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Towards a Framework for Multicultural Justice in Uruguay: Afro-Descendant Exclusion and Collective Rights Under International Law

Submitted to Professor Hurst Hannum

by Catesby Holmes In partial fulfillment of the MALD Paper requirement April 20, 2012

Abstract This research project applies the framework of international law to the contemporary fight for political, economic, and cultural equality for Uruguays Afro-Descendant minority. Its aims are multiple. At a most basic level, a brief history of the African diaspora in Latin America and black exclusion in Uruguay will shed light on a little-known South American rights struggleone that has taken on an increasingly global dimension since the United Nations International Year of People of African Descent in 2011 made combatting racism in the Americas a priority. Second, it analyzes several international documentsthe Covenant to Eliminate Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Declaration on Minority Rights, among othersto ascertain whether an individual- or group-rights approach would provide the most powerful international instrument for the Afro Collectivitys demands. Finally, the paper will assess current affirmative action legislation introduced to the Uruguayan congress and offer recommendations for transforming the laws into a more comprehensive package that would engender authentic equality and effective representation. Its conclusion is that the institution of a collective-rights regime that would combine minority-rights and non-discrimination doctrine is necessary to establish multicultural justice in Uruguay.

Acknowledgements I am greatly indebted to my Uruguayan sources, including Beatriz Ramirez, Orlando Rivero, Claudia de los Santos, and Monica Olazo, for their openness, warmth, enthusiasm, and inspiration; to my roommate Katie Walsh, for keeping me company during many late nights; to the Fletcher Thesis Thursdays crew, for many mornings of camaraderie; to Prof. Hurst Hannum, for his patience and flexibility; to Prof. George Reid Andrews, for writing the books that got me started; and to Greg Morril, for his international companionship and tireless support.

Table of Contents

Introduction Ch. 1. Ch. 2 Black in Latin America: A Brief History Progressive Traditions and Black Exclusion in Uruguay Marginalization and Civil Rights Issues in the 20th Century The Limitations of Non-Discrimination and Non-Differentiation Minorities Under International Law Current Events in Affirmative Action and Recommendations

....1 ..5 ..22

Ch. 3


Ch. 4

....60 .................................................................... 69

Ch. 5 Ch. 6

..92 ..100


Preface This project on the Afro-Uruguayan movement in Uruguay began in the fall of 2011 as a final paper for Professor Hurst Hannums graduate seminar on Minority Rights, at the Fletcher School. I had been a Fulbright Fellow in Uruguay some years before, and my curiosity had been piqued by what seemed to me an odd silence surrounding race in a country that, if indeed majority white, also had a visible black minority. Then, in 2011, the United Nations International Year of People of African Descent brought new light to the struggles of Afro-Latino populationsincluding AfroUruguayans. And so a Masters thesis was born. It quickly became evident, however, that my ten months in Montevideo six years prior had not provided me with an adequate grasp of race and egalitarianism in the Uruguayan context. With support from the Fletcher School, I was able to return to Uruguay in March, 2012 to conduct indepth research on the evolving state of rights for the countrys increasingly mobilized Afro community. Over the course of four days in Montevideo, I interviewed leaders in the Afro Collectivity, ranging from a recent government appointee to NGO leaders both moderate and radical; scoured legal archives at the University of the Republic Law School and the Uruguayan Supreme Court; and met with fellow researchers in Afro-Uruguayan issues. Consulting with my sources from the Afro CollectivityBeatriz Ramirez, director of the National Institute of Women; Orlando Rivero, a left-leaning activist; and Claudia de los Santos, coordinator of the NGO Mundo Afroabout their work was an inspiring, informative, and moving experience. And thats how a Masters thesis became something that actually matters. As a result of my in-person enquiry, this project became important to me; it also, most significantly, gained legitimacy as a contribution to the scant English-language literature on Afro-Uruguayans and the Collectivitys cause. If this paper helps in some small way, to support the burgeoning Afrodescendiente movement

to achieve authentic equality in Uruguay, if only to raise awareness, it will be a six-month labor well-worth my while. Since the abolition of slavery in 1853, Uruguay has consistently and systematically failed to recognize, challenge, or actively engage with the widespread discrimination that daily affects its black community. Uruguay is a lovely country known for its unassuming people, plenteous countryside, golden-sand beaches, and progressive history; it was the Americas first secular state, the first to legalize divorce at the womans request, and the first to provide free universal education. I respect its national values. But an honorable past does not exempt a place from dealing with present-day problems. It is past time for an earnest national conversation on racism, culture, poverty, and historysomething that recent events indicate might finally be beginning. My hope is that, by evaluating the various international-legal approaches to disparities between majority and minority populations, this thesis might bring a new and potentially valuable perspective to the bargaining table.

Afro-Uruguayans are caught in the double bind of trying to maintain a sense of ethnic identity while participating in the national culture as equals.The result is a tense social dynamic being played out in one of the few remaining enclaves of black culture in the Southern Cone. 1 - Marvin Lewis, 2003

On a map, few Americans could locate Uruguay, that diminutive South American triangle of grassland squished between giants Argentina (to the south) and Brazil (to the north). Yet this pastoral, historically progressive country of three million is currently home to a significant and longstandingif little-knownsocial movement that would look very familiar to most Americans: that of its marginalized black, or Afro-Descendant, minority advocating for political, social, and economic rights. For 20 years afrodescendiente activists have been organizing to demand genuine equality and effective representation in a country hypothetically so egalitarian that it has earned the sobriquet the Switzerland of South America. Now, bolstered by some recent United Nations attention to Afro-Latino issues, Uruguays Afro Collectivity (as the activist community calls itself) is reorganizing itself and reorienting its claims, making specific and potent claims for multicultural justice in this majority-white country. Simply acknowledging that blackness and inequality exist in the first place is a challenge in Uruguay. Established by the British as a buffer state between Portugal and Spains South American empires in 1828, the country quickly began attracting immigrants from Spain, Italy, and Germany. As such, the Uruguayan state has always fostered a national identity based in its European roots. Today, some 88 percent of Uruguayans claim European heritage. But, as in colonial states across the Americas, enslaved Africans and their descendants have been present in Uruguay since the 17th

Marvin Lewis, Afro-Uruguayan Literature: Post-Colonial Perspectives (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2003), 151.

century. Today, Afro-Uruguayans comprise roughly ten percent of the populationbut they occupy approximately two paragraphs in elementary school history books and constitute 90 percent of the countrys poor.2 Poverty alleviation and historic recognition are just two of the claims of the Afro Collectivity today. From its incipience in the 1980s as a movement for simple political representation and egalitarianism, the communitys demands have transformed into a more comprehensive call for a social and political structure in Uruguay that accounts for the countrys diversity. While no united Afro movement with a single agenda exists, certain political and social imperatives do dominate the activist discourse, including a quota in congress, diversity training for civil servants, and reparations for evictions that occurred during the 1970s-1980s dictatorship. The resurgence in Afro-Uruguayan demands comes at a critical juncture for Afro-Latinos across the continent thanks to a United Nations Resolution 64/169, which declared 2011 the International Year of People of African Descent.3 Around 200 million people who identify themselves as being of African descent live in the Americas, explains the UN home page for the International Year. Many millions more live in other parts of the world, outside of the African continent. In proclaiming this International Year, the international community is recognizing that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected.4 Navi Pillay, the UNs High Commissioner on Human Rights, declared that 2011 offered a unique opportunity to redouble our efforts to fight against racism, racial discrimination,

Revista Organizaciones Mundo Afro de Uruguay, Inter-American Foundation (IAF). 2007. Available online: eI95Q=&JY=xfw085Yuxag=&L=DRmgN+39oWk=&RMId=OWqQv0boZiU=&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1. Accessed Nov. 15, 2011. 3 United Nations General Assembly Resolutions, 2010. Resolution 64/169, International Year for People of African Descent (March 19, 2010). 4 International Year for People of African Descent, United Nations, 2011. Online: Accessed Jan. 6, 2012.

xenophobia and related intolerance that affect people of African descent everywhere.5 The UN declarationwhich spawned a spate of studies, black cultural events, a memorial to the victims of slavery, and public statements by high-ranking UN officialshas given the Afro-Uruguayan struggle increased global salience and renewed domestic dynamism. It has also, crucially, raised the possibility of international pressure on the Uruguayan government to respond to the Afro Collectivitys demands. Various UN mechanismsnot just the International Year of People of African Descent but a greater body of treaties, conventions, and declarations, many of which Uruguay has signedhave been developed to help achieve equality for disempowered peoples such as Afro-Uruguayans. To take advantage of the global momentum of resolution 64/169, though, it is necessary to frame multicultural justice in Uruguay in a way that international law may bolster. To do so requires a comprehensive historic and legal analysis that must tackle several levels of inquiry, including the constitutional rights of Afro-Uruguayans under domestic law, their particular experience with exclusion both past and present, and their categorization under international law. Pushing the upper boundaries of what international law would deem a non-differentiation case (i.e., dont discriminate against us because of our race) but falling just short of a minority-rights claim (i.e., we are a separate and distinctive people with the right to limited sovereignty), the Afro Collectivitys demands falls in a grey area that might be termed multicultural justice. The purpose of this thesis is to determine which, if any, international legal framework provides the most powerful instrument for advancing that cause. The process begins with an historic perspective on race in Latin America and an account of the construction of a white national identity in Uruguay. Contrasting the countrys race-blind progressive political tradition with the constitutionally sanctioned racism of the United States, South Africa, and other nations with histories of racial injustice, Chapters One and Two will reveal that


Uruguays historically egalitarian politics, rather than create opportunities for its national minority, has in fact rendered invisible and marginalized citizens of color. Chapter Three exposes episodes of discrimination and racism, along with the responses of the Afro Collectivity, during the 20th century. In Chapters Four and Five, the international legal framework is applied to the Afro Collectivitys current situation of rights and representation, determining the obligations of the Uruguayan state towards its Afro-Uruguayan citizens under the various covenants and treaties it has signed. Finally, Chapter Six make recommendations on how the Uruguayan government might begin to create legislation that could provide the foundation for a modified minority-rights regime in which AfroDescendants enjoy some special collective rights and privileges because of their shared race and history. The paper concludes with a vision of what multicultural justice might look like in Uruguay.


Introduction Black Invisibility, Exclusion, and Poverty Despite constitutional and statutory measures prohibiting racial discrimination in most countries, Latin America exhibits high degrees of racial inequality and discrimination against Afro-Latinos.1 This is true even in Uruguay, the regions most egalitarian, middle-class nation.2 To begin to understand the historic marginalization of Afro-Uruguayans, it is important to understand the experiences of the continents black citizens, or Afro-Latinos, past and present. While it is outside the scope of this paper to undertake a comprehensive history of race in the region (and unnecessary, given the excellent recent scholarship on that subject3), a brief review of how the continents multilingual, multiethnic, multiracial societies emerged over the course of four centuries provides crucial context. It suggests that the disparities suffered by Afro-Latinos emerges from the unique historic circumstances of colonial-era slavery and, later, Latin American nation-building. Throughout these developments, racial discrimination, exclusion, assimilation, and indigenous-rights movements acted, both simultaneously and in succession, to demonize, suppress, absorb, and render invisible the black population. These four processes resulted in severe yet markedly concealed marginality of Afro-Latinos that the regions governments are only today beginning to confront. Until an international push for recognition and an outpouring of scholarship in the last decade, Afro-Latinos, or afrodescendientes (this paper will use both terms, in Spanish and English,

Juliet Hooker, Indigenous Inclusion/Black Exclusion: Race, Ethnicity and Multicultural Citizenship in Latin America. Journal of Latin American Studies (Vol. 37, 2005), 285. 2 Perspectivas Econmicas de America Latina 20132: Transformacin del Estado para el Desarrollo, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)/Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Oct. 28, 2011.

Cf Henry Louis Gates. Black in Latin America (New York: NYU Press, 2011) and George Reid Andrews. Afro-Latin America, 1800-2000 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

interchangeably) were among the worlds least acknowledged diasporas. The lack of awareness of this population may be attributed to several causes. The first, and perhaps foremost, is the salience of indigenous struggles in the international awareness, and those groups relative success of collectivization.4 From the Zapatista uprising in Mexico to Quechua demonstrations in Bolivia, the 1980s and 1990s were an era of indigenous collective mobilization that garnered both national and international attention. Some of these struggles resulted in constitutional reforms that recognized the rights, cultures, laws, and official status of indigenous peoples (such as in Ecuador and Bolivia); others are ongoing (such as in Mexico and Chile). In either case, the salience of indigenous movements has created a rights discourse in Latin America that is, traditionally, almost exclusively concerned with indigenous nations. On an international level, the resistance and achievements of those groups have had contributed to an international perception of people of color in Latin America as referring exclusively to people of indigenous descent, an exclusionary definition that invisibilizes black Latinos. On the domestic level, indigenous movements have had one of two effects on Afro-Latino visibility: either Afro-Latinos have been lumped in with indigenous peoples (for example, in Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, where the two groups have banded together to petition the government, and now enjoy the exact same bundle of rights5); or, more commonly, indigenous struggles have simply obscured the existence Afro-Latinos. Thus, despite the fact that the black population is as large, if not larger, than the indigenous population in Latin America,6 only in very rare cases have Afro-Latinos made claims for the kind of special collective rights now enjoyed by many indigenous groups. The question

4 5

Hooker Hooker, 286. 6 Ibid. Hooker notes that the comparative population issue is complicated by the fact that mulattoes are included in census numbers on black populations, while mestizos often excluded from the indigenous category.

of how collective rights are achieved and what they imply, which is the crux of this paper, will be discussed further in Chapters 4, 5, and 6. The second factor that has obscured the existence of Afro-Latinos is the Americas widespread failure to identify the slave trade as a form of forced migration akin to those that spawned such familiar displaced global communities as the Armenian or Persian diasporas (which are, additionally, much more recent experiences). While W.E.B. DuBois and, later, Black Nationalism in the United States challenged this oversight by reinforcing and cultivating African American bonds with each other and with Africans writ large,7 the scholarly and popular movement to transnationalize black identity did not occur in Latin America until the 1980s and 1990s (and only to a limited and controversial extent then).8 As such, Afro-Latinos have in many cases struggled to maintain, promote, or celebrate a distinct culture over the centuries and to establish cross-regional ties with one another and their shared cause. The third probable explanation for why the global community has for so long overlooked the rights violations of Afro-Latinos is the salience of South Americas Dirty Wars in international human-rights discourse. Addressing the desaparecidos, torture incidents, and other atrocities committed by dictatorships across the continent during the 1970s and 1980s is an ongoing struggle for Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, among other South American nations. Domestically, truth and reconciliation commissions were created in the 1980s and 1990s to heal festering social wounds and restore the legitimacy of the countries new democratic regimes. On a regional level, the nations various justice departments have collaborated in investigations, extraditions, and trials; cases related to these mass human rights violations have overwhelmed the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Internationally, the subject has captivated media headlines. These post-conflict

