Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Assessing Law 70: A Fanonian Critique of Ethnic Recognition in the Republic of Colombia

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Assessing Law 70: A Fanonian Critique of Ethnic Recognition in the Republic of Colombia

Article excerpt


In 1991, the Republic of Colombia recognized the ethno-cultural diversity of its population through a new constitution. In 1993, this constitutional recognition gave birth to Law 70, also known as the Law of blackness (Ley de negritudes). To this day, Law 70 represents a model of legal recognition for Afro-descendent on the continent. The scope of benefits for Black communities deriving from the law is very broad: collective land rights, ethno-education rights, political representation rights. The content of Law 70 is therefore highly progressive and represents a genuine step forward for these Afro-descendent communities after centuries of oppression, invisibilization and forced assimilation. In spite of these legal advancements the current state of the Afro-Colombian population nevertheless remains very problematic since they continue to suffer greatly from many socio-economic problems.

Indeed, rural Black communities suffer greatly from the armed conflict still afflicting Colombia's countryside and an estimated 13% of the Afro-Colombian population is in a situation of forced internal displacement because their lands are located in areas of lawlessness where narco-traffic, guerrilla and paramilitary activities are increasing ever since the early nineties.

Poverty is another major problem and impacts the lives of both rural and urban Afro-Colombians (Rodriguez Garavito, Alfonso Sierra, and Cavalier Adarve 2008, 30-31). In Buenaventura, an almost entirely Afro-Colombian city, up to 80% of the population lives in poverty (De Roux 2010, 14). This general economic marginalization means that almost 15% of the Afro-Colombian population suffers from hunger. This is twice as much as the average Colombian population (7.22%) (Rodriguez Garavito, Alfonso Sierra, and Cavalier Adarve 2008, 31). Living conditions further reflect this economic marginalization since the access of Black communities to basic services such as running water, sewage systems and access to electricity is a lot lower than the average population (Rodriguez Garavito, Alfonso Sierra, and Cavalier Adarve 2008, 54-57).

Illiteracy is another social problem affecting Afro-Colombians as almost twice as many Afr°Colombians as Mestizos are considered illiterate (Rodriguez Garavito, Alfonso Sierra, and Cavalier Adarve 2008, 41-44). This low literacy rate reveals a broader problem with education for Afro-Colombian communities since 11% of Afro-Colombian children do not attend primary school while 27% do not attend secondary education (Rodriguez Garavito, Alfonso Sierra, and Cavalier Adarve 2008, 43). Access to tertiary education therefore logically remains difficult as well.

Afro-Colombians generally occupy positions which necessitate fewer qualifications and which are less remunerated (Garavito et al. 2013, 7-8). With equal qualifications, they are less likely to be called for an interview than mestizos1 and indigenous people when applying for work (Garavito et al. 2013, 18). Unemployment therefore affects Afro-Colombians in big urban centers with a majority mestizo population because of discrimination but it also affects Afro-Colombian communities in Black regions such as Chocó because of lack of opportunities. In these isolated regions, work conditions for Afro-Colombians are difficult as they usually serve as cheap labor on palm plantations and in other primary sector industries.

Research has shown that mainstream media plays a role in the reproduction of racial stereotypes as they relate blackness with hyper-sexuality, strength, folklore and happiness, dance, servility and social problems (León Baños 2012, 24-30). The phenomenon of racism towards Afrodescendent in Colombia is well documented and contrasts with the official discourse of Latin America as a racial democracy.

Given all these social difficulties, it is therefore logical that the life expectancy of Afr°Colombians is a lot lower (64,6 for men and 66,7 for women) than the average for the Colombian population taken as a whole (70,3 for men and 77,5 for women). …

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