Her name is unknown because it has not been released by the authorities, but it is known that she is 86 years old, that she is black and that she was exploited by a family named Mattos Maia. She is the victim of the longest contemporary slavery case discovered in Brazil. Beginning in her teens and for 72 years, she worked as a maid for three generations of a family without salary or vacation. Her story was released this Friday, precisely on the day that marks the 134th anniversary since Princess Elizabeth signed the abolition of slavery.
When the old lady was rescued from a house in Rio de Janeiro two months ago, she slept on a sofa at the door of the room of the landlady – also in her eighties, similar in age to hers – whom she took care of. Her advanced age prevented her from dealing with cleaning or ironing. The Labor Tax Audit located her there after receiving an anonymous complaint. Since then, the victim has been in an asylum under the care of social services, trying to adapt to freedom, to make her own decisions. Quite a challenge after a lifetime isolated from the world beyond the four walls of the house.
The victim was born on a farm belonging to the Mattos Maia family, where her parents worked, and as a teenager she was sent to the employers’ house to serve. It was thus that she began an exploitation to which she was subjected for the next seven decades by three generations. At that time, around the age of fifty, Getulio Vargas ruled Brazil for the second time and in England a twenty-year-old was crowned Elizabeth II.
Over the years, she and the family moved to the capital of Rio. The Mattos Maia, with whom she has lived almost her entire life, argued that there is no crime there, that she is one of the family. It is an argument often used by the exploiters. The inspector in charge of the case, Alexandre Lyra, explained in statements to the portal G1of the group Balloon, why do you consider that this is not the case at all. “This lady, whom the employers say she is family, even though she is not, she behaves in an absolutely submissive manner. The employer speaks of her for her. Whatever response we ask of her, it is the employer who responds. She does not keep her own documents. She has them the employer ”.
Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, after the rest of the countries of the Americas. The inhuman regime was in force for 350 years. And even its ports were transferred in slave ships five million people, more than to any other country on the continent. Therefore, its effects are very evident in the inequality that tears Brazilian society up to the present. Black citizens live less, are poorer.
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Last year, authorities rescued almost 2,000 Brazilians exploited as slaves, 27 of them working as domestic employees. Since the crime was defined and the inspections began, 58,000 Brazilians exploited in very serious circumstances have been released. The case of Madalena Giordano had a special impact, perhaps because her family, who exploited her for 40 years, married her off to an older relative who was in the military to continue collecting her pension. The complaints increased. And after a few months, the accused and the victim reached an agreement whereby the former maid was compensated with her family apartment.
These long-running cases of contemporary maids-turned-slaves are especially dramatic because the victims lose all contact with their families. Confined in homes, they have no friends, only the family with whom they live and which in turn exploits them. “She has no idea that she was enslaved,” explained the director of the senior center where she remains while the authorities look for her relatives. A slave labor specialist interviewed by Reporter Brazil explains that, although the victims are usually aware that they are not one more in the family, since they have no other option, they maintain a loyalty, a kind of debt of gratitude, towards the people they serve, for whom they cook, wash and those who have often bred.
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