Manning Marable, Black Leadership (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998); Mark Q. Sawyer, Du Bois Double Consciouness versus Latin America Exceptionalism:L Joe Arroyo, Salsa and Negritude, prepared for the Western Political Science Association Annual Conference, 2004. 8 Sawyer, 2-6.

proceedings, while necessary to establish transitional peace and justice, have left little space for a conversation about the human rights violations of Afro-Latinos. Awareness of blackness represents another impediment to recognition for afrodescendientes, not only because race consciousness must be considered crucial to a community organizing itself to make demands on the state but also because it makes statistics unreliable. National censuses that account for race require that citizens self-identify as black, a category that has very different meanings in different societies. For example, in Brazila country with over a dozen ways to qualify race, including coffee with milk (caf con leite) and almond-colored (acastanhada)such non-biological factors as education level and income figure heavily into how people characterize their color.9 In other places, such as Venezuela, being negro has such negative social implications and black consciousness is so limited, that many people with African roots never acknowledge them.10 Mestizaje, or racial mixingnot just between black and white but also including immigrants from the Middle East and indigenous peopleis so common that race in Latin America is often (rightfully) considered a continuum, not a binary. Statistics are additionally complicated by the fact that many countriesincluding Panama, Peru, and until 2006, Uruguaydo not include questions regarding race or ethnicity in national censuses. Thus, estimates of the black population in Latin America vary. According to the World Bank and the UN, some 15-32 percent of Latin Americans have African roots,11 while the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) puts that figure more firmly at 30 percent, which would amount to 150 million people.12 Nearly every country in the region has some black citizens, with the highest concentrations residing in Brazil, Central America, and the northern coast

Comision Economica para America Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL/ECLAC), Etnicidad, Raza, y Equidad en America Latina y el Caribe, 2000, 37. 10 Ibid., 38. 11 Poblacion y Estadisticas, Canadian Afro-Latino Forum for Research Online (CanAFRO), Accessed Nov. 18, 2011. 12 ECLAC, 38.

of South America. The countries with the largest proportions of Afrodescendientes are Brazil (50 percent), Colombia (20 percent), and Venezuela (10 percent), while Chile and Argentina, at under 2 percent, have the lowest.13 Even in countries with more racial awareness and higher non-white populations, AfroLatinos suffer disproportionately from poverty. In Brazil, 60 percent of Afro-Brazilians are poor, while only 30 percent of whites are, and black income is 40 percent that of whites.14 In Colombias Pacific Region, known as the Choc, which is 90 percent Afro-Colombian, is one of the countrys most impoverished regions, with 85 percent of people living in poverty (versus 32 percent of the Colombian population as a whole). Inequality is similarly evident in Uruguay, a well-off country that is also the most middle-class nation in Latin America: while 24 percent of the white Uruguayan population is poor, fifty percent of Afro-Uruguayans fall into that category.15

1500-1800 The Atlantic Slave Trade The origins of black poverty in Latin America are no mystery. As in the United States, it began with slavery, was perpetuated after abolition with a system of white dominance, and is reinforced in subtler (though only somewhat) form today. While a small number of afro-descendants can trace their roots back to black Spaniards who arrived to explore the continent with other conquistadors in the 15th and 16th centuries,16 the vast majority of Afro-Latinos descend from the enslaved Africans who were brought to the Americas from the 16th to 19th centuries. Slavery in Spanish and Portuguese America was an enormous institution: some 5.7 million enslaved Africans were brought across the Atlantic to Mexico, Central,

13 14

ECLAC, 38. Silva, A Research Note, p. 21. From Hooker; Oakley, Social Evolution, pp. 24-5. From Hooker. 15 Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas, Encuesta Continua de Hogares, 1996. 16 Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay, eds. The Norton Anthology African American Literature (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1997), 2665.

and South Americaover ten times the number who came to the United States.17 This enormous mass of unpaid labor is due partly to the sheer size of the Americas and partially to the ubiquity of slavery in the region: unlike in the United States, where slavery was a contentious, geographically defined, and almost exclusively rural institution, the practice of bondage in the rest of the Americas and the Caribbean took on a variety of forms. How subjugated Africans were put to work, and how all-encompassing and irrevocable that oppression was, depended heavily on three factors: the availability of indigenous labor, the colonys economic base, and its integration into global markets. In the export-oriented Caribbean, namely Cuba and Santo Domingo (modern day Dominican Republic and Haiti), Spanish and French settlers had established sugar plantations in the 1500s, manning the fields at first with native indentured laborers. But as natives succumbed en masse to European epidemics like smallpox and measles, new sources of labor became necessary. And as Europes demand for sugar grew throughout the 17th century (along with its penchant for tea and cakes), the industry intensified and spreadmost notably to Brazils northeast, which by the late 1700s was producing up to half the worlds sugar.18 More plantations and fewer indigenous workers meant more African slaves. In Brazil from the 1750s to the early 1800s, yearly slave imports increased from 15,000 to up to 24,000.19 For similar reasons, numbers also rose sharply in other colonies over the same period, though the employ of the slaves was often not in sugarcane but in mining. By the 1500s in Venezuela, Central America, and Cuba, African slaves were heavily involved in gold mining, and yearly ingresses topped 1,000 people per year in those areas. In the 1700s, gold rushes in Colombia


George Reid Andrews. Afro-Latin America, 1800-2000 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004),
Ibid., 19. Ibid.

18 19


and Brazil led to the creation of cuadrillas, or gangs of 30 to 100 slave workers, often managed by free black or mulatto overseers.20 Slavery was also big business in Uruguay and Argentina, with their capacious ports in Montevideo and Buenos Aires. From the arrival of the first slave ship to Montevideo in 1608 (carrying thirty pieces of male and female slaves21) until abolition in 1840, between 600 and 1,200 enslaved Africans were arrived via the Rio de la Plata, destined for Uruguay, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, and beyond. While it is impossible to calculate exactly the sum total of slaves introduced to Uruguay, the historian Oscar Montano estimates that figure at 40,000 based on port arrivals to Montevideo and contraband slaves coming from Brazil.22 To minimize the illegal trade, Spanishsanctioned arrivals were marked with the carimbaa brand burned onto the face or back.23 In Uruguay and Argentina (known by the Crown as the United Territories of the River Plate), slaves served a variety of functions. In rural areas, they often played a much-ignored part in history: that of gauchos. Today both countries (along with other plains states, such as Venezuela) celebrate this historic cowboy, a freedom-loving horseman who roamed the pampas in the 19th century, tending to cattle and sheep, playing the guitar, and leading a boundless, simple life. Gauchos are a crucial element of national legend: upper class Argentine families pay to spend the day taking trail rides and rounding up calves with gauchos on dude ranches outside Buenos Aires; in Uruguay, a still prominently rural place, delighted tourists en route to Punta del Este snap pictures of chaps-clad cowboys herding their sheep across the coastal highway. Today, these gauchoswhether real, faux, or represented in historic documentsare always portrayed as white. But in point of fact, a substantial number of gauchos were black or mixed race. Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas

20 21

Sharp, Slavery on the Spanish Fronteir. From Andrews Rodriguez, Romero. Mbundo: Maulngo a Mundele (Montevideo: Rosebud Ediciones, 2006), 29. 22 Ibid., 30. 23 Ibid.


staffed his ranches with slaves through the 1840s24 and later filled his army ranks with them; in 18th century Venezuela, the majority of labor on ranches in certain regions of the country was provided by unpaid slave labor.25 Indeed, black cowboys were so common in South America that in Argentinas foundational epic poem celebrating rural history, Martin Fierro, one of the central figures is black. Slaves also found themselves in urban thrall. In major cities throughout the region, even those rather far removed from the slave trade itselfincluding Montevideo, Quito, and La Paz slaves worked in the skilled and unskilled sectors, building homes and public buildings (including many notable civic constructions), drying and salting meat in factories, vending artisanal wares on the street, and constructing Montevideos city walls.26 Female slaves often served as domestic servants. Academic reckoning estimates that slave servants outnumbered free servants in port cities like Havana and Buenos Aires well into the 18th century.27 In Montevideo, where the vast majority of female slaves served as domestics,28 this was overwhelmingly true: an 1805 census shows that onethird of Montevideos population was African or Afro-Uruguayan, and 86 percent of them were still slaves.29 It is obvious that black people, as in the United States, played a central part in constructing Latin America, from providing physical labor to sustaining its urban economic base. The nature of that role, however, and how it has contributed to the present and historic circumstances of the regions black communities, differed vastly from country to country. In short, even before abolition movements swept the continent in the mid-19th century, there had been no single black experience in Latin America. Some black people suffering the misfortune of slavery in countries with low rates
24 25

Richard Slatta, The Cowboy Encyclopedia (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1994), 153-156. Ibid. 26 Rodriguez, 30. 27 Andrews, 15. 28 Rama, 16. 29 Andrews, 24.


of manumission, such as Cuba and Uruguay, were born and died in thrallas did all their descendants until abolition. Others negotiated their freedom well before abolition movements began and joined the ranks of their countrys poor-but-working class as artisans, farmers, or domestics; in late 18th-century Brazil these upwardly mobile free blacks often joined Catholic societies (cofradias, or brotherhoods), and served to provide such social services as death and disability benefits for members and their families.30 In late 18th century Colombia, where the Spanish city of Cartagena de Indias was then a chief slave port of entry, a significant number of newly arrived blacks escaped into the mountainous jungles along the coast, forming free settlements in strategic defensive locations. 31 Over time those palenques came to represent veritable free black republics, a place where African traditions (including language and music) were cultivated, maintained, and celebrated, and where black liberation struggles later found their fighting and organizing base.32 Throughout the continent, slaves also contributed to the emergence of the race that is now most commonly associated with Latin America, the mestizo or, in American parlance, Hispanic. Bearing the children of their white masters (willingly or unwillingly) and often intermarrying with the continents other most marginalized group, indigenous tribes, women of African descent helped give rise to a new, racially mixed caste, most of whom were in fact not born into slavery. In the era before abolition, these mulattos constituted a discriminated-against, hard-to-classify, but technically liberated and enfranchised citizenry of color that would help energize future fights for freedom. In Afro-Latin America George Reid Andrews recounts the tale of a British clergyman who, walking through Rio de Janeiro in 1828, discovers the diversity of the black experience in Brazil. Passing through a dock area directly upon arrival, Robert Walsh narrates that he sees half-naked
30 31

Ibid., 46. Centro de Pastoral Afrocolombiana (CEPAC), Historias del pueblo afrocolombiano: perspectiva pastoral, (Popayan: Ediciones CEPAC, 2003). Available online: 32 Ibid.


slaves lying on the bare ground among filth and offal, coiled up like dogs. Some hours later he changed his perjurative tone, expressing admiration (albeit patronizingly) for a corp of free black soldiers: They were only a militia regiment, yet were as well appointed and disciplined as one of our regiments Eventually, Walsh happens upon a group of negro men and women bearing about a variety of articles for sale; some in baskets, some on boards and cases carried on their heads, whom he lauds as very neat and clean in their persons[with] a decorum and sense of respectability about them, superior to whites of the same class and calling. Finally, in the afternoon place, he is stunned to spot a colleague of sorts: a black priest, in white vestments, conducting a funeral in a city church.33 Despite the existence of a large number of free Afro-Latinos and mestizos by the 18th and 19th centuriesby 1800 this diverse group outnumbered slaves in every country of the region except Brazil and Cubapeople of color were neither in theory nor in practice considered full citizens.34 Under the dictates of the Spanish Caste Regime, applied in all its colonies, only white enjoyed the full status of kings subject.35 Like indigenous people, free blacks and mestizos (who represented 20-30 percent of the entire population in much of Spanish America36) suffered numerous restrictions to their freedom and expression: they were forbidden to wear expensive clothing or ostentatious accessories, to enter non-manual professions (such as law or medicine), and to carry weapons unless defending the state.37 In the subordinate social space created by the caste laws, in which free blacks were confined to the lowliest of professions, they inevitably competed not with white fellow citizens but with slaves engaged in the same worka situation that lowered wages for free laborers and reinforced the association of nonwhite racial status with slavery and

33 34

Andrews, 11. Ibid., 44. 35 Ibid. 36 Ibid., 40. 37 Ibid, 44.


manual labor. As one Spanish cleric noted about Puerto Rico in the 1780s, there was nothing more ignominious than being a black or descended from them.38 Yet by the turn of the 19th century, with the majority of Afro-Latinos free, and the slave trade eradicated in many of the colonies, grants of manumission, especially for urban slaves, were steadily increasing, reaching a rate of 1.2. or 1.3 percent in places like Buenos Aires and Lima.39 Additionally, a steady stream of petitions and law suits by free blacks had begun to challenge the Spanish caste system. From Panama, where the Crown abolished restrictions excluding blacks from retail commerce (1765) to Argentina, where it struck down white efforts to establish a segregated training program for shoemakers (1799), legally mandated apartheid loosened to the extent that the Spanish monarchy ultimately offered mestizos the opportunity to apply (and pay) for pardon from their non-white legal status. Though black Africans had been brought to the New World by the Spanish crown for the sole purpose of helping to construct the American empire, expected to live and die as slaves, they soon enough became a vociferous, significant part of the Colonial communityone that could not be ignored forever. The clamor coming from the black community only increased after independence from Europe, and this time, it was freedom that was demanded. For, as one French observer to Brazil observed in 1822, liberty is a word that has much more force in a country of slaves than anywhere else.40 No sooner had the colonies won their wars of liberationhelped along, in many cases, by black soldiersagainst their colonial masters than emancipation movements began rocking the continents young new republics, with slaves arguing that liberty from foreign rule was moot when it did not exist within a nations own borders. It was a logic few of the Creole elite could questionby the late 1810s even General Simon Bolivar was dismissing as madness [the idea] that

38 39

Ibid., 45. Ibid., 42. 40 Ibid., 55.


a revolution for liberty should try to maintain slavery, and proposing programs of gradual emancipation on his territories (modern day Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela).41 In the Banda Oriental, as Colonial Uruguay was known, the revolutionary set in the intelligentsia quickly came to the same conclusion, proposing that slavery and human rights were fundamentally incompatible.42 Across the region, through both government mandate and boots-on-the-ground fighting by blacks, slavery began to crumble. Starting with the Dominican Republic in 1822 and ending with Brazil in 1888 (see Figure 1.1), this vile institution became illegal across the continent.

