[Marxism] Brazil's Slave Descendents Seek Justice

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Wed Nov 30 19:30:27 MST 2005

(The generally progressive nature of Brazilian foreign policy, as
it relates to the process of continental integration, closer ties
with Argentina, the second most powerful industrial nation in the
Latin American region, and its efforts to counter the annexation
goals of ALCA/FTAA with ALBA, don't of course cancel out those 
elements of Brazilian reality which stand in contrast. Racism is
a persistent theme within Brazilian life. Centuries of slavery as
well as the inability of the society to remove the continuing
elements of cultural exclusion from the political and social
culture of the continent's most populous nation. Nevertheless,
those who seek to condemn Lula might alwo take a look at what
happened here as the mobilized protesters went and met with the
president of Brazil, Luis Ignacion Lula da Silva when the march
was over and progresive legislation aimed at starting to redress
these deep structural problems are surely but the start of a very
long process. It's a good sign as this relatively modest-sized
march both met with no opposition and was, indeed, favorably
reported, at least on Al Jazeera. Looks like a positive step as
the black community of Brazil moves in a self-defining direction.)

Aljazeera.net - November 29, 2005

Brazil's Slave Descendents Seek Justice

Brazilian descendents of runaway slaves, known as quilombos, are
hoping a new law will finally give them the right over their own

Last week, they marched on the capital Brasilia with other black
groups demanding racial equality.

The march, called Zumbi+10 Against Racism and for Equality and Life,
was the second modern mobilisation of the largest black population in
the world after Nigeria.

According to the federal police, an estimated 7000 people
participated in the march which was backed by the Roman Catholic
Church, trade unions, the landless and several political parties,
notably the governing Workers' Party.

At the end of the march, black leaders met with the heads of both
parliamentary chambers and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

In 1995, a similar march commemorated the 300th anniversary of the
killing of Zumbi, the iconic leader of Quilombo dos Palmeres, a
community of 30,000 people quashed by the military.

Racial democracy

The proposed racial equality law is expected to bring together a host
of measures for Afro-Brazilians, including combating illnesses that
affect only the black population, introducing quotas in private and
public education, and recognising the quilombos' rights to their

Currently, only 119 of more than 1000 Afro-Brazilian communities have
been given titles to their land.

President of the House of Deputies, Aldo Rebelo, said he hoped the
statute for racial equality would be voted on soon as possible during
November, the month of black consciousness.

"I have an absolute conviction that Brazil will only be a true,
profound and enduring democracy when it is a political, social
economic and also racial democracy.

"When all Brazilians, independent of their colour, their social
condition, culture or religion have access to citizenship," he told

Quilombos, who are descendants of some three million African slaves
brought to Brazil, formed their own communities in remote parts of
Brazil, keeping their own distinct traditions and culture.

Segregated, many of these communities have not changed in centuries
living on subsistence agriculture and self-medication from
passed-down knowledge of preparing herbs. Language, religion and
culture survive from their African roots.

Land rights

In the past decade, quilombos have been linking up with black
non-governmental organisations and pressure groups to press for
rights, winning their first land recognition in 1995 in Oriximina in
the northern state of Para, covering 665,000 hectares of Amazonian

Maria do Carmo de Oliveira de Jesus, 42, a quilombo mother of six,
says the land victory led to other progressive moves, such as the
setting up of a women's rights group.

"There I go to search for my rights, I didn't know I had them and I
didn't know them. Now I go certain that I will know much more," she

More quilombos have started to integrate with the rest of Brazilian
society, like the simply-named Quilombo in the state of Rio de

The first of only two in the state to win their land rights, the
community has a shop to sell artists' crafts and to teach visitors of
their rich history.

Brazil's blacks in general suffer from extreme inequality--on average
earning half of their white counterparts, and illiteracy rates of 33%
compared to 7% for whites.

Blacks also have 87% more chance of being assassinated, according to
IBGE, the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics.

Race-poverty link

Half the country's 180 million people are of African descent. The
correlation between race and poverty is all too evident--70% of those
living below the poverty line, principally in favelas, or slums, are

Since it became the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery
in 1888, Brazil has prided itself in evolving into a racial
democracy, an idea the holds fast today. But black organisations are
few and far between and debate about racism is rarely heard.

Only 6% of Brazilians consider themselves black, most opting to be
described as mestizo, or mixed race.

In a 1991 census when asked to describe their colour, the government
documented more than 300 different hues in the responses.

"I think it is a lie about racial democracy because the powerful
still have an interest in this idea. It's a kind of fantasy and a
kind of camouflage," says Joni Anderson, who set up a black model
agency, Agencia Noir, in 1998.

Only one black woman has won the title of Miss Brazil in 50 years.

Black media

"Racism in Brazil is very subtle. Maybe people don't call me 'nigger'
but if I went to Jardims [a rich area of Sao Paulo] maybe the people
would see me as a thief," Anderson said.

"In the elections you don't see black politicians. If you turn on the
TV you will not see black people acting."

Helio Vargas is the director of programming for Record TV, which
boasts one of the very few programmes to have a black presenter,
Netinho, and feature black issues.

"We have a lot of black people here; we try to do everything that we
can to make things right in terms of discrimination," Vargas said.

"Racism is everywhere so we have a very important mission. Everyone
who works with communication should work to fight against racism."

On November 20, Netinho launched Brazil's first black channel TV da
gente, which featured Pele, football's first black superstar, and
Nelson Mandela on the transmission's launch.

As for the Zumbi+10 march, which ended last week with performances by
Afro-Brazilians in front of the National Congress, it took place
during the national year for the promotion of racial equality in


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