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 11 Social Movements in Latin America The Power of Regional and National Networks Judith A. Morrison African descendants have organized to resist racial discrimination since they arrived in the Americas. The process of Afro-Latin Americans mobilizing regionally to promote policy reforms is a relatively new phenomenon that gained momentum in the early 1990s and is a direct product of the rich history of organized black civil society groups throughout the hemisphere in places as diverse as Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and in coastal regions throughout Central America . This chapter explores how African descendants have established national and regional networks, effectively promoted policies of inclusion, and combated discrimination in the region. Conditions of African Descendants: The Significance of AfricanDescendant Populations African-descendant citizens account for 30 percent or more of Latin America’s population and number up to 150 million. Ending racial discrimination and finding ways to fully incorporate these citizens into national life are among the most pressing tasks facing Latin America. The health of democracies in Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua, and many other countries depends on the full extension of rights and opportunities to populations of African descent. African-descendant populations virtually everywhere in Latin America are the target of racial discrimination and exclusion and suffer high levels of economic and social exclusion compared with other racial and ethnic groups in the Americas (Morrison 2007, 39; World Bank 2006, 1–5). Over the past two decades, several Latin American governments have begun to pay greater attention to their African-descendant populations in response to pressure from civil society organizations. Although the record is still spotty in most places, governments are increasingly collecting and analyzing data on 244  Judith A. Morrison African descendants. Countries such as Brazil and Colombia have taken policy and legal measures to respond to race-based exclusion, including implementing targeted programs to address the historic discrimination against African descendants. It is also encouraging that a growing (albeit still small) number of African descendants are winning elections, gaining government appointments, and securing leadership positions. There are persistent gaps between African descendants and whites throughout the region. An Inter-American Development Bank report has calculated that some Latin American economies could expand by up to one-third if people of African descent or indigenous background were fully included in the labor markets of their nations (Zoninsein 2001, 2). The overall impact of racial gaps has clear economic consequences for societies as a whole in the hemisphere. Socioeconomic Gaps Brazil has the largest African-descendant population in Latin America and has tracked data by race for over two decades. The findings in these data illustrate the challenges facing African descendants throughout the region as a whole. For example, we know that if Brazil’s white and black populations were classified separately, the Human Development Index (HDI) of a hypothetical AfroBrazilian nation would rank 101 among the world’s 165 nations, while that of an all-white nation would rank 46.1 The official HDI ranking for Brazil is 69,which is roughly the average of the hypothetical rankings for an all-white Brazil and a racially mixed Brazil (Morrison 2007, 41; Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatistica 2002, 1). The overall impact of African descendants on Brazilian society can be seen when one considers that they constitute about half the population (or a conservatively estimated 90 million), but their economic participation accounts for only about 20 percent of the gross domestic product. Despite significant improvements in earnings in Brazil and aggressive income distribution programs such as the widely recognized conditional cash transfer programs Bolsa Familia and Bolsa Escola, labor market gaps by race remain. African descendants as a whole were able to improve their earnings by 18 percent from 2003 to 2006, compared to 11 percent for whites, but we see that despite these improvements, white men in Brazil earn 98.5 percent more than African-descendant men (who are defined in the study as individuals who self-identify as pardo or preto), and white Brazilian men earn 200 percent more than African-descendant women (Paixão 2009b, 20–22). Unemployment is 50 percent higher among Afro-Brazilians than among whites. The majority of Afro-Brazilians, or 78 percent, live below the poverty Social Movements in Latin America: The Power of Regional and National Networks  245 line, compared to 40 percent of whites, and the life expectancy of African descendants is only 66 years, compared to 72 years for European descendants (Morrison 2007, 41; United Nations Refugee Agency 2008). Half...


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