Has anyone seen this young man? | Translation

Has anyone seen this young man? | Translation


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Translated by MC Editorial

[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón. 

This story begins in the mid-1980s, in Bacabal, a city in northeastern Brazil, in the state of Maranhão, the poorest in the country. Pureza Lopes Loyola lived there. She was in her late 40s with 5 children to support. She had left her husband a few years back, when her children were still young. 

Until that moment, Pureza had worked at several jobs: as a day laborer in the fields, cleaning houses and schools . . . and in those years, she made bricks. Production was booming in Bacabal, and more than a few people made a living making them. 

[Pureza Lopes Loyola]: Aí eu comecei a fazer tijolo de pouquinho, ensinando os meninos, tudo pequenininho, todos os cinco, e foi lutando e ai gente começou a fazer pra vender. 

[Daniel]: She began to learn how to make bricks by watching her neighbors, who also depended on the mud to survive; and at the same time, she taught each step to her children. 

It was hard work. Using sharp sticks, Pureza dug holes in the ground to scoop out clay. She mixed it with water and mud and began to stomp on it with her feet. Her children helped beat down the mixture with rhythm and firmness, in a kind of circular dance. Once the texture was perfect, they put the mixture into rectangular molds and left them out to dry in the open air, under the sun. Then they were baked for 40 hours until they were ready, and most were sold on the market. But she kept a few to build her house, little by little. The same house where she now lives.

As time went on, her older children got married and started their own families. By 1993, Pureza was left alone with her daughter, Susana, aged 17, and Abel, aged 19. He accompanied her everywhere; he was her right-hand man. 

[Pureza]: Pra onde eu ia ele ia, tudo dele era mamãe . . . Muito trabalhador, muito ajudador, cozinheiro . . . 

[Daniel]: Pureza says that Abel was hard-working, supportive, and a good cook. He was very attached to her. But he had always wanted more. He didn’t want to spend his life following his mother’s trade.

One day, his older sister’s husband told him that a lot of gold was extracted in the garimpos —that is, artisanal and mostly illegal mines in northern Brazil. Once he heard this, Abel could think of nothing else. He wanted to go to that place where gold came out of the stones. 

He decided to tell his mother what he dreamed of doing.  

[Pureza]: Ele me disse, lá vou trabalhar no garimpo, arrumar um dinheiro e aí eu venho. 

[Daniel]: He wanted to go to work in the garimpo, to earn enough money, return, and start his own business in the city of Bacabal, which at the time had about 80,000 inhabitants. 

The situation in the country was difficult. There was a bad economic crisis in the 90s, caused by hyperinflation of over 2,500%. Food prices rose several times in a single day, and market bags came home less and less full. Many people —especially in the state of Maranhão, where Pureza lived—, were desperately hungry, so they packed their bags and went to look for work anywhere they could. 

Pureza understood her son’s motives. But she didn’t want him to go. Although it did seem profitable, working in illegal mining was dangerous. Conflicts over territory among the miners, and also with the indigenous communities in the area, were frequent and often violent. Pureza, in particular, was terrified to think that her son might leave and never return. She had heard of boys who went to work on farms or in mines and simply disappeared. Pureza mentioned these concerns to Abel and insisted that he stay with her, making and selling bricks, but he answered: 

[Pureza]: Eu vou e eu volto. Vou voltar, eu não vou ficar lá não.

[Daniel]: “I will go and come back. I will come back. I’m not going to stay there.” When Pureza realized that Abel simply would not change his mind, she offered to buy him a bus ticket to Mato Grosso, where one of her daughters lived, so at least he would travel safely. The only thing he would have to do would be to change buses on the way. Abel agreed and told her that he would wait a while before leaving, while she recovered from a recent injury.

A few days later, on March 4, 1993, Pureza left for her field of cassava, corn, and vegetables. It was close to where she lived. When the sun started to beat down, she returned to her house and found one of her neighbors waiting for her at the door. The neighbor was distraught and quickly told Pureza that two of Abel’s acquaintances had come looking for him and had taken him away without saying where. 

[Pureza]: Desde a hora que eu cheguei da roça e disseram o Abel foi embora eu não tô dizendo, toquei a cara na parede e fui conversar com deus.  

[Daniel]: She says that as soon as she heard this, she got desperate, pressed her face against the wall, and asked God to help her. She found it very strange that her son would leave without saying goodbye, and this gave her a bad feeling. She wanted to go after him, but she had no idea where to start looking. She decided to wait and see if Abel communicated with her in any way. 

But a few days passed and Pureza did not hear from her son. She followed the only lead she had on his possible whereabouts and called one of her daughters, who lived in the state of Mato Grosso, where the mines Abel wanted to go to are located. But her daughter said that she had not seen or heard from him. Pureza felt lost; if he wasn’t at the mines, she didn’t know where he could have gone. 

She became even more distressed. She couldn’t sit still, waiting for answers to come to her. She had to go out looking for him, find him and bring him back home.

So Pureza decided to embark on a journey that would have a much greater impact than she ever imagined. 

We’ll be back after a break. 

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[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. Journalist Claudia Jardim picks up the story. 

[Claudia Jardim]: This was not the first time Pureza experienced the disappearance of a loved one. In the early 1970s, one of her brothers accepted a job offer out of his town, and after he left, they never heard from him again. 

[Pureza]: Minha mãe o deu por morto.

[Claudia]: Their mother gave him up for dead. And when she reported him missing to the police, the officers didn’t even bother looking for him. 

[Pureza]: Quando eu via uma mãe chorando por um filho, eu desde pequena eu sentia aquela dor dentro de mim…

[Claudia]: Her mother cried day and night, and Pureza accompanied her in her pain. Her father, according to Pureza, went crazy. He could not bear the disappearance of their son. Both her mother and her father died with the bitterness of never having heard from him. 

Pureza had a deep fear that her brother’s story would repeat itself in Abel. And that of her parents in her. She was not willing to see herself mourning a son without knowing if he was alive or dead. 

[Pureza]: Por que aonde eles matassem Abel eu tinha que ir juntar dente por dente, osso por osso, cabelo por cabelo . . . 

[Claudia]: She had to bring him home at any cost. Even if he was dead, she would go looking for him bone by bone, tooth by tooth, hair by hair, and bury him close to her. 

That is why, a few days after he disappeared, Pureza grabbed her bag and headed for the Bacabal bus terminal. If Abel had started his journey there, someone must have seen him. 