Figure 1.1 - Abolition of the African slave trade and of slavery, 1810 - 1888

Source: Andrews 2010, 57.

1830-2000 Exclusion, Discrimination, and Racial Othering Despite successfully employing the rhetoric of liberation with the throwing off of colonial bondage, emancipation movements in Latin America did not imply the sudden and universal elimination of

41 42

Ibid, 56. Rama 43.


black oppression. Cuban revolutionary and poet Jose Martis prediction that the 20th century would be not the century of the struggle of races but of the affirmation of rights was not to pan out.43 Attitudes did not necessarily change along with constitutions. The abolition of slavery in the 19th century did not end colonization, writes Teun Van Dijk in Racism and Discourse in Latin America. In Latin America, the emancipationfrom Spain and Portugalof the newly independent states...took place under the leadership of a Creole elite of politicians, landowners, and military men whose European roots and concomitant racist ideologies were widely shared and celebrated.44 Similary, argue Bastide and Florestan, Brazils abolition in 1889 did not terminate the countrys class system, rather it disappeared only to be replaced by a new class regimen.45 Thus though all black Latinos were legally free by the turn of the 20th century, their social and economic statuses remained severely constrained by the pervasive racism in politics and exclusionary nation-building of the new republics. Throughout the continents, continues Van Dijk, black people were systematically inferiorized in all societys domains, giving long life to legitimized racism, poverty, and other forms of social inequality. 46 Well after liberation, Afro-Latinos confronted social, political, and legal barriers to true citizenship. In Argentina, the National University of Cordoba and the University of Buenos Aires, both leading educational institutions, admitted exactly no students of color after 1844; high schools were limited to accepting two black students a year.47 Towns and cities in various countries, including Argentina and Peru, enacted laws that prohibited black public festivities and dances. Access to land became a recurring point of contention, with freed blacks forced to resort to

43 44

Andrews 2004, 115. Teun Van Dijk, Racism and Discourse in Latin America (Lexington Books, 2009), 2. 45 Roger Bastide. Sociologie de Bresil (Paris: CDE, 1955), 19. From Carlos Rama, Los Afrouruguayos, (Montevideo: El Siglo Ilustrado, 1967), 9. 46 Van Dijk, 2. 47 Andrews 2004, 91.


squatting on small plots of their former masters fallow land.48 Despite having overthrown all legal constructs of inequality, Afro-Latinos proved unable to achieve true equality thanks to racist attitudes, values, and ideas among the regions citizenry and leadershipall of which amounted to what some historians have called Latin Americas 20th century war on blackness. Throughout the continent, young republics striving to determine and form their national identity after centuries of colonial rule came to embrace similar racial hierarchies. Whiteness was privileged, with many of the Spanish elite arguing that their racially mixed societies must be converted into white republics; this ideology was strong in Venezuela (where intellectuals proclaimed that salvation would only come to a Caucasion country that rid itself of the defects of hybridism)49 and Cuba (where increasing European immigration became a national obsession). This dominant discourse about whiteness gave rise to a concept of othernessi.e., that anyone who is not white represents a deviation from the norm, an ethnic outgroup. While the other may have varied from country to country (in Chile, negative discourse was aimed at the Mapuche people; in Brazil and Uruguay, it related to blacks; in young Argentina, both gauchos and indigenous were painted as the uncivilized sectors of white society), the concept was and is widespread throughout the region. As Wade notes, Blacks and Indians have both been characterized as others, located in the liminal spaces of the nations.50 Racial othering had an array of implications for indigenous and black populations, including discrimination, marginalization, and social exclusion, but those implications were not the same for both groups. In the racial hierarchies that emerged from 19th-century nation-creating, indigenous peoples and Afro-Latinos were assigned different roles. National ideologies in Latin America have in most cases envisioned the nation as the product of mestizaje Spanish men and indigenous women,

48 49

Andrews, 103. Ibid, 121. 50 Peter Wade, Race and Ethnicity in Latin America (London, 1997), p. 36. In Hooker, 300.


resulting in a predominately Spanish culture with some native elements. In such cases, Hooker points out, indigenous people occupy a certain place in the national symbolic universe as ancestral contributors to the new, hybrid mestizo nation and culture.51 Thus even if their position in the present day is perceived as marginal or anachronistic, indigenous peoples in Peru and Mexico are nonetheless seen as paradigmatic symbols of national identity. People of African descent, on the other hand, enjoy no such esteem in any realm, symbolic or otherwisedespite their very real role in, quite literally, the construction the nations. Instead, blackness has been obscured by narratives of indigenous mestizaje, their own genetic contributions to the raza ignored. 52 Unlike indigenous peoples (who were also frequently enslaved), Afro-Latinos have also born the long-term stigma of slavery, with the consequence that, for many years, white society felt that there was nothing more ignominious than being a black or descended from them.53 As a result of the particular way Afro-Latinos have been racialized in much of Latin America, their marginality is so profound as to render them virtually invisible. This invisibilization helps explain why, in the past two decades, many indigenous peoples have made huge strides in obtaining collective rights and sovereignty where Afro-Latinos have not. Across the Andean region, various individual tribes and coalitions of pueblos indgenas have mobilized on a massive scale, launching indigenous political parties (Evo Morales is a result of this process in Bolivia); demanding new constitutions that enshrine societys multiculturalism (Ecuador); and, in many cases, achieving partial or complete sovereignty as nations. Claiming a specific set of collective rights as an ethnic and linguistic minority entitled to special privileges, los indgenas in the modern era have leveraged their historic cultural marginality to some effect.

51 52

Hooker, 301. Ibid. 53 Andrews, 45.


Afro-Latinos have, generally speaking, proven less able to do the same. While limited scholarship exists on this topic, various academics have recently put forward several theories that explain why indigenous groups have enjoyed greater success negotiating with and gaining concessions from the state.54 Some of the reasons posited for this discrepancy include the lack of a powerful and cohesive black movement (due to low group identification among blacks, a differing and more subtle set of needs, an urban versus rural base, or political processes);55 historically negligible funding and support for Afro-Latinos from international NGOs; and the fact that when black movements have emerged, governments have proven deaf to their demands, as a result of the racialization of Afro-Latinos discussed above.56 While several Central and South American nations (Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Ecuador) have recognized their Afro-Descendant populations as distinct communities with cultural differences from the nation as a whole, these experiences of multicultural inclusion for Afro populations are few and far between.

Conclusion The reasons that lie behind continuing Afro-Latino exclusion are a rich area for comparative analysis that, unfortunately, is beyond the scope of this paper. Here, the preceding sketch of the origins of Afro-Latino inequality across Latin America simply serves to provide, in broad strokes, a macro-level perspective of racial (in)justice that will help contextualize the Uruguayan state of affairs. How did the processes that punctuated the black experience in the region at large, such as racial othering, the forging of a national identity, narratives of mestizaje, and exclusion, play out in Uruguay? In retracing Uruguayan history, Chapter 2 will reveal that while Uruguay may be a Latin American
54 55

Hooker, 292. See, for example, Michael Hanchard, Orpheus and Power : The Movimento Negro of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil, 19451988 (Princeton, 1994); Howard Winant, Rethinking Race in Brazil, Journal of Latin American Studies (vol. 24: 1992), 17392l Anthony Marx, Making Race and Nation: A Comparison of the United States, South Africa, and Brazil (Cambridge, 1998); and Melissa Nobles, Shades of Citizenship, Race, and the Census in Modern Politics (Stanford, 2000). 56 See, for example, Hooker, Indigenous Inclusion/ Black Exclusion.


outlier in many respectssecular, stably democratic, historically more inclusive than its neighbors, more equal, even today, than the United States57its progressive past has not led to racial enlightenment. Indeed, as an immigrant nation without a significant indigenous population, the Uruguayan government forged its national identity with narratives of whiteness rather than of mestizaje, essentially abolishing any place for people of color, even symbolic, in its collective selfperception and, more concretely, in society at largeincluding in the job market, housing, and educational system.


According to the CIA World Factbooks GINI Index Rankings, Uruguay ranks 51 in the world, compared to nd the U.S.s 42 (a higher rank means less inequality). Source: Accessed April 12, 2012.




Introduction Often called the Switzerland of South America, Uruguay prospered as a Latin American outlier during the 20th century, bucking regional trends in social, religious, and political issues. It was, for example, home to the worlds first entirely free public education system and one of its early welfare states. Indeed, the country so prides itself on its unique progressive tradition that a palpable Uruguayan exceptionalism was cultivated during the mid-20th century, a national feeling nicely summed up in the rhyming national motto coined by a prominent 1940s politician: Como el Uruguay, no hay (Theres no place like Uruguay). Despite having stood on the right side of history on so many issues, Uruguay has not taken an enlightened stance on race. Afro-Uruguayans today find themselves in circumstances of poverty and marginalization that are little to no better than those of other Afro-Latinosand clearly worse than their white compatriotsbut for decades the government and societal response seems to have simply ignored the problem. This unwillingness to address contemporary social problems may actually derive from the countrys pride in its past achievements: Uruguayans tend to venerate their progressive social democracy, especially its foundational tenet of social equity. Black marginalization thus may seem puzzling here, given thatfar from the country having institutionalized discrimination in Uruguayits constitution explicitly ensures equality for all citizens. The coexistence of profound inequality and deeply embedded egalitarianism may seem contradictory, but this chapter will argue that these two facts are in fact strongly aligned. As the following detailed analysis of Uruguayan history will illustrate, black exclusion was an intentional 22

consequence of the particular processes of Uruguayan state-building. In a nation of immigrants that forged its national identity around a generalized notion of European-ness, the marginalization of non-white citizens was integral. The modern bind in which this leaves Afro-Uruguayansas people of color in a nation built on integrating shades of whiteis only now coming to the fore. Uruguay, Latin American Outlier Uruguayans come by their exceptionalism honestly. In most respects, the country is noticeably, indubitably, different from other Latin American nations. Figures 2.1 and 2.2 offer an (admittedly selective, subjective) case study of Uruguay and two of its neighbors: Argentina, an relatively developed nation with which Uruguay shares a river border, colonial history, and immigration patterns; and Paraguay, a poor state with which Uruguay shares little more than a name of indigenous Guarani origin. The aim here is not to offer a comparative study of the three countries, but rather to illustrate the ways in which Uruguay diverges significantly both from its closest counterpart (a middle-class country, Argentina) and from its region at large (a largely poor part of the world, embodied here by Paraguay). In terms of economic indicators, the similarity between Argentina and Uruguay is striking. Historically linked to Europe, and built on the export of abundant raw materials, both countries enjoy healthy per-capita GDP, high literacy rates, low poverty levels, and GINI indexes that approximate that of the United States. Indeed, despite the severe Argentine financial crisis of 2001 that reduced prosperity in both countries, both Argentina and Uruguay remain heavily middle class1an anomalous social structure in stratified Latin America. Paraguay's economic data, on the other handits low income levels, vast wealth gap between rich and poor, and middling literacy ratemore closely resembles that of other developing countries in the region.


Figure 2.1. Economic and Demographic Data.

URUGUAY POPULATION 3,510,386 88% White ETHNIC 8% Mixed-race COMPOSITION 4% Black PER-CAPITA GDP $12,600 47% Catholic 33% Protestant/NonRELIGIOUS denominational COMPOSITION 17% Agnostic/Atheist .3% Jewish BIRTH RATE 13.67/1,000 ppl LITERACY RATE 98% GINI INDEX 45.2 POVERTY RATE* 10.7% Sources: CIA World Factbook; *ECLAC 2010. ARGENTINA 41,343,201 97% White 3% Mixed-race/other $13,900 92% Catholic 2% Protestant 2% Jewish 17.75/1,000 ppl 97% 45.7 11.3% PARAGUAY 6,375,830 95% Mixed-race 5% Other $4,600 89.6% Catholic 6.2% Protestant 4% Other 17.73/1,000 ppl 94% 53.2 56%

Given the economic, ethnic, and historic similarities between Argentina and Uruguayand their shared difference from Paraguayone might expect that religious, political, and social indicators would reveal similar patterns of affinity. But, in fact, it's Argentina and Paraguay that mirror each other. Both are overwhelmingly Catholic, with high birthrates, dismal levels of perceived corruption, and unenviable records of democratic governance. Despite their socioeconomic differences, Argentina and Paraguay are, in certain statistical senses, typically Latin Americanthat is to say heavily Catholic, politically volatile, and endemically corrupt. Uruguay, on the other hand, has a strong secular bent, low birthrate, reputation for transparency, and a century of nearly uninterrupted democracy. Graphs that chart the world's countries according to cultural values, based on a scale of both traditional-versus-modern and secular-versus-religious, position Uruguay closer to Northern Ireland and Spaineven to far-flung Vietnamthan to any of its geographic cohort (see figure 2.3).2 This cultural proximity to Europe

World Values Survey, Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World, 2010. From Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005): p. 64. Based on the World Values Surveys (see


makes sense given that the social democracy established here was founded on French and British models.

Figure 2.2. Political and Cultural Indicators.


ARGENTINA 34 2.9 40.6 32% 31% 1947 15% 1954 NO 35 2.2


12 6.9 54.2 55% 41% 1932 20% 1907 YES

22.7 29% 20% 1961 11% 1991 (?) NO

Sources: Transparency International; Inter-Parliamentary Union;* Rating out of 100, 100 being most trusting and 0 least (World Values Survey); **America's Barometer Insights 2009.

These ideals are evident in Uruguays legislative history: it established universal suffrage and legalized divorce several to many decades before its neighbors, and is the only country of the three (indeed, of the continent) with a constitutional separation of church and state. The early 20th century dates of Uruguays socially progressive legislation puts it well ahead of many developed nations in terms of establishing rights for numerous disempowered groups, including women, children, laborers, immigrants, and other marginal sectors of society. It did not, however, do so for its citizens of color.

