GOREE ISLAND (Senegal), April 15: President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva apologized on Thursday for Brazil’s role in slavery during a visit to Senegal’s Goree Island, where Africans were shipped from a red-brick Slave House to a life of toil. “I want to tell you ... that I had no responsibility for what happened in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries but I ask your forgiveness for what we did to black people,” Mr Lula said, speaking from a balcony in the Slave House.

Brazil imported the most African slaves of any country in the world and was the last to abolish slavery in 1888.

About 46 per cent of Brazil’s 180 million people define themselves as “black” or “pardo” — a loose definition including virtually all dark shades of skin — meaning the country has the world’s second largest black population after Nigeria.

During his visit, Mr Lula stopped to gaze at the choppy sea through the “door of no return”, through which shackled slaves left on their perilous journey across the sea. Some of his delegation shed discreet tears as they toured the wind-swept island, accompanied by Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade.

Estimates suggest between 11 and 12 million slaves were shipped from Africa. No one knows how many were sent from Goree between the mid-16th and mid-19th centuries.

“Millions of people were forced towards slavery on ships and some committed suicide to escape, but through the magic of technology, these descendants of slaves come back to the country of their ancestors in planes,” President Wade said.

Senegal was Mr Lula’s last stop on a five-nation African tour, during which he has called for more cooperation between developing countries to face the challenges of globalization. He visited Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea-Bissau.

The Brazilian leader has sought to expand ties with Africa, both to boost his profile as a developing world leader and to build on historical links between Brazil and Africa.

“It’s not just about reaching business deals but it’s the strategy of a politician who is conscious of the historical debt towards Africa,” he said.

Mr Lula met members of Senegal’s Brazilian community and watched Senegalese youths demonstrate the capoeira, an acrobatic fighting style originally developed by slaves brought to Brazil.—Reuters

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