour of Bolivian and Asiatic immigrant workers.

In 2010, 242 people were freed from situations analogous to slavery in non-agricultural activities like civil construction (175 were working for the PAC – Programme for the Acceleration of Growth!). In the rural areas, 2/3 of the cases between 2003 and 2010 occurred in cattle farming (deforestation, opening up and maintenance of pasture land), 17% in sugar cane, soya, cotton, corn and coffee plantations or in re-forestation and 10% in coal mining at the service of the steel industry.

The majority of those freed worked in cattle raising and sugar cane cutting particularly in the Amazon region, in the states of Para, Tocantins, Maranhao and Mato Grosso where the prophetic voice of Bishop Dom Pedro Casaldaliga is heard even today at 84 years of age and is threatened with death for defending the oppressed (National Human Rights Prize 2012).

Why slave labour in the 21st century? Profit! When it is discovered, the owner pretends he does not know it was happening on his lands and blames the foreman. Ranchers, parliamentarians, magistrates, TV stars all figure as rural land owners who adopt low cost manual labour in sub-human conditions – i.e. slave labour.

Hence the difficulty for the Chamber of Deputies to approve, after eight years, the constitutional amendment proposing the cancellation of land ownership to those who adopt slave labour. Fortunately, the PEC 438 (Constitutional Amendment Proposal) was approved in May 2012 and now awaits approval in the Senate.

Nowadays rural property owners no longer own the slave nor are they responsible for the maintenance and reproduction of their offspring as happened in colonial Brazil.  He uses and takes advantage of slave labour, makes false promises and then discards workers three or four months later. Coal workers, grass and cane cutters in the 21st century have a lower life expectancy than slaves had in the 19th century.

Slave labour is found in the principal Brazilian agro business productive chains: meat and wood (half the denunciations), sugar cane and other crops (half those freed) and (fossil) coal.

There is a close link between the expansion of agro business in the context of the globocolonisedeconomy and the precariousness of labour relations. Here lies the contradiction, warns friar Xavier Plassat: the very government which stimulates monocultures for export has to deal with the enormous damage this causes, including to Brazil’s image abroad.

The International Labour Organisation calculates that there are at present between 12 and 27 million people in the world working in conditions of slavery. In Brazil, 25,000 are estimated to be subjected to degrading conditions of labour and this includes children.

The time has come for the unions to uncross their arms regarding this blemish on the Brazilian scene.


*Frei Betto is a writer, author of “Cartas da Prisao” (Letters from Prison) (Agir).

Katholische Organisation AIS in Chile bittet um Hilfe für die in Syrien von islamischen Fundamentalisten verfolgten Christen. Poster – anklicken – in den katholischen Kirchen Chiles. “La persecucion de grupos fundamentalistas islamicos”. Warum Gruppen fundamentalistischer Islamisten in Mitteleuropa immer stärker werden. **






Brasiliens führender katholischer Befreiungstheologe Frei Betto über den Sturz von Regierungen: http://www.hart-brasilientexte.de/2008/08/12/befreiungstheologe-frei-betto-zwischen-1898-und-1994-haben-die-usa-48-lateinamerikanische-regierungen-gesturzt-unter-ihnen-die-von-joao-goulart-1964-in-brasilien/

Dieser Beitrag wurde am Sonntag, 30. Dezember 2012 um 19:18 Uhr veröffentlicht und wurde unter der Kategorie Politik abgelegt. Du kannst die Kommentare zu diesen Eintrag durch den RSS-Feed verfolgen.

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