Church responding Human Traffic reality

“No human body can, in any circumstances, be simply an object to be traded, trafficked
or enslaved.” 1
Archbishop Justin Welby
So – I have been invited to talk about human trafficking, which is something that is in the media at the moment and people are shocked by the extent to which it has spread
across the globe. But it is not a new thing. For centuries people have been trafficked and enslaved from one part of the world to another, or one part of a country to another. In
the Bible there are examples of slavery in Egypt and throughout history people were enslaved. But today, although official slavery has been abolished, it continues, as human
beings continue in their greedy, selfish way to exploit those who are weaker.
In the Amazon region of Brazil this has been the scenario since its “discovery” just over 500 years ago. The Amazon was never seen as a place to be developed, but a place to be
exploited, and not just by the Portuguese, or, as today, by China, Japan, Canada and many others, but also by Brazilians themselves. The Amazon is rich in minerals, oils,
hardwoods and many other natural resources. Until the early 19 th century the State of Pará, known as the gateway to the Amazon, was an independent state, not part of Brazil.
But the Brazilian elite had its eyes on the wealth there and tricked them into joining the rest of the country.
In this sense, the people of the Amazon, the indigenous populations, were never considered, on the contrary, millions were massacred as they would not “co-operate”
with the Portuguese invaders. And the British have their share too – during the Rubber Cycle in the 19 th century many British came to exploit the rubber, but left a few years later, taking with them seeds from the seringueira to Malaysia, where land and labour was cheaper so they could sell the rubber at a higher profit – so the idea of profit being more important than people is nothing new, and yet we are always surprised by it.
In this world, we live in where profit is more important than people, everything becomes a product – including people. And it is not because this has gone on for
centuries that we will just keep silent. Human trafficking has been a concern of the Diocese of the Amazon for some time. As Bishop Saulo Barros writes in his article 2
(2012): We understand that human trafficking is the result of the dominant ideology in the Western world which turns everything into a product and reifies human beings. This
is the logic of the empire, which we are submitted to, the formation of powers in the new globalized society that creates a system of domination and exploitation. For the empire,
the body, the human being, is just another product to be sold. This year, the Bishop Primate of Brazil, Francisco Silva continues to express his concern in his message during the Human Trafficking Awareness Week, motivating the churches in Brazil to talk about this issue and act on putting an end to the injustice. He writes: We need to increase the awareness of Brazilian society in relation to this silent
AGAINST SLAVERY – Casina Pio IV, Tuesday, 2 December 2014
2 Tráfico de pessoas: uma breve reflexão teológica. (Human Trafficking: a brief theological reflection)
Bishop Saulo Barros. 2012.
and obscure problem, which makes 30 billion dollars around the world, lining the pockets of international and national mafia. 3
In an attempt to raise this awareness the Anglican Diocese of the Amazon has taken part in debates and petitions. The Human Rights Commission of the Anglican Diocese of the
Amazon decided to support the realization of an informative panel on human trafficking, in the Cathedral of St. Mary, Belém – PA, demonstrating its total rejection of this kind of violence against human beings. A courageous attitude considering that this subject involves organised crime with international connections, exchanging 35 billion
reals every year, and about which society keeps a “silent pact of moral reprobation and practical accepting” 4 , especially in our region of the Amazon. Also, in 2013, SADD
(the Anglican Service of Diaconia and Development) put together a booklet on Violence Against Women, to be used in the local communities to help women recognise the
problem and build a support network for those who suffer violence. I believe this is a major step to help people, especially women, to recognize their rights, and not permit the exploitation and violence of working in slave-like conditions or being sold for prostitution. We have been taking the booklet to several communities around the
Diocese like Ulianópolis, in the interior of the state, where human trafficking and violence against women are common, and where many women didn’t even know there
was a special police station for women. The Northern part of Brazil is one of the poorest regions in the country and many men and women, when they are offered an opportunity
to work somewhere, often don’t question enough and find themselves enslaved in sub-human working conditions. The large corporations make them slaves of debt, ensuring
that all workers buy their groceries from their stores and discounting it from their salaries – that way they never have enough money to leave if they want to. (Most of
these people are brought in from other parts of the country, meaning they have nowhere to go for help if things get difficult).
