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Ahead of the Summit: An Afro-Colombian Letter to Obama

April 13, 2012

by Daniel Mera Villamizar

Please find the original text below, submitted in Spanish.

We're not going to complain or request solutions. Welcome to Colombia, a country that in the last past 200 years has tried to align itself to your ideals of liberty and equality, with more or less mediocre results. Acclaimed historians have often said that we're a "country of the in-between," despite the fact that we've been reluctant to renounce our airs of "greatness."

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Since President Santos decided to give out—in your presence—two titles to collective territories for Afro-Colombians, the issue of our country’s Afro-Colombian has been on the agenda.

You, President Obama, would most likely have a vision that's oriented to a civil, independent and critical society; it would be strange if you didn't.

Ours is one that has given a "conditioned support" to the lobby that backed the ratification of the free-trade agreement in the U.S. Congress, with our own resources.

We have shown other proof of our desire of inserting the best interests of Colombia's Afro-descendant population into those of the nation.

We sustain an intense dialogue with Colombians through social media. At least on Facebook, our audience is one-third of Santos' audience and two times that of his most popular minister.

We do not have rage in our hearts, which would be understandable and more easily achieved since we have not suffered legal discrimination because of our skin color after independence.

We also have a dream: to sit down at the table of progress, of respect and of responsibility—as a result of national prosperity with equality and without discrimination.

We have worked in the kitchens, in the mines, in occupations of unskilled labor, in the river, sea, on the soccer field and on stage—but not structurally at the table of equal opportunities.

It's not that we define ourselves by the color of our skin, but rather that society at large understands that a table with diverse colors will underline social change.

But, President Obama, what our government will show you is not the symbol of the quest for a shared table of equality, but rather a confined lot of land with few possibilities of entering economic modernity.

Our government will not show you a sub-regionalized affirmative action plan in education or one of overcoming extreme poverty; nor a plan to address the opportunities and risks of small producers in zones that will be impacted by the free-trade agreement; nor an initiative that will compensate the institutional weaknesses of many towns in gaining access to funds for oil royalties.

Not a symbol of the "closing of the gap," but one of "unequal conditions because we want to see them different," even if it’s less than 10 percent of the Afro-Colombian population.

If in Chicago there were no African-Americans seated at the table, who took advantage of the instruments of modernity, we would probably not be writing this letter.

The old leaders of this society, whose heirs will be tending to you, who have never recognized the specific legitimacy of the Black population and who invented the myth of the mestizo nation, will be content with the symbol that they will show you. This is suspicious.

This is the continuation of the domination through a means that is partially consensual. Ask them what they owe us from the creation of the Republic. They don't understand. This is where we are.

We will await your arrival in 2032, or a bit earlier so that you (and Michelle too) can tell a national story that is more pluralistic and seated at the table.

*This post originally appeared on
El Espectador’s website in Spanish and is published here in English with the author’s permission. (Translation courtesy of Gabriel-Josué Hurst.)


Carta ‘afro’ para Obama

No vamos a ponerle quejas o a pedirle soluciones. Bienvenido a Colombia, un país que lleva casi 200 años tratando de acercarse a sus ideales de libertad e igualdad, con éxito más bien mediocre. Dicen connotados historiadores que somos un “país de medianías”, pero no hemos renunciado a la “grandeza”.

Como el presidente Santos decidió entregar en su presencia dos títulos de tierras colectivas de comunidades negras, puso el tema afrocolombiano en la agenda. Querrá usted, presidente Obama, tener una visión desde la sociedad civil, independiente, crítica, pues sería extraño que no la hubiera. La nuestra es una que prestó “apoyo condicionado” al lobby para la aprobación del Tratado de Libre Comercio en el Congreso estadounidense, con recursos propios.

Hemos dado otras pruebas de insertar el interés de la población negra dentro del interés nacional. Mantenemos un intenso diálogo con los colombianos, a través de las redes sociales. Al menos en Facebook, nuestra audiencia es la tercera parte de la del presidente Santos y el doble de la de su ministro más popular. No tenemos rabia en el corazón, aunque esto es más fácil en un país que no sufrió discriminación legal por color de piel después de la independencia.

También tenemos un sueño. Sentarnos a la mesa del progreso, del respeto y de la responsabilidad, como resultado de una prosperidad nacional con equidad, sin discriminación, principalmente. Hemos estado en la cocina, los socavones, los oficios iletrados de servicio, el río, el mar, el patio, la tarima, pero no —estructuralmente— en la mesa en igualdad de condiciones. No es que nos definamos por el color de la piel, sino que la sociedad sabe que una mesa de diversos colores significará un cambio social.

Pero, presidente Obama, lo que el gobierno colombiano le mostrará no es el símbolo de la búsqueda de una mesa compartida con igualdad, sino del confinamiento en un patio con escasas posibilidades de acceder a la modernidad económica.

No le exhiben una acción afirmativa subregionalizada en educación o en superación de la pobreza extrema; no un plan para enfrentar las oportunidades y los riesgos de los pequeños productores en las zonas expuestas por el Tratado de Libre Comercio; no una iniciativa que compense debilidades institucionales de muchos municipios para acceder a los fondos de regalías petroleras. No un símbolo de “cierre de la brecha”, sino uno de “condiciones desiguales porque los queremos ver diferentes”, así sólo sea menos del 10% de la población afrocolombiana.

Si en Chicago no hubiese habido afroamericanos sentados a la mesa, que se valieron de los instrumentos de la modernidad, probablemente no estaríamos escribiendo esta carta. Los dirigentes antiguos de esta sociedad, cuyos herederos lo están atendiendo, que nunca supieron reconocer la legitimidad específica de la población negra y se inventaron el ideal de nación mestiza, están muy contentos con el símbolo que le mostrarán. Es sospechoso.

Es la continuación de la dominación por una vía parcialmente consentida. Pregúnteles qué nos deben desde la creación de esta República. No lo entienden. Así estamos. Por acá lo esperamos en 2032 y un poco antes, para contarles (a Michelle también) una historia nacional más plural y sentados a la mesa.

*Esta columna será traducida al inglés y difundida en Washington.

Tags: Summit of the Americas, Colombia, Barack Obama, Social inclusion, Afro-Latino

To speak with an expert on this topic, please contact the communications office at: communications@as-coa.org or (212) 277-8384.
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To speak with an expert on this topic, please contact the communications office at: communications@as-coa.org or (212) 277-8384.

 
 

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