[Pureza]: Só que eu procurava por meu filho. Com a foto na mão.

[Claudia]: Clutched tightly in her hand, she carried a photograph of Abel, a young, dark-skinned man with brown hair and brown eyes, dressed in a dark blue shirt, jeans and a black belt. She showed the photo to everyone she came across and asked if they had seen him. No results.

She decided to continue her search in the market. Among the people who went shopping and the shouts of the day’s offers, Pureza walked in a daze, clutching her son’s picture tightly. She asked the vendors, stall by stall . . . with no results. 

Resigned, Pureza returned home and, since she is Evangelical, she began to pray. She felt it was the only thing she could do. 

[Pureza]: “Gritei pra Jesus, você tem que salvar eu e meu filho, porque eu vou ficar uma louca, eu quero ele.” 

[Claudia]: She asked Jesus to save her son because otherwise she would go mad. She wanted Abel back. 

A few days later, still with no news from him, she decided to go to the police station to report him missing. But they said that if Abel had left willingly, there was nothing they could do to help her.

With all this uncertainty, Pureza, then 50 years old, had to continue working in order to eat. A couple of young men helped her, but it wasn’t the same. She missed her son, her co-worker. 

During those days of waiting, there was hardly any talking in Pureza’s brick shop. The only thing that could be heard was the sound of the radio that one of her assistants carried around. And one day, Pureza heard some people talking about slave labor. 

[Pureza]: E ouvi falar mesmo que tinha a CPT dos padres, uma entidade que é dos padres . . . 

[Claudia]: They talked on the radio about the Pastoral Land Commission, known as CPT, the progressive arm of the Catholic Church in the countryside. Since the 1970s they have been working to defend peasants and investigate slave labor in Brazil. One of their members had been invited to the radio program, and in the interview, he explained how people were snared by deceptive job offers. Pureza still remembers. 

[Pureza]: Eles enganavam que pagavam mais que todo mundo, e era bom, e o trabalho era fácil de fazer, e ganhava muito dinheiro. Mentira. Aqueles que iam nunca mais voltavam. 

[Claudia]: They explained on the radio that the recruiters—who were known as cats—deceived people by offering them easy jobs, and according to them, with a good salary. But the CPT explained that this was a lie. And that, furthermore, the people who left never came back. 

Those words stuck with Pureza. She became more and more convinced that this had happened to her son. He had been gone for over a month and there was not a single trace of him. 

[Pureza]: Procurei a CPT quando eu já estava lutando com as notícias de Abel. 

[Claudia]: So she decided to seek out the CPT for help, while trying to get news about her son. She went to ask at the church in Bacabal, and they told her that the CPT was in São Luís, the capital of her state of Maranhão, a little over 250 kilometers away. They gave her the address and phone number, and she decided to go there the following day. She left her daughter with some aunts and took the bus to São Luís. After about four hours of travel, she arrived at the city in the late afternoon. 

When she arrived, Pureza called a nephew who lived there, to help her find the address of the CPT. But it wasn’t easy. The organization preferred to keep a low profile because the work they did helping peasant groups made many people with political and economic power uncomfortable. These were the early years of the re-democratization of the country, after 21 years of military dictatorship, and the landless peasants were reorganizing. They demanded a land reform that would guarantee their constitutional right to occupy abandoned land where they could live and work. But the landowners were opposed and responded to these demands with armed violence.  

Being on the side of the peasants, like the CPT, was dangerous. That’s why the house where it was located looked like any other. It had no sign to identify it, and its routine and work schedules changed frequently. In fact, Pureza found the place only because at the city’s church they told her where to go. When she arrived, she was met by Father Flavio Lazzarin, a man of Italian origin living in Brazil. 

[Pureza]: Aí sentamos lá numa mesa, e um cafézinho e comecei a conversar. 

[Claudia]: Father Lazzarin ushered her in, they sat down to drink coffee, and Pureza began telling him that Abel had disappeared and that she feared he was being enslaved on some hacienda. That she wanted to go look for him, but she needed the help of the CPT because she didn’t know where to start. Father Lazzarin listened to her, amazed at her determination. 

[Flavio Lazzarin]: A Eu lembro a surpresa diante da atitude dela. Uma mulher forte. Não era uma coisa normal esse tipo de iniciativa por parte de uma senhora, né? Essa é uma coisa…

[Claudia]: He found her to be a strong woman and was surprised by her attitude and determination to find her son no matter what. Father Lazzarin did not hesitate for a second to try to help her. He began by telling her everything he knew about the situation regarding the country people and slave labor. And he gave her a key piece of information: there was a meeting point where the cats recruited workers to take them to the farms, where they were put to deforesting, producing charcoal, or looking for gold in the garimpo. The place was a hostel in Açailândia, a municipality almost 600 kilometers from São Luís. 

Pureza’s face lit up. It was the first time someone had given her a clue to where to start looking for her son. She was determined to go to Açailândia. There she would try to get information about Abel and find out which farms they took the workers to. It was a starting point. 

Pureza returned to Bacabal to pack her suitcase. She packed her documents, Abel’s photo, two changes of clothing, and a small version of the New Testament of the Bible. She wanted to take only what was necessary because she knew she would have to walk long distances. She went to the terminal and took a bus to the municipality of Açailândia. The trip took eight hours. 

[Pureza]: E lá comecei a andar ao redor da rodoviária, caçando o Abel e perguntando. 

[Claudia]: When she arrived, she toured the station and its surroundings, showing the photo and asking if anyone had seen him. Nothing. 

She found the hostel the father had told her about, the one where people came looking for work. Pureza approached the reception desk, took out Abel’s photo from her purse, and again asked the same question she had asked so many times before: Have you seen this boy? The answer surprised her:

[Pureza]: E me disseram que o Abel passou por lá. 

[Claudia]: Sure enough, Abel had been there. 

They told her he had spent about five days in the hostel but he had left with a cat, that is, with the recruiter. That worried her more, but at least she knew she was headed in the right direction. Pureza decided to wait for the cat to appear and ask him directly. She felt she knew how to identify him because Father Lazzarin had told her they all operated more or less the same way.

[Pureza]: Os gato atrai o trabalhador, ele chega, arremata aquele povo que ali, paga o que eles estão devendo e bota no carro e levam pra fazenda, pronto. Já está escravizado. 

[Claudia]: The cats come into the hostel with all the assuredness in the world. They approach the workers, pay all the expenses for their stay, and take them to the haciendas. That’s where the slavery begins. 

