No Longer Invisible: Afro-Latin Americans Today 1873194803, 9781873194805

The distinct but extraordinary diverse ethnic and cultural identities of Afro-Latin Americans have received little offic

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No Longer Invisible: Afro-Latin Americans Today
 1873194803, 9781873194805

Table of contents :
Introduction / Pedro Pérez Sarduy and Jean Stubbs --
Brazil / Rosângela Maria Vieira --
Colombia / Nina S. de Friedemann and Jaime Arocha --
Cuba / Gayle McGarrity and Osvaldo Cárdenas --
The Dominican Republic / Silvio Torres-Saillant --
Puerto Rico / Kelvin A. Santiago-Valles --
Mexico and Central America.
Mexico / Jameelah S. Muhammad ;
Nicaragua / Jane Freeland ; Panama / Dairén J. Davis ;
Costa Rica / Kathleen Sawyers Royal and Franklin Perry ;
Belize / Debbie Ewens ;
Honduras / Rachel Sieder --
Venezuela / Eduardo Bermúdez and María Matilde Suárez --
Peru / José Luciano and Humberto Rodriguez Pastor --
Ecuador / Norman E. Whitten, Jr. and Diego Quiroga, with the assistance of P. Rafael Savoia -- Bolivia / Alison Spedding --
Uruguay / Alejandrina da Luz --
Conclusions / Anani Dzidzienyo

Citation preview

No Longer


No Longer Invisible Rfro-Latin Americans Today


he distinct but extraordinarily diverse ethnic and cultural identities of Afro-Latin Americans have received little official

recognition. But today a growing movement is voicing pride in the Afro-Latin American heritage, asserting common identities and working to defend and advance collective rights. This fascinating book provides a major human-rights-focused survey that aims to reflect and be part of that process of rediscovery and renewal. Each chapter considers a particular country or subregion. The authors discuss the historical background, the legacy of resistance to oppression, how members of the minorities see themselves, their culture, the contemporary experience of discrimination, contrasting ethnic identities assumed by women and men, collective aspirations, the struggle for equality, and future prospects. The book also includes a wide-ranging general introduction, a final chapter that poses fundamental questions about comparative race relations in the Americas and beyond, a regional population map and black-and-white photographs.

tot Minority Rights Publications





No Longer Invisible Afro-Latin Americans today

Minority Rights Group is an international non-governmental organization whose aims are to ensure justice for minority (and non-dominant majority) groups suffering discrimination by: 1. Researching and publishing the facts as widely as possible to raise public knowledge and awareness of minority issues worldwide. 2. Advocating on all aspects of human rights of minorities to aid the prevention of dangerous and destructive conflicts. 3. Educating through its schools programme on issues relating to prejudice, discrimination and group conflicts. If you would like to know more about the work of Minority Rights Group, please contact Alan Phillips (Director), MRG, 379 Brixton Road, London SW9 7DE, United Kingdom.


Minority Rights Publications is a series of books from Minority Rights Group. Through the series, we aim to make available to a wide audience reliable data on, and objective analyses of, specific minority issues. The series draws on the expertise and authority built up by Minority Rights Group over two decades of publishing. Other titles in the book series are:

Armenia and Karabagh: The Struggle for Unity

Edited by Christopher J. Walker (1991) The Kurds: A Nation Denied

by David McDowall (1992) Refugees: Asylum in Europe? by Daniele Joly et al (1992) The Balkans: Minorities and States in Conflict, 2nd edition

by Hugh Poulton (1993) Polar Peoples: Self-Determination and Development

by Beach, Creery, Korsmo, Nuttall, Vakhtin (1994) The Palestinians: The Road to Nationhood

by David McDowall (1994) Cutting the Rose - Female Genital Mutilation: The Practice and its Prevention

by Efua Dorkenoo (1994)


Longer Invisible

Afro-Latin Americans today

Edited by Minority Rights Group

/VK Minority Rights Publications

This collection © Minority Rights Group 1995 Individual contributions © the authors 1995 First published in the United Kingdom in 1995 by Minority Rights Publications 379 Brixton Road London SW9 7DE All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any other means without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. Please direct all enquiries to the publisher. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A CIP catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 1 873194 80 3 hardback ISBN 1 873194 85 4 paperback Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data CIP Data available from the Library of Congress Cover design by Brixton Graphics Typeset by Brixton Graphics in Stone Serif Printed on chlorine-free paper in the UK by Redwood Books Cover photo of Cuban cooperative worker by Barry Lewis/Network



