Brazil's WWII 'rubber soldiers' win compensation

BRASILIA (AFP) - Brazil's Congress adopted a law on Wednesday, May 14, 2014, to compensate workers who say they were never paid properly after being recruited to Amazon rubber plantations to help the Allies during World War II.

The Brazilian government sent the "rubber soldiers" to work on plantations in the rainforest under a deal signed with the United States after Japan invaded Malaysia in 1941, cutting off the supply of rubber crucial for Allied weapons and vehicles.

The conditions were harsh, and close to 20,000 died in the Amazon, said deputy Parliament speaker Arlindo Chinaglia, calling the new law a "minimum of justice" for the surviving workers.

Now in their 80s and 90s, some 6,000 of the workers will each get a one-time payment of 25,000 reais (S$14,100) next year, in addition to the small monthly pensions they already receive. About 7,000 descendants of deceased workers will also qualify.

The Bill, which was voted through by the senate in April, had been stuck in congressional gridlock for 12 years, according to media giant Globo's G1 news site.

Senator Anibal Diniz called the workers "national heroes" and urged the planning ministry to pay them before the end of the year.

The "rubber soldiers" came largely from Brazil's impoverished north-east. Malaria, malnutrition and violence on the US-funded plantations was rampant.