Home » Brazil, confronting calls for reparations, grapples with slavery’s painful legacy

Brazil, confronting calls for reparations, grapples with slavery’s painful legacy

by NBC News

RIO DE JANEIRO — The executive manager for institutional relations at a Brazilian state bank took the microphone before roughly 150 people at a forum on slavery’s legacy in his country, which kidnapped more Africans for forced labor than any other nation.

“Today’s Bank of Brazil asks Black people for forgiveness,” André Machado said to the mostly Black audience at the Portela samba school in Rio de Janeiro.

“Directly or indirectly, all of Brazilian society should apologize to Black people for that sad moment in our history,” he said, reading a statement to audience members who sat watching from plastic chairs, their eyes fixed upon him.

Brazil — where more than half the population self-identifies as Black or biracial — has long resisted reckoning with its past. That reluctance has started loosening.

Public prosecutors have begun probing Bank of Brazil, Latin America’s second-largest financial institution by assets, with $380 billion, for its historical links to the slave trade. Their investigation could yield a recommendation, an agreement or filing of legal action, and they invited Bank of Brazil to start a dialogue with Black people at the Portela school in the working-class Madureira neighborhood.

Ghyslaine Almeida e Cunha, a spiritual leader of the Afro-Brazilian religion Umbanda, traveled from the Amazonian city of Belem for what she called “an historic moment.” She welcomed the apology and announcement of measures, though the bank stopped short of pledging compensation.

“I came to say — on Portela’s sacred soil — that, yes, we do want reparations,” said Cunha.

Brazil enslaved more people from Africa than any other country; nearly 5 million kidnapped Africans disembarked in Brazil, more than 12 times the number taken to mainland North America, according to estimates from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade database. Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery, in 1888.

Valongo Wharf in Rio, which UNESCO…

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