Xavier Plassat, OP - Fighting Slavery in the Amazon for 25years

Xavier Plassat, OP

Like tuberculosis and landlines, slavery seems very much a throwback to another century. But as William Langewiesche reports in his stirring dispatch “Slaves Without Chains,” slavery can still be found in some form all over the world. Indeed, it is estimated that upwards of 20 million people are currently held in bondage. The problem is global, but Langewiesche focuses his tale on a single heroic figure—a Dominican friar in Brazil named Xavier Plassat—who for 25 years has been fighting slavery in the Amazon, at great risk to himself but with considerable success. Plassat’s target isn’t sex slavery—a global disgrace all its own. Most slaves are ordinary workers, women and men alike, condemned to lives of punishing labor: in diamond mines in parts of Africa, in the fields and jungles of South America, in the construction sites of Arabia, in the fishing fleets of Asia. As The New York Times pointed out recently in a remarkable report on human bondage on the high seas, there is a good chance we have all eaten shrimp caught by slaves.

Plassat is not some pious goody-goody with a death wish and no battle plan. Like any good operative, he drinks and smokes and swears. He’s a man of the world whose intelligence networks run deep into the jungle. In the remote Amazon where he lives, he gathers reports, confirms them as best he can, and alerts a special Brazilian police force, the Mobile Group, that then raids the plantations and slave camps that exist all over Amazonia. It is dangerous work, and not just for Plassat (who has been repeatedly threatened). As Langewiesche writes, “At least 12 of his colleagues and more than a thousand associated peasants have been murdered, rarely with legal consequence.” One of those colleagues was an American nun, Sister Dorothy Stang, gunned down in 2005. The good news is that some 50,000 men and women have been freed from slavery in Brazil during the past two decades—and these methods could work in other places, if governments cared. The bad news is that the economic forces that drive slavery are relentless: worldwide, the numbers are not going down.

Can a French Friar End the 21st-Century Slave Trade?


(02 December 2015)