That day, Pureza spent hours waiting for him to arrive. But it was late and he didn’t come. The next day, very early in the morning, she returned to the hostel. She saw a man sitting at a table. She hadn’t seen him the day before, and she guessed he was the cat. Pureza approached him in a blunt, aggressive manner, showing him the photo and demanding that he tell her where Abel was.  

[Pureza]: Nós pegamos uma briga às 7 horas da manhã, antes dele tomar café e ele teve que me dizer onde é que estava o Abel. 

[Claudia]: Surprisingly, the man said he had seen him, but he was with a large group that was distributed to different farms in the area. He named some cities in the state where they were and went on drinking his coffee. 

[Pureza]: Fui embora esfumaçando, doida de raiva. E fui procurar aí mundo afora, de fazenda em fazenda, de carvoaria em carvoaria. 

[Claudia]: Pureza came out fuming with rage. But she decided to go looking for him from farm to farm, from coal pit to coal pit . . . She headed immediately for the closest place the cat had mentioned, in the state of Maranhão. There, she began to walk in the exhausting heat, through empty sandy land, full of small bushes and weeds.

After walking several kilometers, Pureza found a closed gate that had no key and no surveillance. It was already dark. And although she wasn’t sure that it was the right place, she decided to go inside. She had nothing to lose.  

[Pureza]: Não foi fácil. Foi difícil pra chegar uma pessoa só. Então, eu entrei, devagarzinho…

[Claudia]: It was not easy going in there alone. She entered slowly . . . she walked several meters until she met a man who seemed to be the foreman of the hacienda. The man stopped her in her tracks and asked what she was doing there.

[Pureza]: Ele disse- “O que a senhora anda procurando? Eu digo: meu filho, se ele trabalha aqui. Ai mostrei a foto e ele disse: não, não tá aqui, nem nas redondezas não. 

[Claudia]: She showed him Abel’s photo and asked if he worked there. The man told her he didn’t, that he wasn’t there or anywhere nearby. Pureza insisted; she asked his permission to go in and he agreed. 

After walking several kilometers through a vast field of bushes, Pureza saw a group of people working. Nearby was a makeshift tent, made of thick sticks holding up black plastic sheeting that served as a roof. Some hammocks hung from the same poles, and on the ground, there were several mats where Pureza assumed the workers slept. She approached them, showed them Abel’s photo and asked if they had seen him. 

[Pureza]: “Não, nós não vimos por aqui, não tá por aqui não” e não estava mesmo.”

[Claudia]: Nothing. They didn’t even recognize him in the photo. Despite her disappointment, she decided to stay and talk with them. The conditions those workers were in shocked her. She wanted to know more. One of them told her:

[Pureza]: A senhora não queira saber nossa vida, estamos desterrados aqui dentro dessas matas. 

 [Claudia]: “Oh ma’m, you don’t want to know how we live. We are abandoned, living in these bushes.”

[Pureza]: O senhor bebe é dessa água aqui, desse de onde o boi bebe? Ele disse: é, quando a gente não tem outra água a gente abana assim com a mão o lodo e bebe. 

[Claudia]: Pureza asked a worker if he drank the same pond water the cattle did. He said he did. When they had no other choice, they would remove the mud from it and drink. One of them also told her that he slept on the floor because his hammock was broken and he had no money to buy another one. Pureza said goodbye to the workers and headed for the exit of the hacienda. She felt helpless to do anything for them. 

[Pureza]: Foi duro, não foi fácil não pra mim. 

[Claudia]: It was very hard for her. And she couldn’t help but think that her son might be going through the same thing. When she left the hacienda and reached the highway, she looked for a lift to get to the nearest town and continue asking about Abel. If they told her in a store or in a hostel that there was movement and people working in a certain place, Pureza immediately looked for transportation. She was searching for her son, of course, but she was also outraged by the conditions in which the workers she met lived.

And so, the search for Abel turned into something more. She returned to Bacabal every month and collected a small pension her late ex-husband had left her. She also spent time with her youngest daughter, rested a bit, and went back on the road, clinging to Abel’s photo. Sometimes she would hitchhike with strangers passing by on the road. She often got on cargo trucks that transported coal, sugarcane, wood . . . 

[Pureza]: Andada arriba de caminhão, agarrada de unha e dente ali para não cair. 

[Claudia]: Hanging on for dear life so as not to fall off. But when she couldn’t get a ride, she had no other choice . . . but to walk and walk. From so much walking, her toenails were falling off, her toes were hurting, her legs were covered with mosquito bites. With the little money she had, she stayed in cheap lodgings on the roadside, or in the homes of people she met along the way who offered her water, a bed or a hammock to rest. Sometimes she got food, but when she didn’t, she tricked her stomach by eating an occasional mint. 

[Pureza]: Aí eu fazia assim, viajava, olhava, sentia tudo na pele, voltava, o dinheiro acabava, eu vinha pegar meu dinheiro no Maranhão.

[Claudia]: She says that while traveling, she saw the situation of the enslaved workers, then she returned home for more money and hit the road again. Many people would have given up, but Pureza was driven by the hope of finding her son.

She told me that when she arrived at the haciendas, her initial impression—just like the first time—was that they were empty because of their seemingly endless expanse. Brazil is a huge country, one of the largest in the world. But it is also among the countries with the greatest inequality in land distribution. Almost half the country’s productive land belongs to 1% of the landowners. These are properties that were once publicly owned, but through history they have been usurped by landowners who used forged documents to take possession of them. And that still happens today. 

To give you an idea, a small estate can be as large as 14,000 football fields. That’s why it was impossible for Pureza to see everything that was in each field she visited. But she wasn’t afraid. 

[Pureza]: Não tenho medo de onça, nem de cobra, nem de serpente, nem de homem valente, nada, nada, nada, tenho medo . . . 

[Claudia]: She was not afraid of running into jaguars, cobras, snakes, or emboldened men. In many haciendas she visited, there was no one at the entrance, so it was just a matter of opening the gate. But when she encountered armed guards, she simply asked permission to pass because she was looking for her son. And surprisingly, they let her through. 

[Pureza]: Quem que acreditava naquela mendiga, ia lá pesquisando e juntando tudo? 

[Claudia]: Pureza says, talking about herself, “Who could believe that beggar woman was investigating and gathering everything?” To the foremen, Pureza was nothing more than a mother looking for her son. She was not considered a threat to the business.  