Percentage of the population who sought help from or made a request of municipal governments in 2008. Americas Barometer, 2009 (No. 10). Available at Accessed Dec. 6, 2010.


Figure 2.3. Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World4

Source: World Values Survey, 2010

Britains Colony in Disguise Uruguay was not always so clearly defined. Like most post-Colonial societies, it struggled to build a national identity well after declaring its official nationhood. That process may have been more arduous in Uruguay than in other Latin American countries, not just because of its multiple ethnicities and religions but especially given its nebulous origins at the nexus of British, Spanish, and Portuguese interests.

World Values Survey 2010.


Originally defined as the Banda Oriental of Spain's Rio de la Plata colony (comprised of swaths of modern-day Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay), the Uruguayan territorywhich offered river access to the continents interior and top-notch portswas hotly pursued by both Spain and Portugal throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. But when, in the early 19th century, independence movements began to sweep the continent, it was in fact Great Britain that won the day in the Banda Oriental. So thoroughly was Great Britain invested in the region by that time that, when the River Plate territories declared independence from Spain in 1824 (thanks in no small part to the British navy), then-Foreign Secretary George Canning felt confident enough to declare, Spanish America is free; and if we do not mismanage our affairs sadly, she is English.5 First, however, Britain would have to secure the stability of the Banda Oriental, where Argentine and Brazilian disputes were now disrupting commerce and threatening political stability in the region. England's solution was to declare the Banda Oriental an independent nation, one that would act as a buffer between Argentina and Brazil and ensure an appropriately peaceful environment for investment and trade. Montevideo's commercial elite supported this move for the same reasons (indeed, at one point they requested that the territory become a British protectorate), and so it happened: in 1825, by way of Britains diplomatic and commercial strength, was born the Oriental Republic of Uruguaya colony in disguise.6 In the relatively hands-off tradition of British colonialism, the English left Uruguayan politics after independence more or less to its own devices.7 Economically, however, the empire was fully engaged: it crisscrossed the country with railroads, infused its economy with British capital in the

Quoted in Winn, P. The British Informal Empire in Uruguay, Past & Present, No. 73, Vol. 1 (1976), pgs. 100126. 6 Ibid., 102. 7 The great exception to this rule is Britain's (failed) intervention in the war between Montevideo/Buenos Aires and Argentine general Juan Manuel Rosas, in 1843, in which the British blockaded Buenos Aires and dispatched armed merchantmen to upriver Uruguayan ports. The empire's lack of success in taming the long-running war against the provinces led to a brief withdrawal and consequent rise in Brazil's power of Uruguay (1850-1864).


form of loans and bonds, linked Uruguay to England via telegraph and steamship routes, and built the meat-processing plants that would define the Uruguayan export market for decades to come. The British also introduced sheep to the country side and spearheaded the enclosure movement the fencing of the Uruguayan grasslandsthat would lead to more efficient, large-scale livestock farming and, crucially to future peace and prosperity in the countryside, by allowing the establishment of private property rights.8 By 1875, England had invested over 10 million pounds in Uruguay; by the 1880's, that number had risen to 35 million.9 While the empire had bankrolled projects around the continent, the British per-capita investment in Uruguay was among the regions highestand given the country's small and concentrated population, doubtless the most significant economic influence.10 Civilization v. Barbarity (1800-1900) Despite Britains firm grasp on the economy, the political and social future of young, motley Uruguay remained unclear. Would it be primarily rural, or urban? Heavily indigenous, or mainly white? A stabilizing regional force, or an insecure, rudderless triangle of land? Rivalry between the major political parties, the Nacionales and the Colorados, was virulent: from 1825 to 1900, the country churned through 27 presidentsnine were ousted from power, two murdered, and one seriously injured; twelve of them confronted at least one violent uprising, and only three finished their terms in peace.11 In 1897 factional tensions exploded into civil war, in which the urban elites of the Colorado party struggled for power against the rural, traditional-minded Blancos. This domestic

8 9

Panizza, 673. Winn, 1976. 10 Jos Pedro Barran, El nacimiento del Uruguay moderno en la segunda mitad del siglo XIX, Universidad de la Repblicas Red Acadmica Uruguaya, Sept. 1995. Available at:, 1995. Accessed Dec. 4, 2010. 11 Francisco Panizza, Late Institutionalization and early Modernization: The Emergence of Uruguay's Liberal Democratic Political Order, Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Oct. 1997) pp. 667 -691. Pg. 670.


conflict between city and country came on the heels of the Guerra Grande (1931-1952), an international rural-versus-urban war, in which the Blancos had joined up with Argentinas caudilloled, gaucho-staffed federalist army against the government forces of Montevideo and Buenos Aires, only to be brutally defeated in a massive military campaign known as the War Against the Provinces (1851-1852). All three of these early Uruguayan warsthe 1831 Guerra Grande, 1857 civil war, and the 1851 War Against the Provincesreflect a quintessentially Latin American dialectic that shaped the former Spanish colonies development: civilization versus barbarity. This dichotomy (in Spanish, la civilizacin y la barbrie) represents the central conflict of post-colonial South America, a frame employed by 19th -century leaders of both Argentina and Uruguay (among other places) who consistently and uniformly strove to create from their diverse, far-flung American masses an advanced, consolidated, European-style nation. Barbarous, though most commonly used to refer to the (mixed-race) gauchos and indigenous people, may thus also be broadly interpreted to mean any class of people who do not fit into visions of that imagined ideal populace, i.e., the non-white. As Sztainbok notes, national identities have been constructed in racial terms anddefinitions of race have been shaped by processes of nation building. Further, national narratives in literature, history, social science, etc., make clear who embodies the normative national subject. In the case of Argentina and Uruguay, the nation was imagined as white.12 Argentine president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, great proponent of the civilization versus barbarity dialectic, summed up his image of the Argentine nation in an 1866 address to Congress: When we talk about the people, it should be understood to mean the notable, active, and

Vannina, Sztainbok, Imagining the Afro-Uruguayan Conventillo: Belonging and the Fetish of Place and Blackness. Dissertation, University of Toronto, 2009. Available online:


intelligent: the ruling class. Decent people, patricians like all of us herebecause well, it wouldnt do to see in our Chambers any gauchos, blacks, or poor folks13 About black Argentines, specifically, he wrote in Facundo, the political novel that expounded civilizacion o barbarie: [They are] excellent and incorruptible soldiers of another language and a savage race.Happily, continual wars have now exterminated the masculine part of this population.14 Adherence to Sarmientos intellectual framing of the issues was strong in sister-city and ally Montevideo, which had also struggled to suppress its gauchos and institutionalize its whiteness. The founder of Uruguays free and universal school system, Jose Pedro Varela, may have championed access to education, but he did not imagine that everyone could or should benefit equally from it. In School Legislation (1875), a consideration on the state of the country vis--vis education, he wrote that, Based on false assumptions and formulated with affirmations without foundation, it isgenerally believed that all human races are perfectly equal and, as a consequence, they have equal aptitudes for pursuing with the same vigor every stage of progress. The falseness of thisdoctrine has been demonstrated with statistics on Indians. So fundamental is this racist distinction between white (civilized) and colored (barbarity) in Uruguay that in its hotly contested 2009 presidential election, the countrys largest newspaper, El Pas, published an editorial chastising conservative factions for their civilization versus barbarity rhetoric against the leftist, populist, former guerilla candidate, Jos Mujicanot because they were rehashing outdated or offensive rhetoric, but because they applied it to the wrong candidate.15


"Cuando decimos pueblo, entendemos los notables, activos, inteligentes: clase gobernante. Somos gentes decentes, patricios a cuya clase pertenecemos nosotros, pues, no ha de verse en nuestra Cmara (Diputados y Senadores) ni gauchos, ni negros, ni pobres.." Sarmiento, in a speech before Congress, 1866, cited in Accessed Jan. 24, 2012. 14 Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism. The First Complete English Translation, translated by Kathleen Ross (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 223. 15 Francisco Faig, Civilizacion o barbarie, El Pais, Sept. 19, 2009. Available online: Accessed Jan. 24, 2012.


With the structure of civilization and barbarity firmly in place, 19th century leaders in Argentina and Uruguay undertook modernizing campaigns was undertaken to ensure a civilized future for their nations. These included legislation (like the fencing of the pampas, which effectively destroyed the gaucho lifestyle) and atrocitiessuch as Argentina forcing its freed slaves into Paraguay, and Sarmiento exterminating Argentina's last rural leaders in the 1860's. Uruguay, for its part, massacred its only eighteen remaining Charrua Indians in 1840, and gave black citizens incentive to become soldiers; given that the country was engaged in war for most of the 19th century, the result was the decimation of the Afro-Uruguayan male population.16 The symbolic and actual whitewashing of the southern cone region was well under way. Demographic Transformation: The Whitewashing of Uruguay The process of whitening Uruguayan society became more profound as enormous numbers of immigrants from the Old World began arriving to Uruguayan shores in the early 19th century. Between 1830 and the turn of the century, successive waves of immigration boosted the population from 70,000 to 1 milliona fourteen-fold increase.17 Coming primarily from France, Switzerland, Spain, and, above all, Italy, the foreign population quickly numerically overwhelmed the native one. In Montevideo, the influx of new citizens inserted itself into and overwhelmed the established ranks of the Spanish and British elite and poor blacks, expanding the social structure to include a large white working class. New neighborhoodssuch as El Cerro, where the streets are named after nations (Croatia, Lebanon, Basque Country)popped up on the outskirts of the city. By 1907, 42 percent of Montevideo was foreign-born.18 Some of these new arrivalsparticularly the agrarian

16 17

Sztainbok, 7. Barrn 1995. 18 Martin Weinstein, Uruguay, Democracy at the Crossroads (Colorado: Westview Press, 1988), 4.


Swissheaded to the countryside, where sheep-farming was at that point becoming a lucrative business, further civilizing that once barbarian part of the country. By the turn of the 20th century, the demographic make-up of Uruguay had undergone a fundamental change. The country had entered the 1800s as a mixed-race nation of approximately 50 percent Spanish Creoles and 50 percent Afro-Uruguayan or mestizos; it left that time period as most European nation in Latin America. 19 The transformation was, as discussed, not accidental. Genocide had exterminated the Charrua. Disease, inter-marriage, forced inscription, emigration to Brazil and Argentina, and chronically low birthrates had decreased the black population to somewhere between one and six percent of inhabitants.20 The nations white-washing may not have been complete, but for the purposes of a government desperate to announce a national narrative, the significant diminishment in the numbers of blacks and mestizos was sufficient to erase that population from the books. When Uruguayans celebrated their centennial in 1930, the occasion was taken up as an opportunity to narrate the nation as a neo-European state. 21 The Libro del Centenario del Uruguay, a government document prepared by the Ministry of Public Instruction, boasts repeatedly about the states racial homogeneity. In a chapter on social achievements, it read, There is not a single town or settlement of indigenous population [within Uruguayan borders]. The last Charruas disappeared as a 1832 and since that long distant date, almost a century ago, the Uruguayan territory has remained in the absolute possession of the European race and its descendants. A following chapter on Demography boldly asserts: Uruguay is populated by the white race, totally of European origin.

19 20

Panizza 1995. Statistics on the racial composition from this era are difficult to come across, as the census at that point no longer accounted for race. However, based on Andrews (2010) informal estimates and statistical figures for Montevideo alone, I feel comfortable establishing the one to six percent range for the turn of the century. 21 Stzainbok, 8.


The Model Country If the above evidence clearly reveals Afrodescendientes explicit erasure from Uruguays official history, the communitys social exclusion is more difficult to uncover. At some point during Uruguays consolidation as a modern republic in the early 20th century, blacks, who had played such an important role in the early history of the republic, lost their place in the collective consciousness of the nation. Numerically overwhelmed by white arrivals from Europe and purged from the history books, Afro-Uruguayans were effectively rendered invisible. Much of this erasure must be considered a direct consequence of the otherwise laudable leadership efforts of Jos Batlle y Ordez. President of the Republic from 1903-1907 and 1911-1915, Batlle is often cited as Uruguays ideological founder. Son of a former Colorado president and grandson of a prominent Catalua-born, Paris-educated Uruguayan businessman, Batlle was ascetic, anti-clerical, anti-establishment, and idealistic. As a young journalist at El Da, a leftist newspaper he founded in 1886, Batlle expounded the ideals of secularism, democracy, and social justice. As a president, he brought those values into the Uruguayan mainstream, striving to fashion the republic into a small model country. For Batlle, the model for fledgling Uruguay was the European mold. In his two terms as president, Batlle enacted sweeping social reforms: abolishing the death penalty, as befitted a civilized society;22 separating church from state; mandating free, secular, Spanish-language education for all Uruguayans from elementary through university levels. He was a proponent of womens rights (creation of a female section at the Universidad de la Repblica, legalized divorce at the womans request, and rights to work outside the home) and of a powerful bureaucracy (state monopoly over public services; public health insurance).


Vanger 1963, 248.