In our own communities, we have examples of human trafficking. One man managed to rescue his niece’s two sons from Suriname. She was taken there with promises of a
better life, which wasn’t quite what she had expected, but the traffickers have brainwashed her, buying her confidence with trips around the world, expensive gifts –
all in exchange for her selling her body. In the time she was there she had two children – who are very often sold and/or used for child labour, but our friend managed to find
them and bring them back over the border. Later, with help from the Justice and Peace Committee of the Catholic Church who are working together with the Federal Police to
combat human trafficking, he could bring his niece back, together with a five years old child that she rescued from a family in the gold mines and who has suffered all kinds of
abuse. Another family was also affected by this – the granddaughter was about to leave for Suriname to work in the gold mines, but luckily her grandmother managed to
prevent her from leaving and went into hiding because of the threats against both theirlives.
We offer them our prayers and support when we can.
So, what can we do about this? With support from the USPG, the Amazon Diocese is running a Leadership Training Course for people who want to engage in their
communities and defend justice and human rights. To be honest I was very pleasantly surprised with the group we are training at the moment as they are very much engaged
3 Mensagem do Primaz sobre a Semana de Combate ao tráfico de pessoas – SNIEAB – 27/02/2015
4 Marcel Hazeu
<>in the fight against injustice which is so rare today and in a context where it is becoming more and more dangerous to stand up against the large corporations and in the name of the people. In May, we had a workshop on human trafficking, offered by sister
Henriqueta who has been fighting against this for years and is on the blacklist of the traffickers. She is also a member of the Justice and Peace committee and, with her help,
we hope to be able to run workshops in the different communities around Belém and multiply these preparing a maximum number of people possible to defend themselves
against this extreme violation of human rights. As Bishop Saulo mentions in his article,“Because of the complexity of human trafficking, it will never be stopped through local
initiatives, only through global action can we achieve results. As Christian communities, we have the possibility of creating networks of solidarity around the world in order to
fight this and other forms of dehumanizing.” As Diocese, we try to understand the complexities of the Amazon region and apply
Christ’s liberating theology to that. In order to understand these complexities, in our Diocesan Synod in 2012, we invited several speakers to talk about this context.
One of these was Edmilson Brito Rodrigues – a Federal Deputy for the State of Pará for the PSOL party (Socialism and Freedom Party) His speech and that of our other
guests was transcribed and compiled into this book: Amazônia e Anglicanismo (The Amazon and Anglicanism) – JUNET – National Board of Theological Education, Ed.
Fonte Editorial 2016. I have brought a couple of copies if anyone here can read Portuguese.
Edmilson, (apart from being my candidate for the next elections for mayor) was one of the founders and a teacher of UNIPOP, the Popular University who is
providing us with the teachers and support for our Leadership Training Course. UNIPOP began in the Anglican Church, supported by a British missionary, who
came from Canada, Rev. Graham Bland, where the popular movements met in their struggle against the military dictatorship. There began the first ecumenical
theological course. So the Anglican Church in the Amazon for some time now has been engaged in the fight for social justice.
So let’s look at this context through the eyes of Edmilson. He explains how Amazonia is one of the largest exporters in Brasil, perhaps in the world.
Parauapebas – a town in the interior of the State, financially exports more than São Paulo, because of all the minerals from the mines in Carajás. But at the same time
the region has the highest rate of Hansen’s disease – leprosy – in the world – a disease that has existed for thousands of years and has been eradicated from many
countries. In Belém the disease is coming back and is spreading, just like dengue, zica and chikungunya. and tuberculosis– unfortunately prostitution is another
epidemic caused by this emphasis on products, exports for money etc and little support for people. It is profit that calls the cards.
