Enslaved Paraguayan workers freed in Rio de Janeiro

Enslaved Paraguayan workers freed in Rio de Janeiro

Tuesday, March 21st 2023 – 09:55 UTC

The 19 Paraguayans had been brought in blindfolded and were not aware that they were in Rio de Janeiro

Brazil’s Federal Police Monday freed 19 Paraguayan nationals who were working at a Rio de Janeiro clandestine cigarette factory in slave-like conditions, Agencia Brasil reported. The workers arrived in Brazil blindfolded and did not even know they were in the municipality of Duque de Caxias, in Baixada Fluminense.

Operation Libertatis sought to hit a criminal organization specialized in human trafficking and enslavement, fraud, tax evasion, and crimes against consumer relations.

The factory has a large production capacity and accounts for the distribution of cigarettes throughout the state of Rio de Janeiro. The clandestine cigarettes are sold by street vendors at prices well below the national market.

The Paraguayans victims were housed in the factory and worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, in two shifts, without weekly rest. They were also deprived of minimum hygiene conditions, living with animals, open sewers, and with production waste. They did not receive any monetary compensation for their work, had their freedom of movement restricted, and were forced to work without protective equipment, Agencia Brasil further explained.

The rescued workers said they were brought from Paraguay with the promise that they would work in the production of clothing. However, they were sent to the factory premises, where they were kept until Monday. They also said they had contact with only one person, who showed up to bring supplies, armed and wearing a mask that hid his face.

Operation Libertatis was launched with the support of the Labor Prosecutor’s Office and the Federal Revenue Service, and its purpose was to carry out four search and seizure warrants issued by the 7th Federal Criminal Court of Rio de Janeiro, in several locations in the city of Duque de Caxias.

The factory was in full operation when the authorities arrived Monday and inside they found that the foreigners were housed in the factory itself in “deplorable” conditions.

Last year, 2,575 workers subjected to slavery-like conditions in Brazil were rescued by the authorities, 31% more than in 2021, according to the Labor Ministry. Of those rescued, 148 were foreigners (101 Paraguayans, 25 Bolivians, 14 Venezuelans, four Haitians, and four Argentines), doubling the number of migrants freed compared to 2021.

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