Once inside, she would walk several kilometers until she met the workers. The first thing she would do was ask them about Abel, but the answer was always the same: he wasn’t there. Then Pureza used the opportunity to ask about their salary, what they ate, where they slept, where they were from, if they had a family . . . 

The stories Pureza heard were similar: they had all fallen into the clutches of some cat because they got excited at the offer of a good salary. But when they arrived at the hacienda or the mine, reality was very different. To begin with, their documents were confiscated by the foreman—a practice that they thought was routine at first and did not question. Then the managers of the haciendas told them they had to cover all their own expenses. 

[Pureza]: Porque ele compra a comida, ele paga a comida, ele paga a dormida, ele paga a bota, ele paga o cigarro, ele paga até a água que bebe . . . 

[Claudia]: They had to pay for their food—which was nothing more than rice or cassava—, boots, cigarettes, the place where they slept, even the water. They also had to buy the tools to work with, such as axes and the shovels to cut the bushes. And although everything they bought at the hacienda was much more expensive, the workers had no choice but to accept. Since they didn’t have a penny, they bought everything on credit. When the end of the month came around, instead of a salary they were told they owed the boss for all their expenses. So they were enslaved by the debt they accumulated month after month, and they were unable to pay it even by working from sunrise to sunset. 

When Pureza asked them if they had tried to escape from that place, they told her it was impossible because it was very risky. If the cat were ever to catch them . . . 

[Pureza]: Eles matam. Fica os, como é que diz? os capangas. 

[Claudia]: He could kill them. They just didn’t let anyone out. Besides, most of these haciendas were in places that were difficult to reach, in the middle of the Amazon jungle, for example. And a large part of the workers had come from other areas of the country, very far from the farms. They were trapped.

They also told her that on more than one occasion, the bosses forced them to hide in the bushes. They did not understand what was happening until later, when they found out the Police had been there. 

[Pureza]: Eles põem o telefone lá para dentro da fazenda que vai a Polícia Federal fazer vistoria Eles tiram os trabalhadores tudinho…

[Claudia]: She says that when someone reported the presence of enslaved workers on a hacienda to the Federal Police, the landowners were notified in advance by people connected to them, who held political power or were linked to the police in Brasilia. That’s why they had time to hide the workers and put up a front for the officers. And there was another thing: 

[Pureza]: Eles não vão lá pra dentro do mato como eu fui. Eu fui diretamente pro mato mais os homens. 

[Claudia]: Since the police did not search too deeply into the countryside as Pureza did, they did not find the workers. To her, it was evident that there was some kind of complicity network between the landowners and the authorities.

Here we must mention an important fact: Many landowners are also politicians and hold positions as representatives, senators, mayors, and governors in Brazil. Just to give you an idea, today 44% of the representatives in Brasilia belong to the rural front, that is, they are either landowners or act in defense of their interests. 

The more people she met and the more she understood how the slavery scheme worked, the more desperate she became, but that gave her more and more strength to continue looking for Abel. Although slavery in Brazil was abolished in 1888, Pureza was witnessing contemporary slavery, which was prohibited in 1940 but was not criminalized in the Brazilian Penal Code until 2003. It is also prohibited by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. 

So Pureza went from hacienda to hacienda, hearing the stories of the workers and hoping to find her son. She remembers by heart each one of the municipalities that she visited . . . 

[Pureza]: Saindo de Bacabal é Santa Inês, Açailândia, Marabá, Altamira do Pará…

[Claudia]: But no matter how many kilometers she walked, Pureza still didn’t know where her son was. The fear of not finding him alive grew. Pureza went from asking the locals and the hunters she met in the towns if they had seen him, to asking if they knew of any new burial places in the areas they frequented. She got to the point of being willing to dig up corpses, remove the bones, and take them to São Luís to have them examined and find out if they belonged to her son or not. But there were no signs of new graves either. Abel had vanished. 

During her travels, Pureza began to think of all the relatives of those workers she had met. And surely, just like her, they were also looking for their loved ones. So at the end of 1993, eight months after starting her search, Pureza—who hadn’t learned to write or read until the age of 40—wrote a letter to then-President Itamar Franco. 

[Pureza]: Pedindo socorro para mim e para as outras mães que estavam em desespero ai pelo mundo afora. 

[Claudia]: She wrote asking for help for herself and for all the mothers who were desperate. To her surprise, some time later, she received a letter from the presidency. 

[Pureza]: Itamar Franco respondeu, disse que ele ia providenciar, fazer de tudo…

[Claudia]: Pureza remembers that the President told her, through his secretary, that they would do everything to fight slave labor, but they did not say anything concrete about Abel. That very brief answer made Pureza decide to go personally to speak with the center of political power in Brasilia, the capital of the country. 

More than a year had passed since Abel’s disappearance. It was mid-1994, and after a trip of a little over a day by bus, during which she barely ate, Pureza arrived in Brasilia. She knocked on the doors of the Federal Police, the Ministries of Labor and Justice, and the Attorney General to report that her son had disappeared

She told them about her suspicions: that he was in some hacienda or mine, subjected to slavery, as well as everything she had seen and had been told by the dozens of people she had met in recent months. With the exception of one attorney, she was received with indifference everywhere she went, and was offered no help to find her son.

[Pureza]: O presidente não liga, as autoridades não estão se importando com isso porque não é o filho deles, se fosse o filho deles já tinham acabado com tudo…

[Claudia]: She says that neither the President nor the authorities cared what happened to Abel because he was not their son. If one of their children had disappeared, they would have put an end to everything. And furthermore, since the complaint came from a poor and humble person, they just ignored it. 

Pureza also went to Brasilia because the CPT, the religious organization she went to before starting her trip, invited her to participate in the National Forum against Violence in the Countryside. It was an event organized by human rights groups that sought to denounce the complaints they received about slave labor to the authorities of the Ministry of Justice and Labor. There she told everything she had seen: the deceptions, the abuse, the debt, the hunger, the unhealthiness.

 There were officials from the Ministry of Justice at the event but, according to Pureza, they minimized everything she had to say. 

[Pureza]: “Não, isso é coisa de, invenção de caboclo, de trabalhador, aqueles que não querem trabalhar”

[Claudia]: Saying the slavery thing was nothing but stories from men who did not like to work and that’s why they complained. 

Although she was unable to get any help from the government, thanks to that meeting she met more people and her support network, although from a distance, was strengthened. Some six months after her first visit to Brasilia, in December 1994, Pureza returned to the capital trying once again to get support for her cause. Abel had been missing for a year and nine months. This time she wasn’t lucky either, and the public institutions closed their doors on her again. 