As Edmilson affirms, it is the large coorporations that support technical research – so they will support what is interesting to them. A large pharmaceutical company,
for example, is not going to support research into popular knowledge about natural remedies – some of which may even cure cancer – if that is not going to
bring them profits. Cancer is big business! They say they have found a cure, and its natural and cheap, but the pharmaceutical companies won’t allow that news to spread. So one phenomenon that is threatening lives is the idea that everything is a product – even human beings. Another problem is globalisation – we should see it as an opportunity and not just as a threat. Globalisation is for products – when people want to cross the border in Mexico many face a huge wall – much thickerthan the Berlin Wall and hundreds die trying to cross over. “For the markets everything, for the people nothing”, says Edmilson. One example of this is the railway line that the Chinese want to build across South America – they have
offered 90 billion to build it – why? To transport minerals from Brazil and other countries in South America to China – people – no – only if they want to work as
slaves or sell their organs!! Immigration – walking the streets of Italy, France, UK, there are many people onthe streets selling goods illegally, struggling to survive, and you find they have come from the colonies. Their country provided a wealth in raw materials many years ago – but today they are unable to reap the benefits of those products and
are treated with disrespect by the countries who took so much from them – products are more important than people.
The BBC produced a report on human trafficking calling attention to the high numbers in the UK. 5 According to the report there were 2340 potential victims of
human trafficking in the UK in 2014, over 10% from Nigeria. It is an international situation and if we are to talk about the globalization of products we need to talk
also about the globalization of combats against these violations of human rights. I believe that as a worldwide church we can contribute to that.
Edmilson took part in a CPI – (Parliamentary Inquiry Commission) on Human Trafficking and discovered that many people were tricked into sending their sons
to special football training schools – maybe to be the next “Neymar” in São Paulo or other regions of the country. These families are often in a situation of extreme
poverty, and low levels of education, and fall for the sweet talk of these criminals. They send their sons off to become football stars, and then completely lose contact
as they are trafficked off for sexual exploitation or child labour, having their documents confiscated and having no way of returning home.
But what most shocks me is when I hear, on the island. of Marajó, of parents who “rent” their daughters to tourists and visitors in order to buy oil for the generators
as there is no electricity in a large part of the island. Virgins will get you up to 60 lt of oil! What brings someone to sell their own daughter like that!! The value of
money and possessions over people.
We only can change these histories if we challenge and change the values that are being taught to these families. And this needs to be changed world wide. If
technology is reaching all people to sell, exploit and buy – so it should be used as well to raise awareness, disclose reality. – Indigenous populations now have access
to computers and are able to contact support groups when large companies occupy 5 see:
their lands to deforest and put cattle, soy-bean or whatever products is the “fashion” of the time. Need to build international networks – like the World Social
Forums which have taken place in Brazil where everyone shares their experiences.
We need to confront developments such as Belo Monte – a hidro-electric plant being built on Indigenous lands, which has only the interests of large companies in
mind – thinking nothing of the local people. It is being build for the production of aluminium. They say the produce jobs – they didn’t need them before – and most of
the employees are brought in from other stares – they are outsourced.
Water shortage – in a place where there is the biggest reserve of potable water in the world, we can find people living with no clean water. Men with no land for land with no men – totally ignoring the indigenous, river –dweelers and traditional populations of the Amazon. But really many large companies with their eyes on the land managed to falsify documents and now own huge áreas of land, and they still are – throwing people off their land saying they have the necessary documents and buying people off. – who then, losing their
traditional lifestyle, end up with nothing and accepting slave-like labour in order to survive. This happened in Santarém and there are now an alarming number of
favelas in the city where people from traditional families have been abandoned. They survived in the forest- didn’t need anyone or anything from outside. Now the
tv tells their children that to be someone you need an iphone, a computer, a video- game. nike trainers!! And many are prepared to kill to get those things, in order to
establish some form of status in a world where they are otherwise completely excluded.
The indigenous rights are being decided by the Brazilian parliament. With the current configuration of it there is no hope for justice for them. Again, people are
being neglected, they are commodities and some time a problem to be eradicated so profit wins. In other parts of Brazil the Anglican Church is also involved in countering human
trafficking and slave-like working conditions. CAMI – Centre of Support and Pastoral Care for Immigrants is run by the Anglican Bishop Flávio Irala, but is an
ecumenical organization. They offer support for immigrants to get their legal documents, advocacy support etc. In 2015 they dealt with around 6,000 requests
for help.
We pray for this international support and hope that, although we are very small, the Anglican Church here in the Amazon can make some noise and take part in the fight
against this abomination against Human Rights!