In the second annual release of its Social Inclusion Index, Americas Quarterly measured 16 Latin American countries based on numerous performance variables, including access to formal employment and adequate housing, enrollment in secondary school and civil society participation. Among its most interesting findings, the Index provided insight on the systemic nature of racial discrimination in Latin America and the Caribbean. Brazil and Colombia—which possess two of the region’s largest Afro-descendant populations—offered particularly unsettling results.
The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that Afro-descendants represent one-third of the Western Hemisphere’s total population, with the largest concentrations living in Brazil, the United States, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.
Across the region, Afro-descendants are more likely than others to live in impoverished areas affected by high rates of crime and violence. Racial inequality is further exacerbated by structural economic factors, including deep income disparities and minimal socioeconomic mobility among Afro-descendants.
Brazil and Colombia possess the region’s largest Afro-descendant populations and both countries continue to face formidable obstacles to reducing racial inequality. The 2006 national census in Colombia estimated that Afro-descendants accounted for 10.6 percent of the country’s population, but some demographers say this number is likely closer to 26 percent. Experts suggest this may be due to the fact that many Colombians of mixed European and African descent do not identify as black because “they do not feel discriminated against—or as a means to avoid discrimination.”
Similarly, the 2010 Brazilian national census marked the first time in history that a majority of Brazilians identified as Afro-descendants, including 50.7 percent of the population identifying as “black or mixed race.” In its official release of census results, the Instituto Brasileiro de Georgrafia e Estatística (Brazilian institute of Geography and Statistics—IBGE) noted that, “Among the hypotheses to explain this trend, one could highlight the valorization of identity among Afro-descendants.”
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto followed through on a campaign promise yesterday by launching an innovative life insurance program designed for single, female-headed households. The program, titled Seguro de Vida para Madres Jefas de Familia (Life Insurance for Female Heads of Family), will be overseen by the Secretariat of Social Development (Sedesol) and the Family Development Agency (DIF) with an initial budget of 400 million pesos ($32 million).
With a goal of universal coverage, the program will first be targeted at the 1.7 million women living in rural areas that suffer from high levels of poverty—which includes about 400 municipalities—before it moves into urban areas. To qualify for the insurance, mothers cannot exceed a monthly income of 2,130 pesos ($171). Each child will be entitled to 850,000 pesos ($68) a month if the mother becomes deceased to allow the child to be able to continue professional studies and not be forced to drop out to earn money.
Peña Nieto asserted that the measure is "an act of justice" as one in four households is led by a single mother. As part of the program, children of the deceased mother are under the care and protection of the state until they reach the age of 23 to ensure the completion of their professional education. Peña Nieto declared that this insurance is one layer of a larger social initiative program centered on promoting reproductive health, reducing maternal mortality rates and preventing violence and crime.
Present at the launch ceremony was the representative of the United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF) in Mexico, Isabel Crowley, who said that this program "has great significance to ensure progress in the rights of children,” and that this is an “historic opportunity to improve the conditions of children and adolescents in the country who have suffered serious loss of their parents.”
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff plans to support affirmative action quotas that will increase the number of Afro-Brazilians in government positions, an anonymous source close to the Executive told L’Agence France-Presse on Monday. While the percentages have not been defined, the quota system would apply to all new government contracts and employee openings.
A formal announcement of the measure is expected on November 20 to coincide with Brazil’s Day of Black Awareness. This law would build on the gender quota law, in effect since 2009, which calls for 30 percent of political candidates to be women. President Rousseff also championed the university affirmative action law, enacted on August 29, which reserves 50 percent of admissions to public universities for underprivileged public school students—the majority of which are of African, mulatto or Indigenous decent—over the next 10 years.
These quotas are meant to address what President Rousseff calls the country’s “historical debt” to a large sector of Brazilian society that has been underrepresented in higher education. Although Afro-Brazilians represent 53 percent of the country’s population, only 8,700 students of African descent attend public universities.
After being stalled in Congress for seven years, a bill formally sanctioning discrimination became law in Chile yesterday. President Sebastián Piñera urged lawmakers to speed passage of the measure after the brutal killing of gay youth Daniel Zamudio earlier this year set off a national debate about hate crimes.
The Ley Antidiscriminación, also called Ley Zamudio, imposes penalties for acts of discrimination by race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, economic status, religion, or sexual orientation. Individuals may file anti-discrimination lawsuits and a judge must issue a ruling within 90 days. Penalties range from $370 to $3,660, but may be increased in the case of injury. The law also provides for criminal sanctions against violent crimes and requires the State to develop public policies to end discrimination.
Chile is one of the most socially conservative countries in Latin America. Divorce was only recently legalized in 2004, and abortion remains illegal in all circumstances. Conservative lawmakers had stalled on the anti-discrimination legislation, which was originally proposed by President Ricardo Lagos in 2005, on the grounds that it would open the way toward legalizing same-sex marriages. However, after 24-year-old Zamudio suffered fatal injuries from a brutal hate crime, the local and international community and President Piñera moved quickly to enact it. The bill was approved by a majority in both houses of Congress.
“Thanks to Daniel’s sacrifice, today we have a new law that…will enable us to confront, prevent and punish discriminatory acts that generate such pain,” said Piñera at the signing ceremony, where he was joined by representatives of the LGBT community; Jewish, Muslim and Indigenous groups; and Zamudio’s parents, among others.
Peru’s government declared a 30-day state of emergency in the southern Andean province of Espinar yesterday after clashes between anti-mining protesters and police officers. The state of emergency suspends a number of civil liberties, including the right to freedom of assembly. It also grants local police officers responsibility over public order.
