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`Ethanol Soaked in Blood, Sweat, and Death,' Says Brazil Government Researcher About Sugar Cane Ethanol Slavery

May 17, 2007 (EIRNS)—Brazil's ethanol is the cheapest in the world, and the Bush Administration has hired Brazil to promote its ethanol program as the economic salvation for poor countries from the Caribbean to Africa. That the Bush family and administration would promote a product based on slavery is no surprise, but what's wrong with Brazil's President Lula da Silva? A former trade union leader, Lula was born to a poor family in one of Brazil's poorest states, Pernambuco, whose primary product has been sugar cane since the days the nation was a Portuguese colony protected by the British Crown.

Sugar cane workers in Lula's home state, to this day, work under slave labor conditions. This is now documented in a film produced with the aid of the Brazilian Catholic Church's Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) documents. It was shown at a recent hemispheric meeting in Havana, Cuba, by the filmmaker, Maria Luisa Mendonca. Mendonca detailed how conditions are not much better elsewhere, including in the giant, supposedly "modern" plantations in the state of Sao Paulo.

Cuban President Fidel Castro, who, unlike Lula, remembers where he and Cuba came from, quoted from Mendonca's description of sugar cane hell, in his May 15 article in Cuba's Granma.

"In Brazil, sugar and ethanol are soaked in blood, sweat and death," a Ministry of Labor researcher in Sao Paulo told Mendonca. Cane cutters are not even paid an hourly wage, but only by piecework, a few reales per ton cut. In Sao Paulo's "better" conditions, they are expected to cut 15 tons a day, earning at the end of the day, if they can do that, $3 dollars. Days often begin at 3 a.m. and end at 8 p.m.

Throughout Brazil, cutters are usually migrants, poor and often indigenous, and include many children. They are brought to the sugar fields by contractors who control their lives. In March 2007 alone, the Ministry of Labor rescued 288 sugar workers from direct slavery in Sao Paulo alone. Workers in the North East report they are paid sometimes in vouchers; sometimes not at all, if the foreman doesn't feel like "calculating cane" that day. No benefits, no maternity leave, no vacation, no health care, no food. They are transported in cattle trucks, treated worse than animals, who are at least given water. No bathrooms or no running water is provided; often they don't have even wood for cooking, unless they go out and scavange it for themselves. Protective equipment is not provided, and many people work barefoot, or at best in sneakers, swinging machetes in fields.

That does keep labor costs low, and multinational cartels and the filthy rich—Bunge, ADM, Dreyfuss, George Soros and Bill "Videogame Killer" Gates—are rushing to buy up Brazilian sugar mills, to get in on the ethanol export market.

President Lula was confronted directly in his May 15 press conference on this scandal: What is the Brazilian government going to do to stop the "exploitation of slave labor" in the nation's sugar cane fields, as it expands ethanol production, Rede TV correspondent Marcos Roberto Silva asked. Will it propose legislation to regulate labor conditions? Lula acknowledged cane cutting conditions need to be "humanized," but said he preferred "discussions" between companies and workers, not regulation.