One of Batlles main campaigns was for workers rights. As Uruguay had become flooded with Italians who came from a syndicalist tradition, its unions had grown intensely through the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, Batlle courted this new labor vote by supporting various strikes in his first term and, in his second, legislating the eight-hour work day. Other social initiatives that benefitted the population at large were also aimed at keeping labor happy, including creating public health insurance and nationalizing privately run utilities. Despite the overwhelmingly working-class status of the Afro-Uruguayan populationwho were employed on the docks, in construction, as informal day laborershowever, neither Batlle nor the unions themselves incorporated blacks as part of the syndicalist movement. Newspaper stories from both the black and white press of the era reveals a singular lack of discussion about Afro participation in the labor movement. While syndicalist newspapers, which proliferated in the 1900s, frequently invoked the equality of all men and the need to promote solidarity across class lines, curiously these appeals never called out racial inequality in Uruguay itself. Likely reflecting the national aversion to perceiving blackness, Montevideos workers aimed their gazes internationally. When the Voz del Obrero newspaper declared in 1903 that Servitude is not white, or yellow, or black. It is simply proletarian, for example, it was crying out for brotherhood not in Uruguay, but in the United States and colonial Africa, overlooking the very real servitude of blacks in Uruguay. Other labor papers espoused patently racist views, expressing disgust at the insolence of blacks in the U.S.23 and declaring that Moroccans fighting for freedom from Spain represented African barbarismthe traditional enemies of our race.24 While neither black papers nor union papers offer accounts of systematic or institutional exclusion of Afro-Uruguayans from unions, it is clear that, in the final analysis, the labor movement
23 24

El Amigo del Obrero, 1904. In Andrews, 39. Ibid., 1909. From Andrews, 29.


positioned itself on the side of whiteness. In a Uruguay in which the working class had become a powerful interest group, this exclusion from the implied severe social disadvantage: not only were unions capable of accruing significant benefits for its members (12-hour work day, minimum wage, admittance to a social club), they also, eventually, began to receive subsidies from the government to found business and new settlements. While Afro-Uruguayan women contributed to these successes by washing [upwardly mobile immigrants] clothing and nurs[ing] their future doctors and Afro-Uruguayan children were friends with the masters sons,25 the Afro community was not able to pass on to their children the same level of achievement as their European counterparts. Afro-Uruguayans were also omitted from Batlles vision for society as a whole, once again implicitly. In his top-down recasting of the country, Batlle espoused a profound conviction in assimilation. For a country of immigrants, he reasoned, national patriotic sentiment could not be cultivated by rooting it in love of where you were born. 26 Instead, his model country would be characterized by the explicit minimization of social, religious, and ethnic differences and construction of a melting-pot nation based on the transcendental political ideals he had so admired in Western Europe: economic sovereignty, democratic politics, social justice. Thats a rosy picture, akin to the American national myth about its foundation as the land of the free, where all men are created equal. The problem with the melting-pot mentality, however, is that some people are less easily melted than others, by virtue of their race or religion; other groups simply arent interested in assimilation, preferring instead to preserve their identity. If nations are imagined communities, forged from a rich multiplicity of historical, ethnic, and religious roots, then to mold them into a single entity required acts of mental invention of a mythic common past, usually glorious but sometimes persecuting, and suppression of the sub-nations, units smaller than
25 26

Rodriguez, 68. Rama,28.


a nation.27 Batlles Uruguay did a favorable job of incorporating such sub-units as Italians, Spaniards, Basques, French, and Swiss, whose differences were cultural, linguistic, and religious; but it was less interested in ignoring racial distinctions. Thus, the policies of liberalism and development pursued by Batlle did not sanctify equality of rights and possibilities in the way that so many Batlle scholars celebrate, because Uruguayans of the black race continued to be sidelined in the plans of the government.28 The cultural (rather than constitutional or institutional) character of racism and discrimination in Uruguay means that its history is not terribly well documented. However, there are a handful of extant examples of black marginalization that refute the myth that the country was ever really envisioned as a totally egalitarian republic for all ethnicities. Standing immigration law in the 1910s, for example, forbade specifically the entry of Asians, Africans, and Gypsies to Uruguay,29 effectively negating the notion that government policies were color-blind. Two decades later a law was passed that barred black men from becoming police officers. Ten years after that, a black firefighter who was told that colored persons were not allowed to the Firefighters Club dances or parties, was denied the opportunity to try his case in court.30 According to Uruguayan historian Carlos Rama, writing in the 1960s, Racial prejudice exists or subsists in ungeneralized form against people of color in Uruguay; it has been assisted by the power of traditional dominant structures, which opposes social change.31


Peter Loewenberg in Vamik Volkan, Blood lines: From ethnic pride to ethnic terrorism (Boulder, CO: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997), 24. 28 Rodriguez, 103. 29 Michael Goebel, Gauchos, Gringos and Gallegos: The Assimilation of Italian and Spanish Immigrants in the Making of Modern Uruguay 18801930, Past and Present (2009). First published online: December 11, 2009. 30 Andrews (2010) writes that Nieres [the fireman] tried to take the matter to the courts, but without success, citing a newspaper article from 1947 to which I do not have access. Thus I looked for, but could not find, the reasons for which this case was denied by court system. Legal research of the supreme court archives does prove, however, that it was never heard. 31 Ibid, 79.


Figure 2.4. Distribution of Afrodescendants in Uruguay

Source: INE, Uruguayan National Census. 2006.

Ignored by labor unions, lacking formal education, and rendered invisible in the national dialogue on social justice and progress, Afro-Uruguayans continued to live in marginalization and erasure well into the 20th century despite the countrys otherwise notable success in forming the progressive, inclusive society of Batlles dreams. One need only examine textbooks of the era to understand how profound this exclusion was. Democracia, a reader used in public schools in various versions from the 1920s to the 1960s, was founded on two themes: the uniquely democratic character of the country, and the importance of European immigration in constructing Uruguayan society. Afro-Uruguayans were mentioned exactly two times in the book: a celebration of Uruguays 37

early abolition of slavery in 1842 and an homage to Uruguayan equality that reads, The Father land that [the immigrant patriots] created was not just for one class or caste. It was for the white and for the black...the gaucho and for the Charrua. No mention of black service in the civil wars or of Montevideos historically sizeable black population, or of the Africa-derive candombe dance that by the early 20th century had become a mainstream national music. Writes Andrews (2010) about the era of Batllismo and its aftermath: Afro-Uruguayans were certainly free to watch [the countrys] progress and, because of the countrys firm commitment to civic equality, to share in it[b]ut as an insignificant percentage of the total population, they were essentially extraneous to Uruguayan modernity.32


Andrews 2010, 5.



Introduction La Gran Ausente As the 20th century matured, and Uruguays democratic institutions consolidated, so too did the marginalization of afrodescendientes. As the rapidly industrializing countrys export markets boomed during the inter-war period (1920s to 1940s), many working-class whitesthe children and grandchildren of the immigrant laborers that had benefited from president Batlles reformist legislationrose into the middle class. Yet for the most part, the descendants of slaves enjoyed little such advancement. The contrast between white prosperity and black disadvantage had become increasingly profound by the late 1930s, with one author referring to the Afro Collective as la gran ausente in Uruguays much-lauded processes of social advancement: the great absence.1 A 1956 report by the journalist Alicia Behrens on black participation in the commercial and service sector offers a snapshot of inequality in mid-century Uruguay2: Among the 2,500 hotel waiters and waitresses comprising the hotel workers union, not one was Afro-Uruguayan Among 4,000 bus and taxi drivers of the nations two largest transportation companies, just ten were Afro-Uruguayan Of 1,600 employees in Montevideos largest retail shops, one was Afro-Uruguayan Of 7,000 barbers and stylist, none were Afro-Uruguayan. Indeed, the stylists interviewed by Behrens scoffed at the notion that the public would entrust their appearance to a coarse Afro-Uruguayan.

The most obvious question that emerges from this startling account is, if black Uruguayans could not get jobs even in the unskilled labor and service sectors, where were they working? The fact is that many of them probably werent working at alltoday black unemployment stands at
1 2

Romero Rodriguez, Mbundo. Malungo a Mundele (Montevideo: Rosebud Ediciones, 2006), 81. Mario Silva, Cuadernos de Analisis Afro (Montevideo: Organizaciones Mundo Afro, 2008), 4.


nearly 18 percent, and it was surely higher 50 years ago. Of those who were employed, sources indicate,i the majority worked as domestic servants of one sort or another.3 Unfortunately, history provides few answers to the questions raised by Behrens report: censuses did not account for race, and few white researchers took interest in the Afro-Uruguayan community, such that extant reports on their living and working conditions are rare. The same processes that rendered Afro-Uruguayans invisible in Uruguayan history and society also obscure the factors that contributed to the Collectivitys marginalization in the early- to mid-20th century. Thus it is an historic phenomenon that does not easily lend itself to empirical analysis. Black collective action, however, can act as something of a proxy for racial discrimination. The political scientist Marion Young has defined an oppressed social group as a community in which its members, by virtue of belonging to that particular social group, are vulnerable to one or more of the five faces of oppression: namely, exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, or violence.4 Using the few available hard facts on historical discrimination to supplement the story of Afro-Uruguayan mobilization from the post-Batlle era through the military dictatorship of the 1980s, the following chapter reveals that Uruguayan Afro-Descendants have, in distinct or overlapping phases, suffered all five of Youngs forms of oppression throughout the 20th century. It is a struggle that continues today.

Discrimination and Mobilization of the Afro Collective (1930-1980) Afro-Uruguayan activists mobilized in such diverse fields as journalism, politics, society, and education, revealing the pervasive nature of racism in all sectors. But by far, black-run newspapers were the most powerful and oft-invoked tool of the Afro Collective. Starting with La Conservacion in

3 4

Andrews 2010, 38. Bashir, 51.


1872 and continuing through the NGO Mundo Afros eponymous journal (1988-present), black-run periodicals were and remain instruments of social cohesion, uplift, communication, and protest.5 Afro-Uruguayan journalism was born on a note of protest against racism, writes Lewis, noting that the La Conservacion launched its first issue with an incendiary poem entitled To the Colored Race. In 1917 the influential Nuestra Raza was founded, with the mission statement that today [the union of our good brothers and sisters is] more necessary than ever. Reporting on such topics as Afro-Uruguayan illiteracy, the prostitution of black women, African anti-colonial struggles, and the American Civil Rights movement, the paper fostered Afro consciousness and pride; it frequently published editorials decrying discrimination and racism. Accion (1934), touted itself in its first edition as a periodical which will begin to fight for the interests and rights of the race.6 While the short lifespans of all these papers indicates the historic difficulty of constructing a black identity in Uruguay,7 the existence of some dozen black newspapers and magazines over the course of a century, many with explicitly activist goals, also reveals a sustained response of the Afro community to racism in Uruguayan society. The increasing divergence between the economic and social wellbeing of black and white Uruguayans on which these periodicals reported spurred activists in the black community into action. In 1936 a group of activists from Nuestra Raza launched an all-black political party, the Partido Autctono Negro (PAN) with the declared aim of reclaiming the rights and sharing the culture of the black collectivity.8 Despite some resistance from sectors of the Afro-Uruguayan community that urged the group not to rock the boat, the PAN declared a bold and comprehensive platform that attempted to tackle many of the same issues that Afro-Uruguayan activists struggle

Marvin Lewis, Afro-Uruguayan Literature: Post-Colonial Perspectives (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2003), 9. 6 Ibid., 30. 7 Ibid, 33. 8 lvaro Gascue, Un intento de organizacin poltica de la raza negra en Uruguay,. Hoy es Historia, No. 27 (1988).


with today. The platform included: denouncing occupational discrimination, uniting the common interests of the most socially marginalized sectors, and obtaining representation in congress.9 Though the PAN was short-lived (1936 to 1944) and received scant attention from voters (it garnered just 87 votes in the 1938 presidential election), its founding represents an important moment in the black struggle for representation. Black activists also tried to bring the fight against discrimination to the legal system. The 1947 lawsuit of a firefighter (and, not incidentally, PAN member), briefly mentioned in the previous chapter, is one example of a very public fight against discrimination. In Nieres v. Club Cuerpo de Bomberos, a black firemanrebuffed by the fire department when he protested the firefighters social clubs barring of colored persons from its dances and partiesattempted to take his antidiscrimination case to court. Evidently, such social segregation was evidently common in the era Afro-Uruguayans who remember the era report that blacks were barred from membership at private clubs, and often from entering cafes, bars, restaurants, dance halls, and other public facilities.10 So Nieress insistence on justice in this case was anomalous, and the suit garnered heavy coverage by the black press. It was, however, unsuccessfulfor reasons that have become obscured over the years, the court never heard his case.11 The following decade saw a similar discrimination case, this time one with more impact. When Adelia Silva de Sosa, an Afro-Uruguayan teaching assistant on a fellowship in Montevideo in 1956, was denied a position at three consecutive public schools by admittedly discriminatory teachers or school administrators, she complained to the National Council of Primary Education. Though there was no anti-discrimination law on the books, the group supported her claimas did local teacher unions and the citys many black organizations. The National Council of Primary

Ibid. Andrews 2010, 105. 11 Ibid.



Education found that one of the principals responsible for rejecting Sosa had indeed engaged in racist behavior, [a]dopting an attitude of rejection toward [Sosa] that was clearly visible and expressed in repeated statements, actions, and other unfortunate displays. The group censured the administrator and docked her pay.

Repression and The Dictatorship Years (1973-1982) Civil rights abuses of the black community (indeed, of the Uruguayan populace at large) took a drastic and violent turn after a 1973 coup detat replaced Uruguays democratically elected government with a military dictatorship. From 1978 to 1979 the government undertook a mass eviction (desalojo) of Montevideos historically black Palermo and Barrio Sur neighborhoods, in which some 1,200 to 1,300 Afro-Uruguayans were ultimately displaced. 12 The project began on a small scale in the early 1970s with the expropriation of private homes from black families. Many Afro-Uruguayans, however, did not live in private homes but in sprawling, multi-family dwellings called conventillos,built in the late 1800s to house immigrants. In 1978-1979 the government condemned, forcibly evacuated, and razed two historic conventillos,13 including the two-floor, fortyroom, four-bathroom Medio Mundo,14 which had been declared a historical monument. In both cases, residents and families who had not found other housing by evacuation time were forced onto trucks and carted off to temporary housing in Montevideos outlying Cerro neighborhood,15 where black ghettos called cantigriles grew virtually overnight.16

12 13

Rodrguez 2004. Mara Eugenia Lima, Vuelven desalojados en la dictadura, El Pas, July 9, 2006. Available online: 14 Comisin del Patrimonio Cultural de la Nacin, Culturas Afrouruguayas, Ministerio de Educacin y Cultura del Uruguay, 2007. Available online: 15 Rodrguez, 159. 16 Ibid.


The dictatorships treatment of Afro-Uruguayans went beyond forced relocation. In a piece of history that is only in recent years emerging into public awareness (even some of my interview subjects professed no awareness of the incident), the accommodations offered by the junta turned out to be, in effect, prisons. Offloaded at an enormous abandoned factory, the Fbrica Martnez Rena, in the Capurro district of Montevideo, hundredsii of former residents of Barrio Sur and Palermo were assigned undifferentiated spaces that measured four meters by two meters to divvy up among the family according to individual preference.17 While residents were permitted to leave the premises to work, and no bars covered the factory windows or doors, the inhabitants could not leave the building with any possessions save for round-trip bus faremeaning they could not move to new housing, spend the night away, socialize in restaurants or bars, or travel.18 This de facto imprisonment endured 13 years. Many Afro-Uruguayans today refer to the Fbrica Martnez Rena as a concentration camp and consider the treatment of black citizens there to be a violation of human rights for which the dictatorship has never been held accountable.

