The World Today for November 23, 2023
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Slave trader Jose Bernardino de Sá was one of Brazil’s wealthiest people in the mid-1800s. He trafficked nearly 20,000 Africans to the South American country, using his proceeds to build roads and farms, and to finance the Banco do Brasil, which is today the country’s oldest and second-largest financial institution.
This Hispanic American Historical Review article delves into de Sá’s close ties with the Brazilian government, illustrating how slavery and Brazilian history are intertwined. The Wilson Center also discussed how slavery drove the Brazilian economy for 350 years. Brazil, incidentally, was the last nation in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888. Former slaves still faced repression and discrimination, too, a Nation magazine book review added.
Now, reported the Washington Post, Brazilian government lawyers have filed a complaint in court calling on the bank to acknowledge its role in the global slave trade, and outline a plan for reparations to the descendants of those victims who were torn from their homes in Africa and compelled to toil by clearing land, farming, mining, and serving their masters.
Bank representatives said the institution broke no laws at the time – so they didn’t see how they could be held responsible for the actions of their founders.
“Banco do Brasil emphasizes – vehemently – that it feels deeply sorry for this unfortunate chapter in the history of humanity and our society,” said the bank in a statement. “Enslavement for hundreds of years caused irreversible damage to the people enslaved at the time and their descendants. Therefore, it is a moment in history that must be remembered and discussed.”
Brazil adopted a policy of “collective amnesia” after abolition in 1888, the Guardian wrote. Prosecutors are asking the bank to share information about their links to slavery and consider research projects and other spending that might address this suppressed history.
Their efforts might already be paying off. The great-great-granddaughters of coffee baron Domingos Custódio Guimaraes, inspired by the conversations that the prosecutors have triggered, funded academic research about their family’s dark, slaveholding past that they made public.
These moves might be reverberating across the Atlantic, too. Recently, Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said his country needed to admit and take responsibility for its role in the global slave trade, reported the Anadolu Agency. The stories have certainly highlighted how unscrupulous employers in Brazil, from a brewery to ranchers in the Amazon, often keep their workers in slave-like conditions, Euronews wrote.
The past contains plenty of dirty business.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
Third Time’s a Charm
North Korea launched its first spy satellite this week, prompting neighboring South Korea to suspend parts of a 2018 military pact aimed at reducing tensions between the two countries, NBC News reported.
On Tuesday, Pyongyang launched the Malligyong-1 satellite on a Chollima-1 rocket from its west coast, the third launch this year following two earlier failures. South Korean military confirmed that the satellite entered orbit, but that officials are verifying whether the probe “(is) actually working.”
The launch comes in defiance of earlier warnings from the United States and its allies. The US, South Korea and Japan condemned the launch, which used ballistic missile technology in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
North Korea countered that it has a “sovereign right” to develop spy satellites and other technologies to defend itself against what it considers to be military aggression by the US and its allies. It vowed to send up more satellites in the future.
A day after the launch, Seoul responded by suspending sections of the 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement, signed between South Korea’s then-President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The provisions included halting live-fire exercises in some areas, imposing no-fly zones and curtailing some aspects of surveillance. Supporters said the deal was part of Moon’s policy to improve relations between the two countries, and raised hopes that Pyongyang was working towards denuclearization.
But critics noted that it hindered Seoul’s ability to monitor North Korea’s activity near the border, especially as Pyongyang has increased its weapons testing in recent years.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha University in Seoul, said the suspension allows current conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol “to step away from the previous administration’s confidence-building measures that disproportionately benefited the Kim regime.”
However, he added that North Korea would use the pact’s suspension “as an excuse for further military provocations.”
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) finalized an agreement to withdraw its 15,000 peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), amid ongoing violence in the country’s east and criticism of the mission’s effectiveness, Africanews reported.
On Tuesday, DRC Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula and MONUSCO’s head, Bintou Keita, signed a deal marking the conclusion of a nearly two-decades-long collaboration.
