The concentration camps for famine victims in Brazil and the struggle for their public memorialisation

  • Tempo de leitura:3 minutos de leitura

Por Thiago Lima | 30/03/2023

After the ‘Grande Seca’ of 1877, the deadliest famine recorded in Brazil, the government installed so-called concentration camps to prevent famine migrants from the dry Northeastern backlands from reaching Fortaleza, capital of the Ceará state in 1915 and 1932. Officially, the camps were depicted as relief centres, but their inhumane conditions earned them the nickname of ‘death camps’. After their closure, the camps and their famine victims fell into oblivion. Recently, however, both government and civil society actors have taken initiatives to commemorate them. In 2019, the Patu Concentration Camp (the only one for which physical remains can still be found) and the Walk of the Drought (a religious pilgrimage) were officially recognised as heritage sites. This article introduces the research by emphasising how famines are rarely publicly commemorated and describes investigation initiatives that contribute to breaking the silence around famine victims in Brazil. To conclude, the article refers to background literature, document analysis and interviews to discuss the efforts that have been put into public memorialisation so far, as a means to overcome the marginalisation of the memories of peasants from the Northeastern backlands.

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Thiago Lima has a Master’s degree in International Relations and a PhD in Political Science. He won the CAPES National Award for Best PhD Thesis in Political Science in 2015. His thesis was published with the title O protecionismo agrícola nos Estados Unidos (Agricultural protectionism in the United States, free translation) by Editora Unesp (2018). He has been publishing in the field of hunger, food and international relations in recent years, and edited (with Agostina Costantino) the book Food Security and International Relations: Critical Perspectives from the Global South (Ibidem-Verlag, 2021). A previous version of this article received an Honorable Mention by ANPOCS’ Lia Zanotta Machado Award in Human Rights in 2022. He is Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations at Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB, Brazil) and coordinates the Research Group on Hunger and International Relations (