There Are No Problems While the foregoing examples denote the clear existence of color-based discrimination and rights violations against Uruguays black citizens throughout the 20th century, such actions were not supported by any formal government segregationist policies. In fact, they were explicitly prohibited. The liberal Uruguayan constitution of 1918 enshrined civil equity among all (male) citizens. Article 147 reaffirmed the continued abolition of slavery, Article 148 declared that all men are equal before the lawno distinctions between them are recognized except talent and virtue, and Article 146 ensured all inhabitants of the Republic the right to be protected in their enjoyment of life, honor, liberty, security, and property. While this constitution, passed by Batlle, would be reworked

Realojos Urbanos, Semanario Voces, May 10, 2010. Available online: Accessed April 8, 2012. 18 Romero Rodriguez 2001, 2006, 2010.


and amended several times over the years (most notably during the two dictatorships of the 20th century), the civil equity articles were never modified. Additional protection of Afro-Uruguayans was provided by Article 42 of the penal code, which punishes open aggression due to differences in color, race, or religion (though there is no legal recourse against subtle discriminatory behavior, such as discrimination in housing, institutions, or hiring practices). With inclusion and equality constitutionally mandated, it was perhaps easy for Uruguayans to overlook their societys particular brand of racism. Enacted consistently but quietly by private actorsand periodically by the government itselfdiscrimination against Afro-Uruguayans was structural, not flagrant, meaning that it was rendered invisible for those who didnt know where to look (or didnt want to look). Throughout the 20th century, perfectly well-meaning people in positions of power failed to identifythus supporting and exacerbatingthe systemic nature of Uruguayan prejudice. Not just whites but blacks, too, believed the myth of total equality. In 1948 a leader of the conservative Afro-Uruguayan social club, Associacion Civil y Social Uruguay (ACSU), declared in an interview with Revista Uruguay on racial discrimination that, there are no problems. If problems exist, we make them ourselves by failing to take full advantage of the rights and advantages that all Uruguayan citizens claim. The editors of the black-run yet decidedly conformist publication agreed. We live in a country in which we enjoy the most complete freedom, as legitimate citizens, with all the rights and prerogatives granted by the Constitution and the social laws, they wrote. Therefore everything depends on our actions, on our morals, and on [observing] the customs required by the rules of duty.19 Two years earlier this position had been promoted by Ellen Irene Diggs, an African American anthropologist and research assistant to W.E.B. Dubois, who visited Montevideo in 1946 during her


Revista Uruguay, Oct. 1948, 6-7, from Andrews 2010.


research on Latin American black history and culture. Far from joining ranks with the activist sectors of the Afro-Uruguayan community, as one might expect, Diggs took the community to task for its visible cultural poverty and lack of progress. Noting the countrys complete absence of racial discrimination and prejudice, she lamented the communitys inability to progress or mobilize in a society that offered ideal conditions for black advancement in the form of civic and legal equality.20 Attempting to compare race across cultures, Diggsaccustomed to the constitutional inequality of Jim Crowmissed the more restrained, flexible forms of racism holding Afro-Uruguayans back. Given that it was overt, state-mandated segregation that had provoked black mobilization in the United States,21 as Andrews notes, the absence of clear-cut mechanisms of racial exclusion is significant. That barriers to success in Uruguay were amorphous and illegal may have made the dayto-day situation of Afro-Uruguayans less desperate than that of blacks in the American South, but it also made racial exclusion harder to combat. Without a law to overturn, a legal decision to appeal, or an overtly racist state government to condemn, a civil rights movement of the sort African Americans were about to launch was impossible. While African diaspora societies around the globe were on the verge of launching powerful social movements and colonized African countries were fighting for their independence, Uruguayan blacks spent the 1960s in a stalemate and the 1970s under a repressive dictatorship. AfroUruguayan activists were well aware of the movements in South Africa, the United States and revolutions in Algeria, Morocco, and beyondbut they would have to wait for democracy to recommence their own struggle.

Mundo Afro and the International Movement for Afro-Descendant Rights

20 21

Andrews 2010, 102. Andrews 2010, 103.


With the transition from military to democracy in 1984, Uruguays civil society came back to life. Yet while white citizens were celebrating the return of free and fair elections, no such thing existed for Afro-Uruguayans, whose interests remained unrepresented in the countrys all-white parliament. Adopting this blatant injustice as its rallying cry, a movement began to coalesce around two disillusioned former members of the ACSU: Romero Rodriguez, who, jailed by the dictatorship in the 1970s, had befriended black activists during his exile in Brazil; and Beatriz Ramirez, an international-minded activist inspired by the US civil rights movement and anti-apartheid activity in South Africa. In 1988 the two founded an NGO called Mundo Afro. Its mission: to fight for representation and policy change. As the group matured in the 1990s, its scope grew from national to regional, organizing meetings of Afro-Latino groups to discuss issues of racism and discrimination. One of its greatest achievements of that decade, however, was domestic. From 1994 to 1996 Mundo Afro representatives waged a prolonged campaign urging the national government to include racial data on its national censuses. Despite protests that invoked everything from political correctness (the National Statistics Institute feared offending peoples sensibilities by asking about race) to egalitarianism (all Uruguayans are Uruguayans; race doesnt matter), the NGO eventually triumphed in 1996 when the National Institute of Surveys agreed to ask about race in its Ongoing Household Survey. Its important to note than in 1996 the determination of race was made by the INE censusgiver, not by the individuals themselves, an approach that would later be modified. Still, the survey represented the first time since the 19th century that black Uruguayans were counted, and the results were as devastating as they were potent. The INE Household Survey revealed that Afro-Uruguayans fared worse than their white counterparts in every sector, including income, education, and employment. While the government did not follow-up with an examination of the causes of what it referred to as disparitiesin opportunity between its citizens of different


races, the Afro Collective considered the statistics hard evidence of discriminatory practices. The numbers revealed the particular hardship of Afro-Uruguayan womena full 46% of whom worked as cleaning ladies in offices or homeswho accrued more hours of weekly labor hours than black men, earned less, and were more often bearing the responsibility of single heads of household.iii Figure 3.1. INE Household Survey Results, 1996.

Black White

17.2% 11.5%

8.7% 15.3%

35.4 23.3

49.5 UR 30.1 UR

6.8 8.4

Source: Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas, Encuesta Continua de Hogares, 1996. *Income measured in Unidades Reajustables (URs), a standardized currency base

While these numbers may have simply confirmed what Afro-Uruguayans knew from daily life, they had important national and international implications. On the domestic level, the count of 164,200 Afro-Uruguayans indicated that nearly six percent of the Uruguayan population was black, directly contradicting a strong national tendency to underestimate the non-white sector of Uruguay. This sentiment is reflected in a 1998 statement by the Uruguayan Ambassador to the United Nations in Paris, Dr. Miguel Semino, in a meeting about housing justice for minorities. Denying that black families had been evicted during the dictatorship, Dr. Semino said that in any case there were very fewsome 30,000 black people in Uruguay: Black people, actual black people, would be about 30,000 peoplenine-tenths of one percent of the population.If you go to Montevideo, youre not going to find many black people, youre not going to find them. There arent many; we didnt kill them, we didnt expel them, there just arent many, there never were.22 The INE count later forced Semino to publically apologize for what he called a pequeo error.23 On an international level, the Household Survey provided the facts Mundo Afro needed to take action. In 1999 two representatives from the group interrupted a session of UN CERD in Geneva
22 23

Rodriguez, 160. Ibid., 162.


to which the Uruguayan delegation had not invited them, despite the Committees openness to receiving civil society groups at such meetings. Confronting their own diplomats, Romero Rodriguez and Juan Pedro Machado countered the official version of race relations in Uruguay, offering a shadow report they had prepared based on INE statistics and Mundo Afro research. Offering themselves as exhibits that black people did, indeed, exist in Uruguay, Mundo Afro made a formal request for a CERD investigation into racism and discrimination in Uruguay. The results of CERDs investigation, published as Concluding Observations24 by the Special Rapporteur was released in April 2001, exposing racial inequality in Uruguay on an international level for the first time. While the document gave some diplomatic credit to Uruguay for its history of inclusion and long-term achievements in human development, it also found ample evidence that people of color had been systematically excluded from that process. As a result, the de facto social and economic marginalization of the Afro-Uruguayan and indigenous communities has generated discrimination against them. It also chides the state for providing insufficient information about ethnic groups that reside in the territory and expresses particular concern for the situation of women belonging to the Afro-Uruguayan community, who are victims of a double discrimination. Among its final causes for concern are lack of education about human rights and racial discrimination in the school system and the absence of discrimination cases in the court system. In terms of the original CERD Declaration, the committee finds that Uruguay has failed to meet the obligations laid out in Articles 4, 5, and 8 (more on this in the following chapter on international law). In a Suggestions and Recommendations section 21 articles long, the document urged Uruguay to adopt concrete means of protection for people of color in Uruguay. Among its proposals are reparations for dictatorship-era evictions, gender-specific social advancement

United Nations Commission for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD), CERD/C/304/Add.78), 2001.


programs, efforts to ensure equal access to the justice system, and an anti-discrimination school curriculum. Its reference in the first recommendation to redress in the form of affirmative action programs,25 is understood, according to a 2002 UN Commission on Human Rights report on preventing discrimination as a coherent collection of measures of temporary character directed specifically at remedying the situation of the members of the target group on one or various aspects of their social life to catch up with effective equality.26 The Special Rapporteurs report is noteworthy for several reasons. First, it represents a watershed moment in terms of bringing the struggle of Afro-Uruguayans into the global spotlight. For a small minority group in a country with an outsize reputation for progressivism, such international recognition and support must be considered crucial leverage. Second, the use of the phrase de facto to describe marginalization establishes an important distinction between what Uruguays laws call for (de jure equality among men) and the day-to-day reality (de facto marginalization of Afro-Uruguayans). This rhetorical difference is smalljust one wordbut it is a distinction central to any minority rights or anti-discrimination battle. As will be discussed further in the following chapter, in international covenants and treaties on minority rights and racism what matters is the facts on the ground, not the laws on the books. Finally, the recommendation that Uruguays government actively address the problem of racism and discrimination through educational, social, political, and judicial means reinforces the demands that Mundo Afro had been unsuccessfully making for over a decade. Even before the widespread release of the CERDs Concluding Observations, Mundo Afro sent copies of the document to the media for publication, held press conferences, and sent a letter to the Department of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay asking about the measures that would be taken in

UNCERD, Concluding Observations CERD/C/304/Add.78, April 12, 2001. Translated from the original Spanish by the author. 26 United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), Prevencin de la discriminacin, Consejo Econmico y Social, 2002.


response. It also requested interviews with all of the presidential candidates running in the 1999 election, asking them about their position on the CERDs observations.27 Though the report made waves in Uruguay, spawning a flurry of public debate on the previously taboo topic of racism, the repercussions were as short-lived as most campaign promises. The winning candidate, Jorge Batlle (related to Founding Father Jorge Batlle y Ordoez) did make human rights a focus of his administration, but his focus was on prosecuting rights violators of the dictatorship, not ensuring the rights of black Uruguayans. In its last years under Batlle, the congress and senate did pass Law No. 17.817, entitled the Fight Against Racism, Xenophobia, and Discrimination, which declared combatting racism to be in the national interest and called for the establishment of an Honorary Commission against Racism, Xenophobia, and All Other Forms of Discrimination. However, as will be further discussed in Chapter 5, which discusses the existing rights structure for Afro-Descendants, the law has never been invoked in court.28 And the Honorary Commission would take three years to get up and running, officially launching in 2007 under the new Vazquez administration.

Marginalization and Discrimination in Uruguay The Facts Today (2000-2011) Law 17.817 is just one of several improvements in the realm of discrimination and racism made in Uruguay since the UNs critical report on racial inequality. Indeed, in all my interviews, subjects were eager to emphasize that they had managed to implement major changes in the past decadenot least of all simply getting the problem of racism into the national consciousness (and hence onto the government agenda) for the first time. In a country whose response to any talk of racism has long been, Racism is outlawed here, ergo it cannot exist, raising consciousness must be considered a foundational imperative for any progress.


Atsuko Tanaka and Yoshinobu Nagamine, ICERD: A Guide for NGOs, Minority Rights Group International, 2001, 17. Available online: 28 Fabin Muro, Una Cuestin de Piel, El Pas, Dec. 22, 2011. Available online:


Like the Honorary Commission, most of these advances occurred under the Frente Amplia (Broad Front, or FA) administration of Tabar Vzquez (2005-2010). Working closely with Mundo Afro, the leftist president with the indigenous name instituted several new mechanisms for racial equality in the political realm, including a division of the rights of Afro-Descendant women, a working group for Afro-Uruguayan youth, an Afro-Descendants office in the housing ministry, and seven other thematic units. Also in 2005 Uruguay elected its first black congressman, Edgardo Ortuno. Hailing from the heavily black Department (Province) of Artigas, Ortuno has primarily utilized his position to ensure official recognition of Afro-Uruguayan contributions to Uruguayan culture, work that culminated in the establishment of December 3rd as the National Day of Candombe, Afro-Uruguayan Culture, and Racial Equity in 2006. The thirteen Afro-Descendant-related programs established under Vzquez, however, suffered from chronic underfunding and managerial dysfunction,29 and the racial equity portion of the Candombe law has been unilaterally overlooked. While black activists perceive the FA efforts as more than mere appeasement, they do generally criticize that administration for lack of political will in the realm of race relations. As a result of this lack of will, as demonstrated in the underfunding and loose institutionalization of the programs, most of the Afro-Descendant thematic units did not survive the arrival of the new Mujica administration (also from the FA) in 2010. Today, just four government programs dedicated to racial equality and anti-discrimination work remain: offices in the housing and youth ministries, womens institute, and (a new position), an itinerant ambassadorship for Afro-Descendants. Beatriz Ramirez, director of the National Institute of Women (INMUJERES), calls this downward shift an enormous setback. And indeed, for the vast majority of Afro-Uruguayans, little has changed. The de facto social and economic marginalization to which the UNCERD report

Beatriz Ramirez (director of the National Institute for Women) in discussion with the author, Montevideo, March, 2012.


referred remains a powerful reality in the country. According to a 2007 report by Uruguayan researchers on ethnic discrimination, racial inequality has actually gotten worse in the past decade, with the wealth gap between blacks and whites increased from 20 percent to 26 percent. 30 Today, 57 percent of Afro-Uruguayan children live below the poverty line, and black women earn just 72 percent the incomes of their white counterparts for the same job.31 These figures suggest that AfroDescendants were more profoundly affected by Uruguays 2001-2002 profound financial crisis than the majority community, and that while the country as a whole has recovered from that shock, the black community has not. One enduring legacy of the Afro Collectives achievements during the 1990s, and possibly of the CERD Concluding Observations, was the permanent addition of race to the INEs national census. In 2006, ten years after the original INE Household Survey, citizens were asked to identify their ethnicity themselves, a shift in approach that resulted in a huge leap in the official count of AfroUruguayans, from 5.9 percent to 10.2 percent. The increase is incredibly important, not least of all because it indicates that more people self-identify as black than appear as black (a sign that people are proud of and boast their heritage, rather than trying to pass as white). The exact count of the Afro-Uruguayan population will also have implications for any affirmative actions that might be implemented in the future. Derived from data from the 2006 national census, Figure 3.2 illustrates the profound and growing racial inequality in Uruguay today. Figure 3.2. Racial Inequality in Numbers Today

Black 50% 5% 9% 70 White 24% 2% 22% 100 Source: ENHA 2006. *Uses the white average as a base figure of 100.