But by this time, she was no longer unnoticed. Brasilia’s main newspaper, Correio Braziliense, interviewed her and published an article about her, telling her story.

They also invited her to speak on a program on Radio Nacional Amazônica, a station that reaches the north of the country, where the indigenous communities and illegal mining are located. It was the perfect opportunity to reach more people in the area where Abel was most likely to be. So she took advantage of the open microphone on the radio and made a request: If anyone knew anything about her son—whether it was at an illegal mine, or burning coal, or logging—please let her know. And if they couldn’t get in touch with her but they knew Abel, tell him that she was looking for him. She didn’t know it at the time, but her appearance on the radio would change everything for her. 

After that failed attempt in Brasilia, Pureza returned home. She no longer had any money; she felt exhausted and without any hope that the authorities would help her. 

[Pureza]: Quando eu cheguei de Brasília, eu não dormia, eu não comia, eu não dormia tudo, a noite toda, o sono era assim . . . 

[Claudia]: She no longer ate, she hardly slept, wondering all the time about the whereabouts of her son. Feeling unable to continue, she stayed in Bacabal

One day, almost two years after Abel’s disappearance, she found out that the two young men who had gone out with her son had returned to Bacabal. Pureza went to the police station immediately and asked the commissioner to go look for them. This time, they did listen to her and shortly afterwards, they were back at the station with one of them. She was furious, considering them responsible for the disappearance of her son, for taking him away and for having left him alone. 

When they questioned the young man, he confirmed that he had gone out with Abel and that they went through Açailândia, the first hostel that Pureza had visited. But other than providing that information, the boy went round and round in circles. He did not state clearly what had happened. Pureza lost her patience. She told him: 

[Pureza]: “Vocês levaram meu filho, vocês dizem aonde deixaram. Não, ele ficou trabalhando numa fazenda . . . 

[Claudia]: “You took my son, now you have to tell me where you left him.” He first said that he was in Pará, then in Imperatriz, and so he had her in a tremendous confusion, until finally he told her that Abel had stayed at the Agronunes hacienda, almost 300 kilometers from the hostel in Açailândia.

Although she was full of rage, at least now she had the name of a hacienda where Abel might very well be. Pureza decided to travel to São Luís and ask the CPT for help again. This time, Father Flavio Lazzarin asked the CPT’s lawyer, José do Carmo Siqueira, and another of his agents, Pedro Marinho, to accompany her in her search. If Abel really was there, she would need help rescuing him.

[Daniel]: We’ll be back after a break. 

[Dynamic Mid-Roll]

[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Before the break, Pureza Lopes Loyola had been two years looking for her son, Abel, who had left his town at the age of 19 in the company of two men. She suspected that he had been enslaved, but despite visiting dozens of haciendas in two states, she had never been able to locate him. Finally, the men who left with Abel returned to the town and gave her a solid clue: that Abel had stayed at the Agronunes hacienda. With this information, Pureza again asked the Pastoral Land Commission for help. They offered to go with her in search of her son, and in March 1995 they undertook a two-day trip to Açailândia, in northeastern Brazil. 

Journalist Claudia Jardim continues the story. 

[Claudia]: In a Toyota loaned by a father, were Pureza and two members of the CPT, lawyer José do Carmo and Pedro Marinho, as well as Cris Gutkoski, a correspondent for the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper in the region. The idea was for the press to participate in the investigation and document everything they saw.  After a full day of travel, they stopped to rest in Açailândia, the meeting point between cats and workers. 

There, lawyer José do Carmo talked with some people who showed him the way to the Agronunes hacienda and confirmed what they already knew: that this place had a reputation for enslaving workers and was considered an emblematic case of the concentration of land and power in Brazil. By that time, 1995, it stretched out over 21,000 hectares. In other words, the owner of that hacienda owned an area the size of Buenos Aires or Montevideo. 

Finding Abel in such a huge place was not going to be easy. But with Pureza’s experience getting into haciendas as large as these, they were confident they could navigate the area.

[José do Carmo]: A gente alimentava essa expectativa de que pudesse encontrar mesmo. 

[Claudia]: This is lawyer José Do Carmo, and he says that there was a lot of expectation of finding Abel at that hacienda. All the pieces seemed to fit. 

[José do Carmo]: E eu confesso que a gente não tinha um plano fechado, né? 

[Claudia]: But he admits that if Abel was there, they didn’t have a very elaborate plan for his rescue. The only thing that was clear to them was that if Abel had a debt with the landowner, they would have to pay it off in order to buy his freedom. 

After two days of travel and over 600 kilometers on the road, they reached the municipality of Santa Luzia, where the hacienda was located. When they arrived at the Agronunes hacienda, there was no one at the gate, so they drove in without any problems. After a few kilometers, they reached a barren, uninhabited place, like a small neglected soccer field. There was no infrastructure built, no headquarters, no house, nothing. 

They got out of the car and walked on a little further until a man appeared, whom they immediately identified as the foreman because he had a gun at his waist and, unlike the other people, his clothes were in good condition. A few meters ahead they saw a group of about a hundred workers sheltering from the sun under a makeshift tent made of black plastic. Like the many that Pureza had seen in her comings and goings through the different haciendas. Since it was Sunday, they did not work that day.  

Pureza, lawyer José do Carmo, journalist Cris Gutkoski, and Pedro Marinho approached the foreman, who eyed them with suspicion. José do Carmo immediately introduced the group as members of the CPT. He remembers that he told the foreman:  

[José do Carmo]: Olha nós temos uma mãe desesperada . . . 

[Claudia]: He told him, “We have a desperate mother here.” The lawyer pointed to Pureza who, as always, had Abel’s photo in her hand. He remembers that when the foreman and a group of armed men saw her, they lowered their guard. As if the presence of that aged, fragile woman with worn and broken sandals had disarmed them.  

[José do Carmo]: Ela era uma espécie de escudo para essa nossa procura. 

[Claudia]: Pureza worked as a kind of shield when entering any hacienda, says José. She approached the foreman and once again showed him Abel’s photo and asked if he was there or if he knew him. The man immediately replied that he did not. And—just as she had done the first time she set foot on a hacienda—she insisted and asked for permission to inquire among the workers if they had seen him. He agreed, and they approached the group. As they walked towards the workers, Pureza realized they were in conditions very similar to those at other haciendas she had seen. 

