Their living and working conditions were dangerous and dreadful. Elias Vieira da Silva and Nerisvan da Silva Elias survived in a dilapidated shack, sleeping on hammocks and pelted by rain. They had no clean drinking water. There was no bathroom. They endured frequent exposure to toxic chemicals.
But now, thanks to urgent action by our Brazilian front-line partner organization, the two are free from slavery. They’ve received critical medical care and thousands of dollars in compensation from the cattle rancher who enslaved them.
Elias and Nerisvan are brothers. For three months they were responsible for clearing brush and applying pesticides to control weeds in pastures—with no personal protective equipment.
“I once asked for a cape to protect me from the poison,” Elias recalls. “The boss told me to use an old bag, so that’s what I did.”
The brothers were totally dependent on a ranch hand for all their food. When Elias asked for money to buy meat himself, he was told: “the poor were born to be poor, and rich to be rich.”
The São Lucas farm is just six miles from the city of Araguaína, but the two could not escape. The farm boss threatened they would never be paid if they tried to leave. Still, Nerisvan was worried about his older brother’s exposure to toxic chemicals. He slipped away from the ranch to seek help from the local office of the Comissão Pastoral da Terra, or CPT (Pastoral Land Commission).
Noting the urgency of the situation, CPT snapped into action, triggering a raid by a local prosecutor and the Ministry of Labor’s special slavery strike force. Together, they conducted the rescue.
“It was a Thursday,” Elias says, “where the labor supervisors and a prosecutor set us free. They got us out of that farm, where we were humiliated by the boss and his son.”
The brothers were severely contaminated by the pesticides. CPT and local authorities ensured they were treated at the city hospital and received prescription medication.
Authorities also imposed significant fines on the ranch owner. The brothers were surprised to receive approximately $4,370 (U.S.) including back pay and compensation for damages. It was more than they could have imagined—and the funds will help fulfill many of their hopes and dreams: owning a home, raising their own animals, supporting their families.
Elias and Nerisvan are finally safe. Back home, more than 600 miles from the farm where they were rescued, Elias bought a small piece of land. CPT helped ensure the two were enrolled in Brazil’s social programs for slavery survivors.
Read more about FTS and our front-line partners in Brazil on our Brazil webpage.
See an actual raid on a Brazilian farm in our mini-documentary: Partners in Action in Brazil.