68% 81%

22% 41%

14% 11%

Mara Eugenia Lima, Los Negros en Uruguay peor que 10 aos atrs, El Pas, Dec. 4, 2008. Available online: Accessed Feb. 23, 2012. 31 Ibid.


Orlando Rivero, a black activist and former Mundo Afro director, paraphrases the data::
African descendants comprise 9.1 percent of the Uruguayan population but 90 percent of the poor and only 0.01 percent of university enrollments, about 100 out of a total student population of 60,000. They are barely 32 represented in the professions or the trades.

Beyond the numbers, anecdotal evidence suggests racism and discrimination is far more widespread and ferocious than most Uruguayans would prefer to believe. Rivero gives as an example the fact that the requirement of submitting a photo with job applications limits AfroDescendants chances for white-collar employment, and questions the justice of black incarceration rates, given that most Afro-Uruguayan defendants cannot afford a lawyer.33 The aforementioned 2007 report on ethnic-racial inequalities describes included interviews with Afro-Uruguayan adults who described discrimination in schools (black children often feel isolated and excluded), housing (black renters prohibited from certain neighborhoods), and even in the Catholic Church (would-be priests rejected based on race). In my interviews, Afro Mundo Director Claudia de los Santos reported that in the first three months of 2012 alone her group has already been inundated with calls about discriminatory actions against Afro-Uruguayans, ranging from racial slurs to race-based violence;34 two particularly disturbing claims, she thinks, have the merits to be considered by the Supreme Court, and Mundo Afro is lobbying for their admittance. Monica Olaza, a sociologist at the University of the Republic in Montevideo, avers that discrimination in Uruguay is not subtle or latent, as people like to say. Its an everyday occurrence, its explicit, its damaging, its often violentits just not talked about.35


Revista Organizaciones Mundo Afro de Uruguay Inter-American Foundation (IAF). 2007. Available online: HO/49eI95Q=&JY=xfw085Yuxag=&L=DRmgN+39oWk=&RMId=OWqQv0boZiU=&AspxAutoDetectCookieSuppor t=1. Accessed Nov. 15, 2011. 33 Ibid. 34 Claudia de los Santos (Coordinator of Mundo Afro), in discussion with the author, Montevideo, March 2012. 35 Monica Olaza (sociologist, Univ. of the Republic), in discussion with the author, Montevideo, March. 22, 2012.


The Nexus Between Class, Identity, Nation and Race Advances in consciousness, empirical data, and anecdotal evidence notwithstanding, as a whole Uruguayan society still fails to acknowledge the problem of racism and discrimination in its ranks. A 2006 survey by the Montevideo Observatory for Social Inclusion found that while 44 percent of Montevideanos do believe that the country is somewhat or very racist more than half (55 percent) responded that it is very little or not at all racist. iv Breaking the respondents down by class revealed, surprisingly, that those who do recognize racism are by and large upper classof the highest stratum of society, only nine percent denied the discrimination problem. Among respondents of the lowest socio-economic class, howevera group comprised of 90% AfroUruguayansa full 22% denied the existence of racism in the country.36 This profound lack of consensus on the issue of discrimination is partially attributable to sheer unwillingness to acknowledge racism with Uruguayan borders: the were all Uruguayan, were all the same mentality runs deep there; it is authentically held, says Beatriz Ramirez. Unlike in the United States and South Africa, where racial segregation was incredibly self-aware, being both created and reinforced by law, Uruguays race relations developed more organically over time since slaverys enda product of lack of action, rather than of action. There are differences between Anglo-Saxon racism and Ibero-American racism,37 said Ramirez in a recent newspaper interview, contrasting the institutional or structural nature of the former with the cultural nature of the latter. In post-abolition Uruguay, authority figures never spent time thinking about, talking about, or enacting policies regarding people of color, a silence that allowed the notion of egalitarianism to


Alicia Saura. El derecho humano a la no discriminacin. Una aproximacin a la situacin de los y las afrodescendientes (published by the Law School of the University of the Republic Grupo de Derecho y Genero, no date), 9. Available online: 37 Cuestin de Piel


thrive; but that same lack of dialogue about race, slavery, apartheid, and discrimination created a situation in which Uruguayans lack awareness of [their] own cultural diversity.38 In addition to dearly held cultural beliefs in the equality of all Uruguayans, the countrys failure to confront racial inequality also reflects its roots as a Marx-inspired social democracy. In Uruguay, as in nations across Latin America, societal divisions have long been characterized in terms of class, rather than race. Struggles are defined as the proletariat against the elite, the working class versus the richnever, as in the United States (where talking about race is common, but talking about class is incendiary), as black against white. When Jose Batlle y Ordoez enacted sweeping social reforms to create his model country, his vision was a nation without meaningful class distinctions. He created a welfare state aimed at closing the wealth gap between the Spanish elite and the immigrant working class and created government subsidies that connected laborers to the means of production. Closing the race gap by helping people of color become small business owners or enforcing their union membership rights was never conceived as part of the plan. Leaders in the Afro Collectivity sometimes refer to the Marxism dilemma inherent in problematizing race. The current Mujica government was elected on a platform of eliminating extreme poverty in Uruguay, but as Orlando Rivero, a left-leaning activist, has pointed out, The core of Uruguayan poverty is black. If you dont deal with race in combating poverty, you may alleviate some light poverty, but youll never get at the indigents, who are Afro-Uruguayan. So the government is in fact setting itself up to fail.39 Race and class are, of course, bundledin Uruguay as in the United States, Europe, or South Africaso any smart analysis must consider both factors, both in connection with and independent of one another as pertinent. Beatriz Ramirez, the director of INMUJERES, summarized the Marxism dilemma this way: [The Frente Amplia] talks about

38 39

Ibd. Orlando Rivero (activist and founder of Agrupacin "Salvador Beterbide), in conversation with the author, Montevideo, March 2012.


implementing programs targeted at vulnerable populations, but to do that you must identify who those groups, plural, areand what each of them needs.40 A recent scandal involving a Uruguayan soccer player has brought some of these tensions to the surface. In February 2012, the Uruguayan futbolista Luis Suarez, who plays for Manchester United, employed racial slurs to insult a black French player, Patrice Evra, on the field. The Suarez incident, as it has come to be known, has sparked an international debate, with the former British Ambassador to Uruguay, George Gallaway, calling Uruguay the most racist country in the world and the majority of Uruguayans reflexively defending their compatriot and themselves against such accusations. Afro Collectivity organizers have pointed out that, however dubious the moral credentials of an English politician may be for making pronouncements on racism in other countries, the knee-jerk reaction of Uruguayans reveals its white citizens unwillingness to reflect on the issue of racism. Its one thing to pretend racism doesnt exist when you dont see it, says Rivero, but its quite another to minimize it when it has obviously reared its ugly head, as in the Suarez incident.41 Still, as Ramirez noted in the same article, it is not as simple as just saying Uruguay is racist. Whenever examining the problems of a nation to which the researcher does not belong, it is crucial to seek to understand the particularities of that context, rather than simply apply ones own interpretation onto another culture. Comparing race relations across cultures is a tricky (and possibly unwise) businessand in dealing with Uruguay, everyone from the venerable American integrationist Ellen Irene Diggs (who blamed the victims) to the British ambassador George Gallaway (who ignored the nuances) have fallen prey to the pitfalls of ethnocentrism. In an attempt to avoid committing these same errors, I have spent the past two chapters examining the history, national


Beatriz Ramirez (director of INMUJERES), in conversation with the author, Montevideo, Uruguay, March 2012. 41 Ibid.


identity, and cultural context of Uruguay and conveying the perspectives of the activist black leaders who have spent the past two decades fighting for their rights. It is also important to appreciate the factors lying behind both Uruguayan discrimination and behind its citizenrys peculiar inability to comprehend subjectivity, because these gray areas influence the Afro Collectivitys demands. They also complicate matters when attempting to apply the black-and-white texts of international law. Under international law, national ethnic minorities and marginalized peoples are protected on several grounds. The next chapter will explore these various international protections, asking the question, what rights can and should Afro-Uruguayans claim, and how should their demands be framed? In examining these two questions, a clearer picture of how racial justiceone version of it, at leastmight begin to take root in Uruguay emerges.

Black newspapers and magazines such as Accion, La Conservacion, and Nuestra Raza give accounts of black th life in the early-to-mid 20 century in which the employment of the subjects of articles is often mentioned. ii The exact number of evicted citizens varies from source to source but the number of captives in the Martinez Reina factory seems certain. Cf, Romero Rodrguez, Por igualdad en la diversidad: discriminacin racial en Uruguay (presentation, Conference on Igualdad en la diversidad. Derechos de las mujeres, discriminacin racial y orientaciones sexuales en la construccin de una sociedad democrtica, Montevideo, Uruguay, May 2004). Available online: iii While the theme of gender and race in Uruguay is not one that this paper will cover, it is an area well worth studying. Black women are the most disadvantaged group in Uruguayan society, and the Afro Collective is led by female activistsa leadership that has taken pains to influence policy specifically as it pertains to gender equality, children, and housing. iv Authors of the study define social exclusion as when two factors combine: belonging to a group, and this group exerts a considerable influence on what access the individual has to opportunity; and 2) the social interactions that occur between groups between which there is found a relationship of domination/subordination.



Introduction Beyond Non-Differentiation From the beginnings of the modern Afro Collectivitys organization and movement in the 1930s, the struggle has followed the doctrine of non-discrimination or non-differentiation. This is true on both a social level (rather than pursue a separate ethnic space, Uruguayan Afro-descendants have, by and large, favored full and authentic integration) and in the legal sphere (they want to enjoy their constitutional rights as Uruguayans, not achieve special rights as people of color). This chapter will argue, however, that while Afro-Uruguayans may be an internally colonized people seeking, for the most part, to become an integral component of mainstream society,1 the non-differentiation approach is simply not extreme or radical enough to achieve that goal. With an equality for all focus, it does not bring race to the fore as the root cause of black poverty, marginalization, and discrimination. It allows Uruguayan society to continue to avoid confronting the implications of its own diversity and resist expanding its national identity beyond European-ness. Because this national reckoning must necessarily occur for authentic equality to be established, this chapter will conclude that something beyond non-discriminationsome form of collective rights that stops just short of minority rightsis the best framing of the Afro-Uruguayan cause.

The International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Individual Rights The non-differentiation approach of the Afro Collectivity has a powerful historical logic consistent with the hyper-integrationist tradition of Uruguay. It also reflects United Nations trends that,

Lewis, 8.


beginning with the anti-racism Durban Conference in 2001, and continuing more or less to today, promotes equal opportunity for allregardless of race or ethnicity. Many mechanisms exist to enforce the message of egalitarianism, including: the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD, 1965), the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1942), the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (2001), and other documents both binding and non-binding. Figure 4.1. Uruguay Without Racism. Mundo Afro Sticker.2

CERD in particular has played an important role in the Afro Collectivitys struggle for rights and recognition: it is the Committee that the Mundo Afro representatives reached out to in 1999, and it was CERD that shined an international spotlight on Uruguays race gap for the first time in its

Courtesy of Mundo Afro. 2011 International Year of Afro-Descendants.