A few meters ahead of the camp where the young people were, Pureza saw a slightly older man, alone, lying on the floor, sheltering from the sun under the shade of a palm tree. She went over to talk to him. 

[Pureza]: Bom dia. Eu digo: o senhor não viu, conhece esse rapaz aqui dentro dessa fazenda? Ele disse, olhou a foto do Abel e disse: Sim, ele teve aqui, saiu. 

[Claudia]: She said, “Good morning, don’t you know this boy?” The man looked at Abel’s photo and said,”Yes, he was here, but he left.”

[Pureza]: Aí o gato mandou ele pro Pará, para dentro das montanhas. 

[Claudia]: He told her the cat had sent him to the state of Pará, in the mountainous Amazon region. Pureza asked him if he knew where exactly he had been sent, but the man told her he didn’t. She was devastated. She had come so close to finding him. But at least, she left there with the next clue: the state of Pará, in the northern part of the country. 

That night, Pureza did not eat dinner. She felt that with each failed attempt, she was losing strength 

[Pureza]: Meu coração estava se acabando, estava morrendo em pé como palmeira. 

[Claudia]: She says, “My heart was giving up; I was dying on my feet, like a palm tree.”

During the following days, the CPT went to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office and denounced the conditions in which they found the workers at the hacienda Agronunes. In response, the Prosecutor’s Office asked the Federal Police to investigate the case. But according to the lawyer, the local authorities were not surprised by the information. They already knew these things were happening, and did nothing about the complaint. 

The report by Cris Gutkoski under the heading “Mother looking for son for two years” was published in Folha de S. Paulo on March 20, 1995, a week after the trip. Another note that accompanied the text said, “Pastoral denounces slave work at hacienda.” And because this is a very influential national news outlet, the report did not go unnoticed. It was reproduced by several regional newspapers. It was impossible to ignore such a story, where a poor peasant woman denounced a whole system of slavery and the uselessness of the State. 

Meanwhile, Pureza did not give up. She decided to send another letter to the President—this time to the recently-inaugurated Fernando Henrique Cardoso. She thought maybe she would have more luck with this one and he could do something. But, this time, she did not even get a response. 

The silence of the authorities made her indignant. She believed that with more overwhelming proof of the conditions of these workers, maybe they would have to do something. She decided to start using the recorder and the camera she had gotten from the CPT to document everything and, again, she undertook a trip by herself, this time northward, to Pará, just over a day’s travel from her house. It was the last clue she had about Abel’s possible whereabouts

With the recorder hidden in her bra, Pureza recorded her conversations with the workers who were on the road and at the haciendas where she managed to enter. There are over 12 hours of audio that she collected while walking the Trans-Amazonian Highway—the longest in the country—and its surroundings. These are some of the testimonies she recorded. 

[Pureza]: Boa tarde . . . 

[Nilo Farias de Matos]: Boa Tarde

[Pureza]: Como é seu nobre?

[Nilo]: Nilo Farias de Matos 

[Pureza]: Como é a vida?

[Nilo]: Aqui é tipo uma escravidão. Tratam a gente mal, assim de boca. 

[Claudia]: This is Nilo. When Pureza asks what his life is like, he answers that they live in a kind of slavery. They are abused and often threatened with weapons. 

Another man she spoke to, Raimundo, told her that a cobra bit him, but the owner of the farm left him to suffer, lying in the bushes, and didn’t help him. He says he was treated like a dog

[Raimundo]: Lá a cobra me mordeu. E ele fez como se eu fosse cachorro. Me abandonou lá e me deixou sofrendo . . . 

[Claudia]: Every story she heard was heartbreaking. All backed up what Pureza had already seen: inhuman living conditions. 

Although less common, Pureza ran into some women who were also enslaved. One of them, Rosimeire, told her that she and her husband were kept on a cattle farm. 

[Pureza]: Como é que vocês ficavam lá? Em casa?

[Rosimeire]: Lá tem uma casa véia lá, mas ficam é num curral de gado lá. 

[Pureza]: Jogado…

[Claudia]: You can’t hear clearly, but the woman tells her that they slept in the cattle pen, next to the animals. She and her husband worked for months, eating hard rice, without a salary. Until the day came when they couldn’t take it any longer. They fled under the hot sun, with nothing to eat

The woman tells her she is sure that if they had caught them, they would have killed them. But she managed to escape miraculously, with only the clothes she was wearing. This is what some risked: dying in the attempt to escape. And not all of them made it. Like the story of another man, Francisco, who escaped with four others but learned on that same day that another worker, who was trying to flee in a different direction, was killed. 

[Pureza]: E se teimasse em ir embora eles queriam matar?

[Francisco]: Se teimasse ir embora eles matavam, que nem matou um cara lá. No dia que eu saí eles mataram. 

[Claudia]: While Pureza was on the road, she was in contact with the CPT. Through calls, she told them what she found along the way and the CPT was in charge of taking the complaints to the Prosecutor’s Office in Brasilia, and then they would go to the Organization of American States and the United Nations. 

But according to Pureza, the situation was heating up in Maranhão. The violence against peasants and the scheme to enslave workers grew stronger. And she and the members of the CPT were in danger. On the other hand, Pureza had become a public figure, a kind of symbol of the fight against slavery. A person who troubled the economic powers and the landowners. She was poking a hornet’s nest. 

But everything Pureza had done up to that point—the testimonies and evidence she had collected, the complaints with the CPT, the trips to Brasilia, speaking with the authorities, appearing on the press—were not in vain. On June 28, 1995, two years and three months after Abel’s disappearance, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso announced the creation of a mobile taskforce to combat slave labor. It was the first time that the State publicly recognized the existence of modern slavery in the country. 

These measures, of course, did not occur without pressure. They were the result of claims from international organizations such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of the OAS and the International Labor Organization, which demanded that the government admit the existence of contemporary slavery and take action to combat it. This happened on top of what we already mentioned: the decades of complaints from organizations such as the CPT, the pressure from abolitionist activists, lawyers, and citizen complaints such as Pureza’s.

One of the coordinators of the Mobile Taskforce against Slave Labor was the prosecutor of the Ministry of Labor, Paulo César Lima. 

[Paulo César]: Todos conheciam a história de dona Pureza. Ela era assim um ícone. A dona Pureza foi uma pessoa muito importante para a existência do Grupo Móvel. Porque era um caso muito emblemático. 

[Claudia]: He told me that everyone in his team knew the story of Pureza. That she was an icon to them, and that she was very important to the existence of the Mobile Taskforce, especially because her story and the way she operated when entering each hacienda were emblematic. 