Preface and Acknowledgements List of Photographs Map: Afro-Latin American populations

vii xi xii


Introduction Pedro Perez Sarduy and Jean Stubbs


Brazil Rosangela Maria Vieira



Colombia Nina S. de Friedemann and Jaime Arocha



Cuba Gayle McGarrity and Osvaldo Cardenas



The Dominican Republic Silvio Torres-Saillant



Puerto Rico Kelvin A. Santiago-Valles



Mexico and Central America: Mexico Jameelah S. Muhammad Nicaragua Jane Freeland Panama Darien J. Davis Costa Rica Kathleen Sawyers Royal and Franklin Perry Belize Debbie Ewens Honduras Rachel Sieder

163 181 202 215 225 235


Venezuela Eduardo Bermudez and Maria Matilde Suarez



Peru Jose Luciano and Humberto Rodriguez Pastor



Ecuador Norman E. Whitten Jr and Diego Quiroga, with the assistance ofP. Rafael Savoia



Bolivia Alison Spedding and Uruguay Alejandrina da Luz



Conclusions Anani Dzidzienyo


Postscript Darien J. Davis



Appendix: the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities 371 Notes on Contributors 373 Index 379


Preface and Acknowledgements

ace' and ethnicity are a social construct rather than M a biological fact, particularly in the case of Latin America, where people of African, European and -A- m. indigenous ancestry have intermixed through the generations to an enormous degree. Who should be considered, or consider themselves, Afro-Latin American is a question of more than academic interest. Such identifications allow the experience and situation of different ethnic groups to be com¬ pared; they provide indicators of economic, social and political well-being; and they thereby suggest constructive new ways of meeting different community needs within states. In the case of Afro-Latin Americans there is a notable lack of reliable contemporary research and evidence. Today, most Latin American states do not collect ethnic data; others, while official¬ ly recognizing Afro-Latin ethnicity, tend to include in this cate¬ gory only people of 'pure' African ancestry. Various countries in the region have claimed that their black populations are insignif¬ icantly small, in defiance of contradictory evidence. By such means, identities can be misrepresented, and the historical lega¬ cy of oppression and discrimination can be denied. Ideologies of blanqueamiento (whitening) and mestizaje (race mixture) offer perhaps the clearest explanation for this. Latin American nations have long associated the loss or 'dilution' of African physical and cultural characteristics with the idea of 'progress'; hence Latin Americans have tended, both individually and collectively, to deny what is African in themselves and their culture. In numerous cases, too, countries in the region adopted policies specifically designed to achieve a physical and cultural whitening of the population. Among Afro-Latin organizations and others concerned with


No Longer Invisible: Afro-Latin Americans Today

enhancing democracy, human rights and social justice, however, there is much concern to overcome this 'invisibility' by identify¬ ing, strengthening and celebrating what is African in the Latin American heritage. MRG would argue that this is essential for the fulfilment of the terms of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities (see Appendix, pp. 371-2). As part of this process, a more realistic assessment of Afro-Latin Americans' socio-eco¬ nomic, cultural and political experience is sorely needed. To this purpose, the Organization of Africans in the Americas, based in Washington, DC, estimates that inhabitants of the region who have some degree of African ancestry number between 130 mil¬ lion and 170 million, constituting approximately one-third of Latin America's 450 million people (see map, pp. xii-xiii). No Longer Invisible: Afro-Latin Americans Today is published as the result of a collaborative effort involving the work of the con¬ tributing writers and of numerous others. MRG sees the role of the book as part of the effort to gain recognition for the experi¬ ence and situation of Afro-Latin American commuhities, to iden¬ tify both their needs and the resources that they can offer to the wider society. The subject is not an entirely new one for MRG, which published a report some years ago on The Position of Blacks in Brazilian and Cuban Society (1971, 1979), one of whose authors has contributed to the present volume, and has continued in its work to draw attention to minority rights issues in Latin Ameri¬ ca. Although an understanding of the Afro-Latin American expe¬ rience must be rooted in the age of slavery and its aftermath, contributors have also turned their attention to more recent and contemporary events and to a consideration of future prospects. Past neglect of Afro-Latin Americans - perhaps one of the least studied of all the world's larger minorities - has made the fulfil¬ ment of the project both more urgent and more difficult. The region has been broadly defined for the purpose of this volume as the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries of Central and South America and the Caribbean. French-speaking Haiti, for example, is not covered as such, although its close rela¬ tionship with the Dominican Republic has resulted in some con¬ sideration of the Haitian experience. Inevitably, perhaps, gaps remain. It has not been possible to include an account of the

