Ecuador: Afro-Ecuadorans Cheer New Anti-Discrimination Law, but Push for More Counter-Racism Measures
[The following article by Luis Angel Saavedra is reprinted with the permission of Noticias Aliadas in Lima, Peru. It appeared in the July 20, 2005, edition of Latinamerica Press.]
Ecuador's black communities, discriminated against for centuries, are trying to change their socioeconomic realities and spur development. On May 22, the Collective Rights of Black and Afro-Ecuadoran Peoples law (Ley de los Derechos Colectivos de los Pueblos Negros o Afroecuatorianos) went into effect, establishing rights protections for Ecuador's black citizens. But the law has brought up a debate on discrimination, a trend that a law cannot halt.
Afro-Ecuadoran community ignored, say activists
Peter Segura, director of the group Red Nacional de Ecologistas Populares, en Defensa de la Naturaleza, Vida y Dignidad (REDIVINA), says that the constitutional framework for such a law was in place since 1998, when Ecuador recognized itself as a multicultural and multiethnic state. But he notes that this did nothing to eradicate discrimination against the country's black communities.
"Our history is intertwined with slavery, and that's the only thing that they teach in school. Our identity is associated with football, dance, and music, and that's all we know about our people. People think that to be black is to be a criminal, or to be black is to be associated with prostitution," Segura says.
Poverty-stricken: seven of every 10 Afro-Ecuadorans are poor
The history of the Afro-Ecuadoran population is one of economic, social, and cultural discrimination. According to the 2001 national census, 5% of the population, or 600,000 people over the age of 15, considered himself or herself Afro-descendant. There are also 300,000 Afro-descendant children. Of this group of 900,000, seven of every 10 people live on less than US$2.50 per day. According to 2004 figures from Ecuador's Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Censos (INEC), 42% of the country's population lives in poverty, while 9% lives in extreme poverty, meaning the poverty level of Ecuador's black population surpasses the national average.
Discrimination in the education system has greatly impacted Ecuador's Afro-descendants. Faulty school infrastructure and lack of access to higher education is coupled with the fact that Afro-Ecuadoran social and cultural history is not included in the school curricula.
"Professors are not trained in black culture. It's necessary to work on 'ethno-educational' proposals that promote interculturalism," says Alexandra Ocles, a young Afro-Ecuadoran researcher at the Centro de Estudios e Investigaciones para Afrodescendientes-Ecuador.
For Juan Garcia, another important black leader and community organizer in the northern coastal province of Esmeraldas, ethno-education means placing significance on black history, "valuing black identity and its spiritual, cultural, linguistic, social, political, and economic traditions. …