This was supposed to be a happy day to celebrate and support. The government of Peru has apologized to Afro Peruvians for centuries of abuses, but it's not acting to prevent and penalize racism and discrimination.
Photo by Peru.com
Peru's president Alan Garcia apologized to Afro Peruvians “for centuries of discrimination, abuse and exclusion” in a special ceremony held yesterday in Lima. According to the Peruvian government official news agency Andina:
President Garcia apologizes to Afro-Peruvians for discriminationWatch video by Canal N:
Lima, Dec. 07 (ANDINA). - The government of Peru apologized to African-origin citizens for the first time for centuries of discrimination, abuse and exclusion and thanked them for their contributions to the Peruvian culture.
In a ceremony held at the Great Dining Room of the Government Palace, President Alan Garcia made a call to all public and private institutions to eradicate exclusion and racism and understand the meaning of this apology.
"Today is the day that we apologize to Afro-Peruvian citizens. I will tell you that with your help we can eradicate exclusion and racism in Peru," he said.
According a supreme resolution issued today by the Women and Development Ministry (Mimdes), the government “apologized for the first time to Afro-Peruvians for centuries of abuse, exclusion and discrimination”.
Garcia: "We are here together for an unusual act without precedent, to apologize to the Afro Peruvian people but most deeply pardon to the Black race, that our voice can be heard in the countries inflicted with the slavery commerce, which tore so many men and women, millions of them, and took them away to the ends of the planet to work in plantations..."
Alan Garcia failed to announce any specific actions that his government is taking in order to ensure the civil rights of Afro Peruvians, especially to prevent and legally fight against racism and discrimination. Most importantly, there is not a single Afro Peruvian person in the Garcia cabinet, or among the highest ranked officials in the government of Peru.
Last night I met with Afro Peruvian activist and artist Monica Carrillo, who is visiting Washington, DC, to attend meetings with international organizations. Monica told me that the ceremony held at Palacio de Gobierno was a positive action but it was more like a political move that won’t make much difference in the lives of most Afro Peruvians.
Black Africans in Peru
Although many suggest that Africans arrived to South America long before the first European contact, but historical records indicate that the first big wave of black Africans slaves arrived along with Hispanics invaders in the XVI century.
During more than three centuries, Africans and their descendants in Peru were forced to work as slaves mostly in coastal agricultural fields, but also as Andean mining sites, and as servants of rich Hispanics families living in Lima, Callao and other main cities.
Three decades after achieving "independence" from Spain, the new Hispanic elite of Peru abolished slavery by 1854. This was exactly 50 years after Haitians slaves freed themselves from France, and 11 years before president Lincoln signed the abolition of slaves in the United States.
Afro Peruvians today
Afro Peruvian culture is worldwide known, especially by its creative music, dances, traditions, cuisine and religious values. This rich and original heritage has shaped the identity of most Peruvians living in the Pacific coastal region. It's important to mention that the first ever Black saint of the Catholic church is the Afro Peruvian wise man Martin de Porres.
Although Afro Peruvians make up about 10% of the population or almost 3 million people, but today there are very few Afro Peruvians leading in politics, culture, religion, military, science or economy in Peru, mostly because they lack of equal access to a good education, well paid job opportunities and leading roles in society.
Black people in Peru still face racism and discrimination in every aspect of the Peruvian society, mostly due to the lack of education programs that honor the contributions of Black Peruvians in the history and culture of the country, and the absence of a proper legislation that prevents and punishes racism as a crime.
As Monica Carrillo mentioned, Peru is considered to be one of the most backwards nations in the Americas when it comes to legislation against racism, discrimination and especially when it comes to civil rights of its African descendant population. Here the media plays a big role in promoting racism. In Peru is very common to see offensive characters in TV making fun of Afro Peruvians, with the indifference of the authorities.
Many Afro Peruvians succeed in all aspects of society, but most of them are only visible in sports, manual work, and too often are objects of sexual exploitation, especially Black women and young men. For the mostly-white Peruvian elites having Black men carrying coffins at funerals and opening doors at hotels and fancy restaurants, is still a sign of luxury and class.
The apology given by Alan Garcia is indeed a needed action, but Black Peruvians need more specific actions from the government of Peru that will ensure the end of racism, inequality and discrimination. In this sense, Paul Colino-Monroy, an Afro Peruvian leader and community activist applauded the government ceremony but he demanded policies to end the discrimination that still exists:
“There are places like supermarkets and banks where, with subtle measures, blacks are impeded from being hired, as well as for Andean and Amazonian indigenous peoples,” Colino told news agency Prensa Latina.Monica Carrillo told me that she faces discrimination very often in Lima; sometimes she is prevented from entering bars or restaurants, or she receives insults from people while walking down the streets. Even United Nations officials were cursed and spat on the face while visiting Lima, last August this year. Sadly, Monica said that most of racist acts come from Indigenous and mestizo Peruvians who think they are white.
Another problem is the lack of visibility of Afro Peruvians in the local media. During yesterday’s ceremony, president Garcia stood by the minister of Women rights, Nidia Vílchez, but he was also surrounded by the only Afro Peruvian Congress member Martha Moyano; along with Hermes Palma-Quiroz, a community leader and former mayor of El Carmen –a historical Black town south of Lima- and Paul Colino-Monroy, the founder of the Black Movement Francisco Congo. Not a single press release from Lima has mentioned these Afro Peruvian leaders by name, not even the Peruvian government official news agency.
Afro Peruvians need support to their efforts to improve their lives. Many young Blacks in Peru are now taking pride on their heritage and working to rescue their traditions, through organizations and individual efforts. The non-profit group Makungu Por el Desarrollo has just celebrated the II annual Afro Peruvian Identity Awards ceremony in Lima, where they recognized the contributions of leading Afro Peruvians figures.
The apology of the Peruvian government is seeing by some Afro Peruvians as a historical step "that can open doors for the future", but at the same time they don’t want to see themselves as victims of a racist system, but as a courageous and hard-working community that has survived centuries of exploitation, genocide and abuse. Today African Peruvians are part of a worldwide effort of African descendants trying to improve their communities by starting at home, at their neighborhoods, at their own selves.