Preface and Acknowledgements

small Afro-Latin communities of coastal Guatemala and El Sal¬ vador; the approximately 156,000 known Paraguayans of African descent; the former British, Dutch and French colonies of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, home to perhaps half a million African-descended people; or the expatriate Afro-Latin Americans of the United States. In a future edition it may be pos¬ sible for MRG to make good such omissions. Argentina and, to a lesser extent, Chile undoubtedly had identifiable Afro-Latin pop¬ ulations at one time, but there is little evidence of their contem¬ porary survival. MRG owes a debt of gratitude to the many scholars, minority rights campaigners and others who gave generously of their time and expertise during the preparation of the book. Above all, they are the writers whose work appears here, but also those who took an active interest in the project and helped it to fruition: Jaime Arocha, Andy Atkins, Eduardo Bermudez, Osvaldo Cardenas, Darien J. Davis, Jualynne Dodson, Anani Dzidzienyo, Debbie Ewens, Michael Franklin, Jane Freeland, Nina S. de Friedemann, Jose Luciano, Alejandrina da Luz, Gayle McGarrity, Jameelah S. Muhammad, Patricia Odber de Baubeta, Jenny Pearce, Pedro Perez Sarduy, Franklin Perry, Angelina Pollak-Eltz, Diego Quiroga, Flumberto Rodriguez Pastor, Sunny Salibian, Kelvin A. Santiago-Valles, Kathleen Sawyers Royal, Rachel Sieder, Jose de Souza Martins, Alison Spedding, Pat Stocker, Jean Stubbs, Maria Matilde Suarez, Arlene Torres, Silvio Torres-Saillant, Gwendolyn Twillie, Rosangela Maria Vieira, Peter Wade and Norman E. Whitten Jr. MRG also wishes to thank those, some of whom con¬ tributed to the book as authors, who helped by reading and advising on the content: Sue Branford, Darien J. Davis, James Ferguson, Brenda Lipson, Patricia Odber de Baubeta, Jenny Pearce, Pedro Perez Sarduy, Jean Stubbs, Peter Wade and Kate Whittle. Thanks are also due to all those who kindly supplied photographs; to Alan Biggins and colleagues at the Institute of Latin American Studies Library, London; to Anna Keene for her translation work; to Raja Jarrah, who originally suggested the idea for the book; and to Miles Litvinoff, who coordinated the project on behalf of MRG. With the publishing of this book, MRG has followed, as


No Longer Invisible: Afro-Latin Americans Today

always, a rigorous process of independent review of the text by specialist readers. It is nevertheless virtually impossible to pro¬ duce a study of this length and detail without some errors inad¬ vertently slipping in, no matter how diligently those involved do their work. The problem is compounded when the subject is sur¬ rounded by considerable dispute and controversy. MRG will attempt to rectify in future editions any significant errors to which its attention is drawn. It is intended, above all, that No Longer Invisible should be a timely and useful contribution to a wider understanding of the African presence in Latin America and to a future for the region characterized by increasing social and economic justice. Alan Phillips Director

Photographs 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32

Woodcarving, Brazil. Street performers, Brazil. Craft worker, Brazil. Fiesta, Brazil. Family and friends mourning, Brazil. Mining camp, Colombia. Fruit-seller, Colombia. Wedding, Colombia. Slaves, c.1880, Cuba. Manual workers, Cuba. Dance of liberation, Cuba. Older women, Cuba. Electronics workers, Dominican Republic. Protest, Dominican Republic. Haitian boy, Dominican Republic. Women's meeting, Dominican Republic. Family living on contaminated land, Puerto Rico. Woman washing fish, Mexico. Don Miguel, Mexico. Children in school, Nicaragua. Young Nicaraguans. Workers on the Panama Canal. Shanty-town dwellers, Panama. Children, Panama. Thomas Simpson, Belizean farmer. Oscar Deleon, Venezuela. The Ballumbrosio family, Peru. Rural family, Ecuador. Women, Bolivia. Young man, Uruguay. Jesus Vieira, union leader. Carnival, Uruguay.



Afro-Latin American populations: minimum and maximum estimates, early to mid-1990s, with percentages of total country populations, allowing for differences in classification and self¬ perception; high upper estimates usually include all or most people with some degree of African ethnicity.


Scale 1:53,850,000






1500 kilometres




min. 3.6 million (34%) max. 6.5 million (62%)


DOMINICAN REPUBLIC min. 847,000(11%) max. 7 million (90%)




A) MEXICO min. 474.000 (0.5%) max. 9 million (10%)

Belmopan]* Guatemala^

GUATEMALA figure available




min. 800,000 (23%) max. 2.4 million (70%) JAMAICA






Domin'^5 e



EL SALVADOR no figure available



min. 92,000 (47%) max. 112,000(57%)

San^ Salvador San Jos6

min. 112,000(2%) max. 280,000 (5%) -Panama^

min. 387,000 (9%) max. 599,000(13%)



max. ) 66.°00