[Paulo César]: De certo modo era o estilo Pureza de fazer a coisa. 

[Claudia]: So they decided to work in the style of Pureza. Arriving at the haciendas without warning, interviewing the workers while they were on the job, taking pictures of them, and designing actions so that they would be compensated by the owner of the hacienda.  

[Paulo César]: Quanto maior for o conjunto de provas que se tenha desses eventos, mais importante será para a decisão do juiz. 

[Claudia]: The most important thing was to have as much evidence as possible of slavery and the conditions the workers were subjected to. Then the judge who would handle their complaint could convict the landowner for depriving his workers of their liberty, and demand that they be compensated. Otherwise, the Mobile Taskforce ran the risk that the judge would doubt their statement, just as they had done with Pureza. 

The fight against slave labor became state policy, but it was not a priority. This group of prosecutors was—and still is—very small and too limited to cover the entire territory of the country. Although it does have some resources, the Mobile Taskforce experienced Pureza’s difficulties firsthand. In their first six months of operation, in 1995, only 84 enslaved workers were rescued. The following year, with increased knowledge of the terrain, the number rose to 425 people. It was not an easy task. 

The last trip Pureza made was at the age of 53, to the clandestine mines in the state of Pará. Those mines were, without a doubt, the most dangerous place she had ever visited. Illegal mining is marked by land conflicts, violence against indigenous people, forced labor and murder. 

By that time, after so many roads traveled, if Pureza had been pursued, it would have been impossible for her to run. Literally. 

[Pureza]: As bolhas de sangue que tinha dentro, eu derramei sangue para mim chegar lá.

[Claudia]: She had blood blisters on her feet from all the walking. “I shed blood to get there,” she says. She spent days walking aimlessly in the region, asking about her son. Until one day, she met a man coming out of a gold mine. When she asked about Abel, the man told her what she was so scared to hear. This is an audio of that conversation, recorded by Pureza:  

[Pureza]: E ele falou no Abel?

[Rapaz]: Falou assim: ‘ele deve tá morto’. 

[Claudia]: The man told her that Abel was probably dead. Pureza went cold and silent. She did not expect to receive an answer like that, so decisive. She had gotten used to living in ambiguity. But something made her doubt that it was true. So she asked the man for more details. 

[Pureza]: … essa rua aí que teriam matado Abel. E para quem eles falaram, tu não sabe?

[Claudia]: Pureza asked the man in which garimpo, in which mine, Abel was killed. The man said he didn’t know. All he had heard was that a guy named Barrao was telling everyone that he had killed him so that others would fear him. 

[Pureza]: E aí saí dali com o coração estraçalhado. 

[Claudia]: She says she left there with a broken heart. It seemed to be the end of her search. 

She returned to Bacabal, sick with exhaustion and in paralyzing pain. But despite everything, something inside her doubted that Abel’s death was true. If he had been killed, where was the body? Why couldn’t anyone give her an explanation? She had spent nearly three years walking hundreds of kilometers, suffering hunger, thirst, pain, sleeping on the streets, exposed to violence . . . She had a hard time letting go of the hope that he would turn up alive. 

A few days after her trip, in April 1996, Pureza says she woke up with a strange feeling. Something in her chest

[Pureza]: Senti, a gente sente, a mamãe sente, a gente sente assim uma previsão diferente, aquela coisa assim com o coração quando eu cheguei . . . 

[Claudia]: It was something different, a mother’s premonition that made her restless. That day, when she returned from buying medicine and gauze at the pharmacy to treat her wounds, she found something unexpected at the door of her house. It was a letter for her

[Pureza]: Estava escrito Abel. Aí eu peguei, rasguei logo e olhei. E conheci a letra dele, e disse “meu filho está vivo, é ele mesmo!” 

[Claudia]: The envelope read “Abel.” Pureza says she opened it in a hurry and recognized her son’s handwriting. “My son is alive, it’s him,” she said. Desperate, she began to read the letter, and she still remembers what it said. Although it was short. 

[Pureza]: Ele escreveu pouca coisa, só dizendo que estava bem, que estava trabalhando no garimpo, tava tendo um dinheirinho…

[Claudia]: In the letter, Abel told her he was all right. That he was working in the clandestine mines in the state of Pará and had earned some money to return home, but he had gotten malaria. He had to spend all the money to go to another state to be hospitalized and receive treatment. 

The letter did not explain where he had been those three years or why he never contacted his mother. Pureza also did not know how Abel was able to send her that letter, whether he had debts or if it was forbidden to leave the mine. It was more than proof of life.  

[Pureza]: Eu senti um alívio no meu coração, era cerrado . . . 

[Claudia]: Pureza says that she felt relief in her heart, which had been shut down since her son disappeared. 

[Pureza]: A esperança eu não perdi nunca. 

[Claudia]: But she had never given up hope. 

She asked her acquaintances in Brasilia for help to locate the mine and get a phone number or address to contact her son. But it was Abel who got ahead of her and called the house of his maternal grandmother, the only one who had a telephone at that time. That’s how they called Pureza.   

[Pureza]: Aí falei com ele e desconheci a voz. E perguntei se era o Abel mesmo, o meu Abel. 

[Claudia]: When she heard Abel, Pureza did not recognize his voice. She asked him, “Is that you? Are you my Abel?” And sure enough, it was him. 

[Pureza]: Falei com ele, ele me disse “mãe, não se desespere, estou sem nenhum documento, tô no mato, lá nos garimpo e não posso sair”… 

[Claudia]: She says that Abel told her not to despair, and to help him get copies of his documents because he no longer had them. And she should send them to him so he could come home. In this village next to the mine, the movement of people was controlled. You could not enter or leave without documents. 

[Pureza]: “É mãe, eu passei por muitos momentos difíceis, mas estou aqui.” 

[Claudia]: On the phone, Abel told her that he had been through a lot of hard times, but there he was. Heartbroken but happy at the same time, Pureza asked him what had happened, why he had disappeared . . . 

[Pureza]: Ele saiu dos cativeiros e foi pro garimpo, mixaria para arrumar um dinheiro e vim a onde eu. 

[Claudia]: Abel told her that he had been trapped in a farm in Mato Grosso, but managed to escape from that captivity where he was forced to work. He managed, however he could, to get to the mines in Pará, where he planned to work in the garimpo and get a little money to return home. 

They talked for a few minutes, and before hanging up, Abel made her a promise:

[Pureza]: “Ele disse: com quarenta dias eu estou aí. 

