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"More than one million signatures are needed to oblige the government to hold a plebiscite on the issue." Credits: Caritas

“More than one million signatures are needed to oblige the government to hold a plebiscite on the issue.” Credits: Caritas

By Angela Page

Brazil marked Independence day on 7 September. It was a public holiday, a day for celebration.

But for many Brazilians it seems that little has changed since colonial times. Some landowners still own farms the size of a small country and continue to wield great power.

“With such huge estates it is difficult to monitor what goes on there”, says Jose Francisco of Caritas Brazil. That’s why he’s spent this week campaigning for a Limit to Land Ownership.

It is estimated that there are 25,000 people living in slave-like conditions on large farms in Brazil.

Facts about land justice in Brazil

“Such huge areas of land are difficult to monitor – people can go on the land and do what they like there” says Jose.“Limiting land ownership will also help prevent the loggers and people burning down trees indiscriminately.”

Throughout Brazil urns have been filling up with hundreds of signatures a day.

More than one million signatures are needed to propose an amendment to the constitution.

Caritas Brazil had a strong presence in Praça de Piedade in Salvador in the North east of Brazil. The beautiful mansions surrounding the square date back to the city’s glory days in the 17th and 18th centuries. The region was traditionally home to large sugar plantations. Later its wealth came from tobacco plantations and cattle ranching, along with gold and diamonds from the Bahian interior.

Slaves brought from Angola, Mozambique, Guinea and Sudan and the Congo poured into Brazil’s slave markets in the 16th century to man these plantations. By the time slavery was abolished in 1888, 3.6 million Africans had been shipped to Brazil.

With rural workers struggling to earn a decent wage, Salvador’s numbers continue to grow. The city offers hope of a better life, free from exploitation. Yet while colonial mansions still grace the square, its benches belie another reality, providing a bed for the night for its new arrivals.