At the end of 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published its “Report on the Situation of People of African Descent in the Americas 2011.”
The IACHR, which is part of the Organization of American States, originally published the report in Spanish. It was designed to assess information about how people of African descent are faring in the Americas, particularly as the year 2011, which the United Nations declared the “International Year for People of African Descent,” drew to a close. An English language version of the 93-page report has now been released and is available as a PDF on IACHR’s website.
By its conclusion, the report calls on governments to do more to lessen discrimination against people of African descent. It encourages countries to pass legislation and promote “sensitization campaigns” that will publicly recognize the contributions of its Black citizens and demonstrate to Blacks and non-Blacks that African descendants have a place within society. Throughout the report, the IACHR points out the ways African descendants are coping with racism in the early 21st century.
“The commission notes that the circumstances in which the Afro-descendant population lives, and the problems it faces, differ from one country in the Americas to the other,” the report notes in its introduction. “Nevertheless, it is possible to point to a series of cross-cutting issues within the region, including structural discrimination and difficulties in gaining access to justice.”
The IACHR’s report found that there are some 150 million people of African descent in the Americas–we make up some 30 percent of the total population in the hemisphere. However, studies by the World Bank show that a person’s racial background continues to determine the social and economic stations they can obtain in the Americas. One long-lasting problem has been the fact that many Afro-Latinos in particular live in nations that perpetuate the myth that they are the citizens of racial democracies, “The idea,” read the report, “according to which … there is no racism because … all races and cultures melted into a happy combination.”
The report goes on to point out that Black people are dispersed between both rural and city locations. Large groups of African descendants in the Americas tend to be clustered in their own communities; many times the structural discrimination they encounter leads to their facing a predetermined, and lower, level of housing, health care, education and economic prospects. And because these communities are mostly Black, they tend to wield less political power within their nations.
Some of the larger African descendant communities are recorded as follows: “In Peru, in 39 coastal districts of the regions of Arequipa, Ancash, Ica, Lambayeque, Lima, Callao, Piura, Tacna and Tumbes; in Honduras, in the Atlantic Coast, Puerto Cortes, Marka as far as Plapaya, Department of Cortes and Gracias a Dios, and on Bahia Islands; in Costa Rica, in the provinces of Limon and San Jose; in Colombia, in Valle del Cauca, Antioquia, Bolivar, Choco, Narino, Cauca, Atlantico, Cordoba, Cali, Medellin, Bogota, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Riohacha, Monteria, Quibdo, Tubo, Buenaventura and Tumaco, Archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina, San Basilio de Palenque; in Guatemala, in the departments of Izabal, Zacapa, Mazatengo, Escuitla and Guatemala; in Paraguay, in Emboscada, Fernando de la Mora and Paraguari;
“In Uruguay, in the departments of Artigas, Rivera, Paysandu, Salto, Cerro Largo and in the cities of Montevideo and Rocha; in Mexico, in the regions of Costa Chica de Guerrero and Oaxaca, in the CentralGulf region of the state of Veracruz, Costa Grande de Oaxaca, the area of Tierra Caliente in Michoacan in the High Lands and the CoastIsthmus in Chiapas, in the state of Quintana Roo, as well as in the district of Muzquis in the state of Coahuila; in the United States, in the District of Columbia and the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, South Carolina and Alabama; in Guyana, in the Administrative Areas 4, 6 and 10; and in Chile, in the Region of Arica and Parinacota.”
In the Caribbean, where, in many cases, people of African descent are in the majority, racism can still be seen in cases where “the darker the person’s skin is, the fewer opportunities of personal and economic development they have.”
The IACHR sent out questionnaires to the governments of the nations mentioned in this report in May 2011. The questionnaires asked for information about the current status and achievements of African descendants in each nation. However, the organization notes that it “received replies from 13 member states and 14 replies from civil society.
“The responses to the questionnaire provided useful input for this report. However, the commission points out that the small number of replies received confirms and perpetuates the ‘social invisibility’ of the Afrodescendant population, its scant participation in the formulation of policies and programs that affect them nationwide and the little importance attached to this grave state of affairs.”