The minister said the agreement marked the end of a partnership “which has proved its limits in a context of permanent war, without the longed-for peace being restored to eastern Congo.”
MONUSCO’s exit comes as the region has been ensnared in a protracted conflict involving numerous armed groups – with some of them receiving support from neighboring countries.
The DRC is also preparing for next month’s presidential and parliamentary elections, with the conflict taking a central role in campaigns. In September, President Félix Tshisekedi called for an expedited withdrawal of the UN peacekeepers.
At the same time, the UN mission has faced criticism and tensions from the local population, leading to protests against MONUSCO, sometimes resulting in fatalities. In August, Congolese troops launched a brutal crackdown on anti-UN demonstrations that resulted in nearly 50 deaths.
Amid ongoing frustration over the lack of protection, the Congolese government directed the East African regional force to leave the country by December, citing a “lack of satisfactory results on the ground.”
While the announcement did not provide a definitive timeline for MONUSCO’s withdrawal, observers suggest that any acceleration is unlikely before the conclusion of the current election cycle.
Making a Stink
French cheesemakers are expressing anger over a proposed European Union recycling rule that may see the traditional round wooden boxes used for Camembert cheese replaced with plastic ones, Sky News reported.
The European Parliament is set to vote on the regulation, requiring all food packaging to be recyclable by 2030.
But some French producers fear that the language of the proposal could eliminate the use of wooden boxes for Camembert, impacting 2,000 jobs and 45 firms in France. Many of them noted that plastic packaging can heat up the cheese and alter the product over the long term.
Protests against the proposal emphasize the cultural and national significance of traditional packaging for French cheeses. French EU lawmaker Laurence Sailliet described the replacement of the traditional wooden packaging as “a gustatory and environmental aberration.”
Observers noted that even if the wooden boxes are not banned, there will be concerns over the potential economic impact because they may face new recycling and reuse regulations, increasing costs.
EU legislators are pushing for an exemption for wooden packaging from the proposed recycling regulations.
European Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius assured that raw-milk, specialized non-industrial Camemberts, with a controlled designation of origin, will be exempt from any regulation.
A Holiday Symbol
This week, every American family has been searching for recipes and preparing their best turkey for today’s Thanksgiving.
But the question remains, why is turkey the preferred bird for a holiday about gratitude?
Historian Troy Bickham wrote in the Conversation that there are not enough records showing what the Pilgrims and their Indigenous Wampanoag guests ate during their first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 in what is now Massachusetts.
The only firsthand record suggested that the Wampanoag brought a cornucopia of food, which included five deer and “fowle.” The latter could have been any number of wild birds, such as ducks and turkeys.
According to Bickham, turkey became a staple during the holiday thanks to the efforts of poet Sarah Hale in the mid-19th century.
As the editor of “Godey’s Lady’s Book,” she advocated for the establishment of a national holiday called “Thanksgiving and Praise,” drawing on the lore of the Pilgrims’ feast in 1621 and the assumption that they consumed turkey during that celebration.
Hale’s campaign faced challenges and took decades to gain momentum, partly due to a lack of enthusiasm among white Southerners. However, the absence of Southerners in Congress during the Civil War provided President Abraham Lincoln with an opportunity to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.
Media outlets, including Godey’s, played a crucial role in promoting the holiday and cementing the association between Thanksgiving and turkey. They featured recipes and menus that showcased the bird as the centerpiece of the festive meal. Turkeys were not only symbolic but also practical for serving big crowds because of their size and being cost-effective to produce.
The popularity of turkey was also influenced by England’s adoption of it as a favored Christmas dish in the mid-19th century, as depicted in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The novel portrayed a festive meal where the main character Ebenezer Scrooge replaced a meager goose with an enormous turkey, inspiring an idealized image of holiday meals.
Despite historical uncertainties about what the Pilgrims actually ate in 1621, the turkey had been served at celebrations in New England throughout the colonial period, contributing to its enduring association with Thanksgiving.
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