[Claudia]: That he would return in 40 days. When they hung up, Pureza was beyond happiness.

[Pureza]: Foi muito maravilhoso pra mim. Fiquei na altura das sete estrelas, quase que passava das nuvens.” 

[Claudia]: It was a wonderful moment. She felt light, as high as the stars, as if she were standing on the clouds.

Pureza hurried to prepare the documents that Abel had requested, and sent them to the village adjacent to the mine. She was counting down the days until she could see her son, but she still had a hard time believing that it was really him. She wouldn’t believe until she had him right in front of her. 

After Abel’s call, the days went by slowly for Pureza. The wait seemed endless. Until one morning she woke up because she heard a noise at the gate of the house. She got out of bed in a hurry, turned on the light in the hall, opened the door, and went out to see who it was. It was Abel. He was back. Just as he had promised, Abel had returned home after forty days. After three years and two months, mother and son hugged each other again

[Pureza]: E nós se abraçamos, ficamos abraçados. Aí a menina tirou foto, eu tenho foto dele junto comigo de madrugada. 

[Claudia]: They held each other for a long time, just as she had imagined. One of the daughters took a photo of that everlasting embrace, while they looked at the camera. In the picture, Abel is wearing a yellow shirt and a slight smile with his mouth closed. Pureza in wearing a brown blouse with beige flowers and her hair is tied up in a bun. They look happy. They are leaning against a brick wall, the bricks the two of them had made together years ago. 

[Pureza]: Foram três anos e dois meses de sofrimento. 

[Claudia]: At last, she had her son with her. Despite everything, Pureza says that Abel was in good shape. He was skinnier and even darker, but she didn’t see many physical changes in him. She started asking him what had happened all that time.  

[Pureza]: Ele disse que é mais, é mais perigoso do que nós tudinho juntos imaginamos. Eu perguntei pra ele, ele disse: Mãe, eu não posso relatar tudo, porque não sei o que, em quem vem atrás de mim, ele tem um medo tremendo, sabe? 

[Claudia]: He told her that what he experienced was much more dangerous than she could imagine, and that he did not want to tell her the details because he feared that something might happen to her. But he told her that he saw a man being killed. Also, about the debts he had incurred with different haciendas, and that he had worked in the deforestation business, then in coal, until he finally reached the gold mines that he once dreamed of. 

He also told her that once, he was on the verge of death, when one of the walls of the mine fell on him and he was buried alive. When his companions managed to get him out, he was already suffocating. But that didn’t stop him from working in the mines. He had left home with the promise to make money, and he was not going to come back until he got it. That is why he fell for the cat’s story over and over again, falling into a spiral of debts and deceit that made it impossible for him to be free. 

That’s how Abel was enslaved and, according to what Pureza told me, he was also tortured. On one occasion he even survived an assassination attempt, when, after he managed to escape with other workers from a farm in Mato Grosso, he was ambushed by one of the cats. But the stories were always half told. It was very difficult for Abel to talk about all this. It still is. That’s why his voice isn’t heard in this episode. 

What he did say was that he decided to write to his mother when he realized he had no future there. Some time earlier, a colleague of his had told him that he heard a woman who could be his mother speaking on Radio Amazonas and she was looking for him. He was referring to that interview she gave in Brasilia two years earlier. 

At first, Abel said that was impossible because his mother would be incapable of doing something like that, and he changed the subject. But Abel kept thinking that maybe it could be her, and although he felt ashamed of not having earned any money, he knew it was time to return home. 

After speaking with Pureza and receiving the documents she sent him, some colleagues helped him raise the money to pay for his return ticket. When he left the mine, Abel promised the boss that he would return, but he never did. Then he arrived home, with no money and with psychological wounds that haunt him to this day. 

When the interview with Pureza was about to end, I asked her what advice she would give to mothers of missing children. 

[Pureza]: Denunciar noite e dia. Denunciar sem parar, que quer o filho dela. Pedir a deus e botar o pé na estrada e fazer como eu fiz.

[Claudia]: They should report their disappearance night and day. They should denounce it constantly, saying they want their sons back. And they should go out and look for them, hit the road and do as she did.  

Ultimately that’s what brought Abel back. If she hadn’t been on the radio, looking for him, who knows what would have become of him. Because, as she told me, she was left alone to fight a war that belongs to the State. But now, after recovering Abel, she feels that at least this battle has been won. 

[Daniel]: Abel lives in a house next to his mother’s, in Bacabal. He is 47 years old. In 1997, Pureza won an award offered annually by the organization Anti-Slavery International, for her fight against slavery. And in 2019, her story was made into a movie. 

Between 1995 and 2020, just over 55,000 enslaved workers were freed by the Mobile Taskforce against Slave Labor. However, by 2016, the Global Slavery Index estimated that almost 370,000 workers in Brazil were laboring in those conditions. Criminal trials against landowners, for the most part, end in impunity.   

In 2016, Brazil was condemned by the OAS Inter-American Court of Human Rights for failing to prevent slave labor and human trafficking. The situation has not improved under the government of Jair Bolsonaro. In 2020, the president said that the legislation against slave labor was excessive, and in November 2021 he withdrew the resources that were assigned to the fight against slave labor. 

Our thanks to Renato Barbieri, director of the film “Pureza,” for sending us the audio recorded by her, and for sharing details of her research. 

Thanks to Frei Xavier, from the Pastoral Land Central, to Renato Bignami from the ILO, to the Landless Movement of Brazil, to the Mobile Taskforce against Slave Labor, and to Pureza’s granddaughter Samila Loyola. 

This episode was produced by Claudia Jardim. She is a journalist and lives in Thailand, where she started investigating the slave labor industry in the world. 

This story was edited by Camila Segura, Lisette Arévalo, and me. Desirée Yépez did the fact-checking. The sound design is by Andrés Azpiri and Rémy Lozano, with original music by Rémy. 

The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Nicolás Alonso, Aneris Casassus, Emilia Erbetta, Fernanda Guzmán, Camilo Jiménez Santofimio, Ana Pais, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, Elsa Liliana Ulloa, David Trujillo and Luis Fernando Vargas.

Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.

Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, produced and mixed on the Hindenburg PRO program. 

Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.




Claudia Jardim

Camila Segura, Lisette Arévalo and Daniel Alarcón

Desirée Yépez

Andrés Azpiri and Rémy Lozano

Rémy Lozano

Cristian Guzmán Cardona


Episode 21