Of Rubber and Blood in Brazilian Amazon

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[Brazilians took part in their country’s drive to produce rubber for the Allies in World War. Now they want to be reimbursed for their services.]

The program originated in an agreement between the United States and Brazil. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had cut the United States off from its main source of rubber, in Malaya, and President Roosevelt persuaded Brazil’s dictator, Getúlio Vargas, to fill that strategic gap in return for millions of dollars in loans, credits and equipment.

According to Brazilian government records, more than 55,000 people, almost all of them from the drought-ridden and poverty-stricken northeast, were sent to the Amazon to harvest rubber for the war effort. There are no official figures on how many of them succumbed to disease or animal attacks, but historians estimate that nearly half perished before Japan surrendered in September 1945.

“Some of the guys died of malaria, yellow fever, beriberi and hepatitis, but others were killed by snakes, stingrays or even panthers,” recalled Lupércio Freire Maia, 86. “They didn’t have the proper medicines for diseases or snakebites there in the camps, so when someone died you buried him right there next to the hut and kept right on working.”

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Vernon Clayson - 11/24/2006

Must we really go back into history and remimburse every individual ever involved with us and suffered something deleterious? Slaves and now rubber plantation workers, what's next, interned Japanese, wait, we've done that one. Does the rest of the world stay up nights thinking of ways to get something from Uncle Sugar? Reminds me of the Indonesians protesting our president's visit but wondering where the Americans when when the tsunami hit. If they think we owe them something, why didn't they ask him? Surely we could have shaken a few dollars loose.