Afro-descendants in Latin America: a cause revisited

08.07.2011 - Havana - Prensa Latina

Throughout the year devoted by the UN to African descendants in the world, the Latin American region takes on the historic duty of tackling surviving open or veiled discrimination.

Some 150 million African descendants, 30 percent of the Latin American and Caribbean population, suffer the consequences of disproportionate poverty and exclusion, according to a report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) last February.

An article then published by the UNDP stated that Brazil is the country with the largest number of Afro-descendants in the area, and the one recording the widest racial gap in matters of poverty and education.

A testimony by activist Verónica Villagra from Uruguay, included in that report, denounces that Afro-descendants in her country are mostly poor and face challenges of a racism with renewed forms of exclusion.

Press reports this year vouch for the fact that Afro descendants in Colombia still have 80 percent of their basic needs unsatisfied, with low income levels per capita, equal to one third of the national average.

In Argentina, a country where the existence of Africans and possible descendants has long been denied, stubborn historical events belie those conclusions.

According to scholar Diego Buffa, of Cordoba University, there were important slave communities in Tucumán, Santiago del Estero and Buenos Aires in the XIX century.

In Cordobas population, there are features showing the existence of African genetic components, whose trace were sought to be wiped out and thought to have disappeared in the XIX century, Professor Buffa says.

Unfortunately, discrimination against Afro-descendants is not confined, nowadays, to just a few countries, like those mentioned.

It is present wherever there are African descendants, in a subtle and disguised way, even where there have been big social achievements and there are programs favoring the equality and inclusion of all.

This is something scholars and activists defending rights insist on.

History in the region has shown that in spite of the milestone marked by the abolition of slavery that definitely took place in the countries of the continent, the scourge of exclusion and social stigma remained in force.

Experts assert that after independence from the metropolises won by Latin America, the nation-State based on the European model was imposed, based on the domination of a single culture, which did not recognize, but rather persecuted, the spirituality and culture of indigenous people and African descendants.

Thus former slaves and their offspring were placed again at the bottom of the social strata in the fledgling nations emerging from the liberating processes, as if they were of the lowest category.

And that historical injustice happened even though slave work was essential to colonialism, as it provided the main foundation of the economy.

It occurred and still does, in spite of the undeniable cultural contributions that the children of African and mixed people never stopped making, which are essential ingredients of so many national identities in America. Some researchers like Cuban Fernando Martínez Heredia consider that perceptions of the persistence of racism and a rejection of its serious implications have been growing in the last 15 years.

The scholar, who is also director of the Juan Marinello Cuban Institute of Cultural Research, affirmed that the wave of realization involves ever growing sectors and a large number of institutions.

He expressed these thoughts at the opening session, in Havana, of an international conference on the occasion of the year sponsored by the UN.

In the Caribbean country, where the triumphant Revolution brought about key changes that improved the life of Afro-descendants, it is considered, however, that there are still battles to wage against veiled manifestations of racism, renewed at the level of social conscience in the last few years.

The political will of Cubas leaders has been clear in relation to that: any expression of discrimination or racial exclusion, even in its most veiled forms, is incompatible with the model of society being built in the nation and will not be accepted.

Many experts agree that in order to finally eradicate racial biases, apart from the essential political will, it is necessary to work in the areas of education and culture.

Just like that, a social practice characterized by solidarity, generosity and inclusion wiping out forever the conservative and reactionary prejudices supporting racism will be attained.

Venezuela, another Latin American nation with a strong composition of descendants from mother Africa, is getting ready to pass an organic law against racism as a sample of the attention paid to the problem in the Bolivarian country.

In the last few days, it has been the venue for the IV International Meeting of Afro-descendants and Revolutionary Transformations in Latin America and The Caribbean, which has been attended by noteworthy experts from Cuba, Argentina, Colombia, Ghana, Mali, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, among other countries.

These are signals that realization is a fact, while the ground toward concrete actions is also under way.

Prensa Latina, por **Marta Gómez Ferrals**, martes, 05 de julio de 2011

Categories: Central America, Human Rights

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