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These Pictures Prove Brazil's Legacy Of Slavery Is Not A Thing Of The Past

02/11/2015 11:51 am ET | Updated Feb 11, 2015

In 1889, Brazil became the last country in the Americas to outlaw slavery. More enslaved Africans were sent to Brazil than any other country in the hemisphere.

That legacy of racial slavery is readily apparent in Brazil's socioeconomic structure today.

Among the poorest 10 percent of the population, 72 percent are black or mixed-race, according to a 2012 study by the Institute of Applied Economic Research. Researchers at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro calculated in 2013 that if the Brazilian population were divided along racial lines, whites would occupy the 65th position on the U.N. Human Development Index, while Afro-Brazilians would only reach 102nd place.

Despite all that, Brazil is also home to what may well be the largest slavery reparations program ever attempted. Article 68 of the 1988 Constitution grants a permanent, nontransferable title to the land occupied by settlements started by runaway slaves, known in Portuguese as "quilombos."

In 2003, the leftwing government of Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva expanded the legal definition of the word "quilombo," classifying it as an ethnicity. Under Brazilian law, the change meant that now virtually any black community could apply for benefits under the law if a majority of its residents so decided.

The Brazilian government had certified some 2,400 communities as quilombos by 2013, with hundreds more waiting for approval. The law affects more than 1 million people and the territory claimed by the quilombos across Brazil totals about 4.4 million acres -- roughly the size of New Jersey.

The promised land is not forthcoming for most of these communities. Only 217 quilombos had received their constitutionally guaranteed land titles as of last year. But the growing movement's massive scope makes clear that Brazil's legacy of slavery is not a thing of the past.

The Huffington Post reported on Brazil's quilombo movement in a two-part series last year. The photos below, some of them published here for the first time, were taken as part of that project.

  • 1 Quilombos have a constitutional right to land
    Carolina Ramirez/HuffPost
    A sign in front of driveway to quilombo Sacopã in Rio de Janeiro announces that the property is a quilombo. In English, it reads:

    "To the descendants of those quilombos that currently occupy their lands, the definitive property rights are recognized. The responsibility falls to the State to emit the respective titles."
  • 2 Sacopã has fended off developers and local authorities for decades
    Carolina Ramirez/HuffPost
    Home to the Pinto family, quilombo Sacopã sits perched on a hilltop in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of Rio. Before developers erected high-rise condos in the 1970s, the neighborhood's hillside was home to slums.
  • 3 Police have repeatedly tried to kick the Pinto family out
    Carolina Ramirez/HuffPost
    In 1986, police occupied the property and forced the community to stop its monthly samba parties. José Claudio holds the rusted lock installed at that time used to shutter the windows of quilombo Sacopã's kitchen. The Pinto family never took it down.
  • 4 Quilombos are almost as old as Brazil itself
    Roque Planas/HuffPost
    The Portuguese government colonial described the existence of quilombos in Brazil since at least the early 17th century -- about a century after European explorers first landed in the area.

    In this picture, Osório, an elder of the quilombo of São Francisco do Paraguaçú, stands before the ruins of a centuries-old church located there.
  • 5 And have become a nationally recognized symbol of Afro-Brazilian pride and resistance to slavery and discimination
    Carolina Ramirez/HuffPost
    Brazil's biggest quilombo, Palmares, grew to some 15,000 inhabitants and lasted for 80 years before the Portuguese destroyed it in 1694.

    This statue in the city center of Salvador, Bahia, depicts Palmares' King Zumbi, who has been celebrated as a hero in songs and film.
  • 6 Preserving traditional culture remains an important aspect of quilombo life
    Roque Planas/HuffPost
    Quilombo residents from across the state of Bahia perform traditional dance and martial arts at a religious gathering in Bom Jesús da Lapa in 2010.
  • 7 Divisions exist within quilombos
    Roque Planas/HuffPost
    The modern concept of a quilombola ethnic identity extending across Brazil and affecting more than a million people, however, remains controversial.

    A sign printed on computer paper pasted to the wall of a house in São Francisco do Paraguaçú reads "We're not quilombolas, no!"
  • 8 The evolving ethnic identity has, neverless, become widespread
    Roque Planas/HuffPost
    A message scrawled on the wall of a house in São Francisco do Paraguaçú reads "We're quilombolas in Bahia, in Brazil and in the world."
  • 9 In many cases, conflicts over the right to land spark tensions
    Carolina Ramirez/HuffPost
    Almir Vieira Pereira has helped lead an effort since 2007 to win land titles for the quilombo of Barra do Parateca.
  • 10 And many quilombos simply "invade" the land
    Roque Planas/HuffPost
    With so few quilombos receiving promised land titles, it has become common for them to start planting on disputed plots without authorization.

    This 2010 photo depicts a campsite on the banks of the Parateca river established by Vieria Pereira to more easily reach a farflung patch of disputed land.
  • 11 They took turns living in the forest near the plots of land
    Roque Planas/HuffPost
  • 12 For the quilombo, this is what victory looks like
    Roque Planas/HuffPost
    About a 15 minute walk from the campsite, nestled behind the trees, the quilombo residents plant beans and other staples on land they claim as theirs. The title holder disputes the claim.
  • 13 And this is defeat
    Roque Planas/HuffPost
    Police destroyed one of Barra do Parateca's land invasions in 2010 at the request of the landowner Hélio Pinto and his son João Batista Pinto. Born into a poor family of farmers, Hélio bought the small plot of land with money earned from a life working in the fields.

    This picture, taken weeks after the site was destroyed, shows the remains.
  • 14 An uneasy truce
    Carolina Ramirez/HuffPost
    Though the quilombo family remains locked in a legal battle with the Pinto family, they have returned to the disputed land and resumed planting.
  • 15 As of last year, the police hadn't destroyed it
    Carolina Ramirez/HuffPost
    "Our fight for land is all about producing food," Pereira told HuffPost. "The great thinkers of the world, they're thinking about creating things, inventing things. We're still thinking about eating. If the government really wants racial reparations, they have to at least give us the possibility to think like equals."
  • 16 Conflicts at times lead to violence
    Carolina Ramirez/HuffPost
    In this house lived a man named Alvino Mendes de Almeida. He died of a gunshot wound to the head on April 15, 2005.
  • 17 He left behind a widow
    Carolina Ramirez
    The shot was fired by the manager of the estate at which Mendes de Almeida worked and with which the quilombo had a land dispute.

    The manager denied wrongdoing and local police ruled the shooting an accident.
  • 18 ..and 14 children
    Carolina Ramirez/HuffPost
    Human rights groups have pressed Brazilian authorities to investigate and submitted a report to the U.N.
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