Organizations from Brazil’s Black movement sent a letter to be presented to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and U.S. President Joe Biden when they met at the White House on Feb. 10.

The letter called for a resumption of the U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Discrimination (JAPER), a pact signed between the two countries in March 2008 that promised to create programs to target racism and promote human rights through educational and legal frameworks, labor programs, and laws designed to prevent gender violence.

Some 10 organizations signed the document and had it circulated on Feb. 8, two days before Lula’s scheduled official visit to the White House.

“Brazil and the United States have gone through drastic transformations since JAPER was signed 15 years ago,” stated the letter, which was posted on the website of the Washington Brazil Office (WBO), a civil society group. “Though both countries have made significant progress in the fight against racism, we are far from reaching the day when racial discrimination will no longer be an issue of major concern.”

JAPER as an “important mechanism” for cooperation in the fight against racism, but was limited due to the “lack of interest” of the Trump and Bolsonaro administrations in implementing its actions. “Therefore, we call on the authorities in Brazil and the United States to take back JAPER and make use of its full potential by considering the broad participation of civil society organizations in the design and implementation of the plan; and in the creation of an objective implementation strategy that encompasses deadlines, priorities, review phases, and the allocation of financial resources for the plan’s activities.”

The letter’s authors argued that “Black people continue to be deprived of the full exercise of their political, economic, social, and cultural rights. And violence still claims the lives of Black men, women, and children. According to data from the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA), 77% of the victims of murders in Brazil are Black but [they] represent 56% of the total population. In the United States, the number of people killed by the police hit a record in the year 2022, [when there was] a disproportionate rate of murders of Black people, as illustrated by emblematic cases such as the murder of George Floyd in 2020.”

The letter was signed by the Centro de Estudos das Relações de Trabalho e Desigualdades (CEERT/Center for the Study of Labor Relations and Discrimination); Coletivo de Entidades Negras (CEN/Collective of Black Groups); Coordenação Nacional de Articulação de Quilombos (CONAQ/National Coordination of Articulation of Quilombos); Geledés – Instituto da Mulher Negra (Black Women’s Institute); Instituto de Referência Negra (Institute of Black Reference) – Peregum; Instituto Maria e João Aleixo (IMJA/Maria and João Aleixo Institute); Instituto Cultural Steve Biko (ICSB/Steve Biko Cultural Institute); Laboratório de dados e narrativas sobre favelas (LABJACA/Data and Narrative Lab on Favelas); ODARA – Instituto da Mulher Negra (Black Woman’s Institute); and União de Núcleos de Educação Popular para Negras/os e Classe Trabalhadora (UNEafro/Union of Nuclei of Popular Education for Blacks and Working Class)

Restarting JAPER and employing it with the necessary funding and management will advance racial equity goals in both Brazil and the U.S., according to Black movement organizations. 

Ensuring that JAPER was on the agenda during Lula’s visit with Biden was a central reason that Anielle Franco, Brazil’s Minister of Racial Equality, came along for the Brazilian president’s trip to the U.S. While in Washington, D.C., Franco met with Desirée Cormier Smith, the U.S. State Department’s Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice, to talk about how JAPER could be re-implemented. She also paid a visit to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, specifically because there is currently an effort to build a museum of Afro Brazilian history by Lula’s administration.

Lula did speak up about how important it is for both nations to tackle race issues when he sat down with Biden: “[W]e can work together—we should work together—…to fight inequality, the racial issue,” he said. 

Racism has marginalized many of Brazil’s Black youth, Lula added. “[T]hey are victims of the lack of government intervention and [lack of] support from the state.”

Lula’s support for reinstating JAPER is seen as another important move by his administration to advance Black Brazilian rights and comes as an addition to his establishment of the Ministry of Racial Equality and his recent signing of Federal Law 14.532/2023, which changed the penalty for the crime of racially insulting people. 

Until now, the penalty for racial slurs was imprisonment for one to three years and a fine. The new federal law requires a two-to-five-year prison sentence and that penalty doubles if the crime is committed by two or more people.

“The leading role [played by] civil society and organized social struggle [was what] helped preserve democracy and bring these two leaders, Lula and Biden, to their respective pulpits,” said Paulo Abrão, executive director of the WBO, in a statement. “They are expected to maintain a vital role of listening and connecting with civil society and social movements in their respective countries. And it is legitimate to demand that they include social demands in [their] diplomatic dialogue.”

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