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New strategies proposed in struggle to combat Afro-descendant cycle of poverty

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Innovative development strategies which recognize the historical, social and cultural complexity of Afro-descendants’ poverty are required if progress is to be made to secure their economic and social rights. There are currently few development programmes that specifically target the requirements of Afro-descendant communities, coupled with a lack of understanding and acknowledgement of their situation and needs.

These are some of the findings of a new study by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) (1) launched today at the Inter American Development Bank in Washington. This new study highlights the failure of many development actors to consult communities themselves, which has resulted in inappropriate and ineffective programmes and a consistent lack of positive change and economic development for Afro-descendants across the region. Efforts to free Afro-descendant people from poverty in Latin American states face a difficult struggle against historical cultural attitudes in which white supremacy remains a powerful force at all levels of society. Even in the very mixed contemporary societies, Afro-descendants are trapped in cycles of exclusion and poverty in Latin American states in which discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity remains the norm and a legacy of colonial attitudes.

Minority Rights Group International together with its Latin American partner organizations have sought to identify new strategies which seek to overcome this exclusion and poverty in practical and culturally aware ways. These include improving community-based planning and project implementation skills and empowering Afro-descendants to become proactive in using legal instruments to claim their economic and social rights. Contrary to the myth of ‘racial democracy’, the perpetuation of systems and attitudes that confine Afro-descendants to low-paid, racially-defined areas of work has been described as a modern version of slavery. This trend requires the implementation of special measures particularly in the areas of education provision, non-discrimination in employment and access to land for example, to allow Afro-descendants to participate fully and equally in the economic life of Latin American states.

The need for disaggregated and gender specific quantitative data is highlighted by MRG’s study, which points to the ‘statistical invisibility’ of Afro-descendants as an important factor in past failure to identify the specific causes of poverty and the needs of Afro-descendants. Comprehensive data collection involving full understanding, participation and consent is essential to enable the monitoring of the realization of economic and social rights and the implementation of alternative development strategies.

Minority Rights Group International calls upon Latin American states to recognize Afro-descendants as a distinct group requiring national action plans to combat widespread discrimination in education, employment, health care, housing and social security. It further calls on governments to ensure their compliance with the Conventions that they have ratified and the articles of the World Conference Against Racism Programme of Action, and to report on progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Notes for editors

  1. Afro-descendants, Discrimination and Economic Exclusion in Latin America by Margarita Sanchez and Maurice Bryan, with MRG partners, is available online.
  2. Afro-descendants, or people of African descent, number some 150 million in Latin America.
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