Protestors have been demonstrating against the Tinaya copper mine in Espinar, near Cuzco, since last week, blocking highway access to the mine and halting production. Violence escalated last weekend, resulting in the deaths of two civilian protestors and the injury of 46 police officers on Sunday. An additional 30 police officers were injured on Monday. Interior Minister Wilver Calle, who announced the deaths yesterday, did not explain how they occurred other than to say that police were forced to open fire in self-defense.
Protestors claim that operation of the Tinaya mine is polluting two local rivers and damaging the environment. They also say the mine has not contributed sufficiently to the local economy, and are demanding that the mine owner, Xtrata, increase the amount of royalties it provides the local government to 30 percent, from 3 percent. Xtrata, a Swiss-based company and the world’s fourth-largest copper producer, has denied the pollution allegations.
This is not the first time President Ollanta Humala has resorted to declaring a state of emergency to end anti-mining protests. Last December, his government issued a state of emergency in the northern province of Cajamarca in response to protests against the $4.8 billion Conga gold mining project. That project, owned largely by U.S.-based Newmont Mining Co., has been suspended pending further negotiations over the protection of highland water sources.
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.
With today’s release of its Spring 2012 issue, Americas Quarterly has unveiled a new index that measures social inclusion in the Americas. This ranking evaluates 15 different indicators and compares them across 11 countries in the hemisphere. The variables include a country’s economic competitiveness, percent of national GDP spent on social programs, level of political and civil freedoms, and citizen perception of personal empowerment and government responsiveness in that country.
Out of a maximum of 100, Chile came out on top with a score of 71.9, while Guatemala ranked lowest at 7.5. The index praises Chile’s “consistently high rankings across almost all indicators” and cites “severe inequalities by race and ethnicity” in the case of Guatemala, adding that “Indigenous and Afro-Guatemalans lag far behind” socioeconomically. Uruguay and Brazil ranked second and third, respectively.
For four variables—enrollment in secondary school, percent of population living on more than $4 per day, access to adequate housing, and percent of population with access to a formal job—Americas Quarterly uses data collected by the World Bank in household surveys and disaggregated by race and gender.
According to the index, social inclusion is defined as “the concept that a citizen has the ability to participate in the basic political, economic and social functioning of his or her society. It includes not just economic empowerment, but also access to basic social services, access to infrastructure (physical and institutional), access to the formal labor market, civil and political participation and voice, and the absence of legally sanctioned discrimination based on race, ethnicity or gender.”
Access the full results of—and methodology behind—AQ’s social inclusion index.
Some three hundred representatives of Paraguay’s Indigenous peoples demonstrated in the capital city of Asunción yesterday, marking the Day of the American Indigenous and demanding access to education, health and ancestral lands. They came from across the interior of the country and once in Asunción, walked 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Cerro Lambaré, a monument to an Indigenous chief, to the seat of the national Congress, in a demonstration that included dancing, music, the selling of artisan handcrafts, and shaman rituals.
Clemente Lopez, a leader of the Chamacoco peoples, told the Associated Press, “Our permanent struggle is to make the state return the lands where our ancestors lived and that today should belong to us.” Catalino Sosa, of the Mbyá Guaraní peoples, told Efe, “This is not a party. It is a day of reclaiming from the state and the government land and territory, because in Paraguay laws are not enforced, nor is there political will.” He said his community, based about 250 km (155 mi) east of Asunción lacked schools and health services, and asked that greater resources be allocated to it. Another leader from a fishing community north of Asunción said the fisherpeoples there needed government assistance to help commercialize their artisanal products.
The Indigenous demonstration and celebrations were in part coordinated by the state body Instituto Nacional del Indígena (National Institute of the Indigenous), which facilitated their transportation from the interior zones of the country. There were no incidences of violence, according to police forces deployed to maintain order.
Paraguay’s Indigenous number about 100,000, out of a total population of 6.5 million. They are divided into 20 pueblos and five linguistic families—the Guaraní, Maskoy, Mataco Mataguayo, Samuco and Guacuru. The majority of them live in rural areas in the western Chaco region, although a scant community of about 10 families lives in the jungle region on the border with Bolivia. A rise in deforestation, mechanized agriculture and government neglect have increased poverty among Paraguay’s Indigenous communities; 63 percent of Indigenous children in the country live in extreme poverty, compared to about 20 percent of non-Indigenous children.
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."
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.
Today is the 101st observation of International Women’s Day, a time to shine the global spotlight on the economic, political and social achievements of women. From my perspective, although Caribbean women are still victims of sexism, machismo and other forms of discrimination—unfortunately as in every other region in the world—their successes have been remarkably profound. The right of a woman to education and political participation is hardly denied. A number of Caribbean women are parliamentarians and ministers; the current prime ministers of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago are female.
International media are beginning to notice. The Independent (UK), in a ranking of “The Best and Worst Place to Be a Woman,” announced that the Caribbean is the best place for women to be a journalist and that the region has the highest percentage of women—almost 60 percent—working in high-skilled jobs. The Bahamas is ranked the highest for economic participation and opportunity for women. This progress shows that more people are finally divorcing from their prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions about the societal status of women. However, as we rejoice in this euphoria it is crucial to issue a clarion call for change in areas where basic female rights are still violated, the most glaring of which is reproductive health.
Women and girls must have access to all options of modern contraception to make informed and responsible decisions about the size of their families. But this is not so. Women and girls in the Caribbean are still marginalized and negatively impacted by antiquated laws such as Sections 56 and 57 of Trinidad & Tobago’s Offences Against the Person Act, which fail to account for their sexual and reproductive rights. When I asked on Twitter about which reproductive rights matter most to women in the Caribbean, one follower noted the “need [for] access to affordable, safe and legal abortions for the pregnant poor teenagers as well as the 'successful' married women.”