This week, the Brazilian Senate approved a bill that regulates the system of social and racial quotas in public universities. It is expected that President Dilma Rousseff will sign the bill into law.
Designed with the objective of ensuring equal opportunities, the bill reserves half the spots in the country’s public federal universities for graduates of public high schools. These spaces will be distributed among Afro-Brazilian students, mestizos and Indigenous proportionally according to the racial and ethnic composition of each state.
Although Brazil has the biggest Afro-descendant population outside of Nigeria, students in private schools are still predominantly Caucasian. Private-school students are usually better prepared than their public-school peers for the difficult university entrance exams, and as a result, they are better represented at the prestigious, heavily subsidized, federal universities.
Afro-Brazilian Senator Paulo Paim said that the bill will benefit the majority of Brazilian students because only 1 in 10 students graduate from private schools. Further, according to Senator Ana Rita, "the bill brings social justice to most of the Brazilian population." She and other supporters of the bill argue that racial quotas will help reverse the country’s historic inequality.
Others have criticized the measure. Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, a senator who voted against the proposal, argued that the bill "puts a straightjacket on universities because it violates their autonomy." He further stressed that federal universities should select students with the best grades, regardless of race or social class.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.
A 10–0 decision by Brazil’s Supreme Court, O Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF) on April 26 was a landmark verdict for Brazil’s Afro-descendant population. The STF approved the incentive program for black and underprivileged students to attend college in Brazil, ProUni (Programa Universidade para Todos—University Program for All); after the end of slavery and the passage of the Racial Equality Law, this was the most important public policy addressing the Afro-Brazilian population.
The challenge to ProUni’s constitutionality was filed by the Democratas party, which argued that the universities’ adoption of the system violated constitutional principles of equality. On the other hand, social organizations claimed that quotas are a mechanism to reverse historic exclusion and create opportunities for thousands of descendants of African slaves. In 2003, only 3 percent of Afro-Brazilians had a university degree; in 2010 this number was 10 percent. These figures pale in comparison to the actual number of Afro-Brazilians: 51 percent of the population, according to the latest census.
The approval of quotas marks the end of a decade-plus debate in Brazil—one that saw biased opposition to the system by the mainstream media outlets, despite strong support from the Afro-Brazilian rights movement. The media’s opposition contradicted public opinion: Datafolha polls from 2006 and 2008 showed that the 65 and 62 percent, respectively, of Brazilians actually supported the affirmative action plan.
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North American Leaders Meet in Guadalajara
The leaders of Canada, the United States, and Mexico met in Guadalajara, Mexico on August 9 and 10 for the North American Leaders’ Summit. The discussion centered on security, trade, coordinating response to the H1N1 virus, climate change, and clean energy. A Bloggings by boz post says that while all the leaders made a point of formally discussing these issues, “there weren’t any major new agreements.”
Read AS/COA coverage of the summit.