2002 Concluding Observations. Since then, the Committee has revisited the issue in Uruguay every several years, each time creating a stir with its Concluding Observations strong indictments of the governments failure to take effective action. The groups most recent Observations3 to Uruguay, published in 2011, acknowledges the strides made in establishing the various national offices, thematic units, and commissions to fight racism, but chastises the country for having made insufficient progress on the most of its recommendations from 2001 and 2006. Among its laundry list of causes for concern the document names such familiar issues as: unreliable and limited statistics on race and ethnicity; the apparent impotence and insufficiency of the anti-discrimination law, 17.817; the focus on alleviating poverty without accounting for race; the delay in implementing a National Plan against Racism and Discrimination (many years on-and-off in the legislative process); the insufficiency of existing antidiscrimination public programs; continued job and housing discrimination; the failure to adopt affirmative actions; and lack of information about racial discrimination complaints. The thrust of the CERDs observations may be best described in paragraph 14: The Committee is concerned that, despite the fact that the State party has adopted some measures, Afro-Descendants continue being victims of inequality [italics mine]. Note the phrasing there. The committee does not take issue with Uruguays inaction on the issue of inequalityfrom the creation of no fewer than thirteen government offices concerned with Afro-Descendant issues and the passage of an anti-discrimination law to the inclusion of race on the national census, Uruguay has basically followed the letter of the law. Rather, CERD objects that the countrys adherence to its recommendations have not incited the desired effects. Implemented reluctantly in response to domestic and international pressure, Uruguays anti-discrimination

UNCERD, Concluding Observations, Uruguay, April 8, 2011. Translation from the Spanish by the author.


programs have lacked funding, managerial know-how, political will, and institutionalization. So racism and inequality remain entrenched (as revealed manifestly by the Surez Incident). For the engaged observer of the Afro-Descendant rights struggle, this 2011 CERD reportso similar in content yet so different in tone (where the 2001 document was encouraging and matterof-fact, the 2011 version takes a tough, frustrated stance)cannot but call into question the efficacy of framing the Afro-Uruguayan struggle as a non-discrimination issue. Its possible that in a country with a history less tied to white supremacy and a government more passionately devoted to incorporating its most marginalized citizens, anti-discrimination measures would result in the formation of one united, equal, multiracial populace. In Uruguay, its also possible that nondiscrimination measures of the sort CERD and Mundo Afro have advocated in the past decade are the first, essential step in advancing the Afro Collectivity. But the question remains: it may be necessary, but is it sufficient? Figure 4.2. Anti-Racism Sticker by Mundo Afro (2011)4

Myths and Failures of Non-Differentiation, Past and Present The answer lies in Uruguays history. In its collective consciousness, Uruguay is well aware of its historic ability to incorporate diverse sectors of society, a narrative that makes it seem as if the path to full citizenship for Afro-Descendants is wide open. But this interpretation of inclusion fails to

Courtesy of Mundo Afro. Color doesnt say who we are; racism does.


account for the considerable aid given to immigrants to propel them into the middle class. As discussed in the previous chapter, President Batlle y Ordoez passed copious legislation directly aimed at improving working-class quality of life, made frequent proclamations condemning the wealth gap in Uruguay, and gave subsidies, low-interest loans, and government contracts to Italianrun start-ups. He created a European-style, middle-class social democracy from an unstable, aristocratic-ruled collection of indigent workers through sheer force of will, domination of the public discourse, and the strategic use of what ultimately amounts to affirmative actions for recently arrived European immigrants. Descendants of African slaves, on the other hand, began their free American history a century and a half ago as former slavesa social sector considerably lower than that of even the poorest European immigrants. Yet as a group, Afro-Uruguayans have never received reparations or subventions to help elevate them from that condition of deprivation. Revisiting history with an eye on how government favors have been doled out raises the question of whether the CERD recommendations could ever accomplish what the Afro Collective needs. Uruguayan nation-building has been a process of favoring certain groups over time: even before the Italians got their leg-up from Batlle y Ordoez, Spanish residents enjoyed benefits remaining from their colonial era privileges. So while CERD does suggest certain (temporary) affirmative action measures, its fundamental assumption is that if Uruguay would only enforce individual rights (in housing, in jobs, in poverty alleviation, etc.), the effective equality of all Uruguayan citizens would be ensured. This stance ignores that white Uruguayan society got to where it is today not despite but because of the governments preferential treatment for various groups over history. And it denies the Afro Collectivity the right to accrue that same governmentsponsored cultural and financial capital needed for success. History also matters because it places in context how the Afro-Uruguayan historic experience has shaped its present political stance. In his work on remedying past injustices in


multicultural societies, the political scientist Bashir Bashir asserts that there is something artificial about talking about diversity or pluralism in abstraction from historical injustices and the demands they give rise to.5 Long-standing common experiences of oppression, he argues, create a set of distinctive claims that go beyond mere recognition of cultures, values, and languages; to remedy past injustice, societies must transcend the postulation of abstract egalitarian principles of deliberation and justice. To be sure, overcoming the historical oppression of social groups in a democratic society is not easy; it raises profound challenges for the project of inclusion.6 Nonetheless, some of the countrys most experienced Afro leaders today exhibit a growing frustration with the recognition and accommodation approach, both as a way of working for change and in terms of the demands it produces. They point out that, as the 2011 CERD report makes clear, while the government has indeed made some strides as a result of the blood, sweat, and tears of domestic activists, change has come snail-slow and been implemented small-scale.7 As Audre Lorde has famously pronounced, when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy, it means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.8 This basic fact alone suggests that a paradigm shift more dramatic than non-differentiation can accomplish might be necessary in Uruguayan society. As Orlando Rivero, the leftist activist, has bluntly said, Certain organizations have decided its preferable to be the governments negros buenos, than to agitate as outsiders. For me, that doesnt work.9

5 6

Bashir, 55. Ibid., 54. 7 Conclusion based on the authors interviews with Beatriz Ramirez and Orlando Rivero. 8 Audre Lorde. Sister Outsider, (New York: The Crossing Press, 1984). Available online: 9 Orlando Rivero (activist) in discussion with the author, Montevideo, Uruguay, March 2012.


The increasingly paralyzing divergence of opinions within the Afro Collectivity to which Rivero was referring represents an additional drawback of the non-differentiation approach. Beatriz Ramirez of INMUJERES lamented that there are factions and fractures within the Afro community itself that have impeded us from forming what I would call a movement, which have resulted from conflicting opinions over whether the best approach is to work with or against the government. The lack of unity is an issue not just among activists: in the recent Surez Incident, even black members of the government were among those inclined to downplay the racism element.10 This surprising datum recalls the 2007 report that revealed that many Afro-Uruguayans themselves were among those who responded that Uruguay is very little or not at all racist. While the finer points of movement-building are beyond the scope of this paper, it is worth noting the possibility that the integration-egalitarian approach has underemphasized group identity at the cost of community cohesion and pridedespite the fact that over the past decade Afro-Uruguayans have become increasingly willing to identify as black. The underwhelming group affiliation in Uruguay may indicate a need for a tack that focuses more heavily on reestablishing a united front as a community of color vis--vis the white mainstream.

Accounting for Historic Injustice with Minority Rights This background leads to one indisputable truth, which is that it is crucial to account for historic injustice in responding to the claims of an oppressed social group. And for all its positive attributes, the future-looking philosophy of non-discrimination does not address the past in a meaningful way. Fortunately, international law has, in recent decades, come to acknowledge the centrality of the past in multicultural societies; and the United Nations system today consists of many overlapping multi-lateral, regional, and global conventions, treaties, and declarations pertaining to a wide variety

Beatriz Ramirez (director of the National Institute for Women) in discussion with the author, Montevideo, Uruguay, March 2012.


of rights areas in which not just individuals but also certain communities (such as women, people of color, religious minorities, and indigenous people) may receive particular protections. In the modern group-rights approach, traditionally excluded groups are not required to set aside their memories of oppression to enter the political process as undifferentiated citizens. Rather, based on the assumption that certain identities somehow affect the way in which we engage in and with the democratic system, minority groups are empowered to visibly brandishing their unique experiences. For categories of people that are discriminated against or separated from the majority because of ethnicity, race, language, or religion, this collective approach is embodied by the theory of minority rights. Supplementing traditional human rights with special rights for certain groups raises concerns: the tenets of minority rights could be invoked by racists or bigots as a rationale for separate but equal, or used to suppress dissenters within the minority, among other possible abuses.11 But many scholars in political theory and international law, as well as the United Nations system as a whole, have concluded that a comprehensive theory of justice in a multicultural state should include both universal rights as well as unique privileges and status for its minority cultures. Several factors suggest that recognizing minority rights in some modified form would be a viable and effective option for Afro-Uruguayans. First, non-differentiation policies have proven insufficiently able to account for history; under the minority-rights regime, reckoning with historic injustices is part and parcel of the process of constructing a more inclusive democratic system. Second, bringing issues of historic injustice and their present-day ramifications to the table as a minority-rights claim might facilitate the Afro-Uruguayan community in reinforcing and voicing its own collective memory in order to challenge the hegemonic national account.12 In this context of voicing alternative truths, the differences of opinion among members of the Afro Collectivity, which

Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship: A liberal theory of minority rights. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 6. 12 Ibid.


are to be expected among any group of people, become simply variant narratives within a recognized communitynot fissures that threaten to disintegrate that community. Finally, this shift would bring Uruguay in line with other Western democracies that have, in the past forty years, moved from assimilationist models of national citizenship that exclude minorities toward multiculturalist policies that recognize diversity.13 Given the countrys historical preference for being in the vanguard in terms of inclusionary practices, framing the implementation of minority rights as a logical next step in Uruguayan progressiveness could have actually have broader social appeal than affirmative actions, which may bear negative and retrograde connotations. Despite the above rationale, the case for minority rights for Afro-Uruguayans is not at all clear-cut. As politically advantageous as it might be for Uruguays black citizens to declare, as AfroDescendants are beginning to do across the Americas, Were Afro, were a group with a unique history, and we must be recognized as such, the international legal outcomes of a collectivist stance may not be precisely what the community needs, either. As the following chapter will discuss, minority rights as traditionally conceived include a number of entitlements that AfroUruguayans have little use for, from territorial sovereignty to the right to speak ones own language. This leaves Afro-Uruguayans in an awkward gray area of international law. Like Goldilocks testing out her bowls of soup, Afro-Uruguayan organizers are beginning to taste how cold nondifferentiation is, but they may find minority rights too hot. As Chapter 5 digs into the legal details of minority privileges in international law, readers should consider what this regime might look like for Afro-Descendantsand question whether traditional group rights would help bring multicultural justice to Uruguay.


Bashir, 48.



Introduction A Minority Rights Primer The protection of minorities under international law is a recent phenomenon. Forged in the 1990s in response to widespread cultural and political repression of ethnic communities by empowered majorities, the contemporary minority-rights regime represents a late-20th century recognition by international law that the liberal tradition of individual rights on which the human rights regime is based may not have adequately protected certain groups embodying very specific vulnerabilities (women, indigenous peoples, children, etc.). In the realm of abstract principles, the minority rights regime also reflects the United Nations belief that societies flourish when all voices are heard, all opinions are considered, and all citizens participate.1 While these convictions may seem easy to like (few nations take public stands against inclusion, equity, and diversity), minority rights was and is a controversial theme in international law. Indeed, to this day even the concept of what makes a minority remains contested, and the international community has failed to agree upon a single definition of the term. This lack of consensus speaks to not only the divergent interests of UN member states in terms of minority rights but also to the inherent variety within minority groups state of affairs. Some live together, segregated in well-defined areas, while others are scattered throughout the country; some minorities have a strong sense of collective identity, while other groups retain only a fragmented notion of their common heritage.2 Some communities are organized and relatively powerful; others

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), Minority Rights webpage. Available online: Accessed Feb. 25, 2012. 2 Ibid.


are brutally oppressed. The array of social circumstances and political implications surrounding the recognition of specific rights for certain groups has made any single definition controversial. When a minorities amendment was proposed for inclusion in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, for example, it was fatally vetoed by both Latin American and US representatives, who claimed that minorities per se did not exist in their diverse, immigrant-rich countries.3 The New Worlds melting-pot argument trumped the Old Worlds support for defining minority rights, and the UDHR went to press without any references to minorities. Instead the UNs charter document takes a liberal approach, establishing the principles of non-discrimination and non-distinction, protections that ensure equality for all people, including members of minority groups.4 The minorities question arose again some decades later in the drafting of the International Covenant on Cultural and Political Rights (ICCPR). By the 1970s the collective tide had begun turning in favor of delimiting certain rights for specific subsets of people such as women and children, yet regional positions on the issue remained largely unchanged. In his excellent history on the ICCPRs minority provision, Article 27, Patrick Thornberry reveals that Latin American states again figured among the strongest opponents of the article, while the states of Eastern Europe and the USSR unanimously championed the proposed amendment. Latin Americans purported concerns ran the gamut. As states of immigration, Uruguay and Chile feared that such an amendment could be interpreted by settlers as permission to form within that State separate communities which might impair its national unity or its security.5 Additionally, they argued, given the melting-pot nature of their young, diverse societies, the concept of a minority as formulated by the ICCPR represented an exclusively Old World concern. Brazil

3 4

Patrick Thornberry, International Law and the Rights of Minorities (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 133. Ibid. 5 Ibid., 135-136


supported Uruguay and Chile, contending that to be defined as a minority a group of people must have been transferred en bloc, without a chance to express their will freely, to a State with a population most of whom differed from them in race, language, or religion. Eventually, the opposing statesincluding staunch opponent Uruguaysigned and ratified the Convention, without reservations. Despite this hard-forged agreement (or perhaps because of it) Article 27 bestows a host of rights to minorities without ever specifying who they are: In those States in which ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language. So just who or what is an ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority? Currently, various definitions exist across the globe. Some documents, the ICCPR among them, refer to members of or persons belonging to minority groupsa phrasing that privileges the individualwhile others refer groups of minorities. Some framings are narrow, requiring minority communities to be distinct from the majority in numerous characteristics (race, religion, language, culture, etc.) to be recognized as such; other, broader, definitions may understand as a minority any community that differs from the majority in just two characteristics, one of which is number (i.e., they represent less than half the population). In European parlance, for example, the term dart is national minoritiesa categorization that accounts for Roma or communities displaced during World War II, while excluding more recent immigrants. The pervasive ambiguity about the meaning of minority has a positive and negative side. On the one hand, it creates flexibility, allowing for activists within a minority community to argue for minority status, even if that group does not share all of the characteristics one might instinctively associate with the term. On the other hand, agreeing on definitions is crucial to any legal analysis of minority rights. This issue has been addressed, if not resolved, with the general acceptance of the


so-called Caportorti definition. Developed in 1979 by former Special Rapporteur of the United Nations, Francesco Caportorti, in direct relation to the ICCPR, this commonly-held conception of minority is: a group which is numerically inferior to the rest of the population of a state and in a non-dominant position, whose members possess ethnic, religious, or linguistic characteristics which differ from those of the rest of the population, and who if only implicitly, maintain a sense of solidarity directed towards preserving their culture, traditions, religion, or language. Broadly conceived and intentionally inclusive, this definition captures both the subjective aspects (sense of identity as a minority) and objective characteristics (ethnic, religious, linguistic differences) of the group. Groups that might fit under the Caportorti umbrella include everyone from communities of freshly arrived immigrants to indigenous peoples who inhabited their land well centuries before the dominant group came. Clearly, under this definition, Afro-Uruguayansindeed, Afro-Latinos writ largewould be counted as minority communities.

Latin America and Its Invisible Minorities Its worth taking a quick aside to discuss the silence around indigenous tribes and Afro-descendants that permeates Latin American discussions surrounding the UDHR minorities amendment and the ICCPRs Article 27. Arguing against the amendments, Latin American representatives, in both sets of negotiations, separated by 20 years, failed to mention either of what would seem to be obviously minority-identified communities in their arguments against the amendments. In both 1948 and 1966, Chile and Uruguay expressed concern about the potential divisiveness of minority rights in their nations, comprised as they were of immigrants from across Europe. Regarding the ICCPR, Panama and Brazil, both heavily black countries ruled by white minorities, used the melting-pot reasoning for why Article 27 did not, strictly speaking, concern them.6

Ibid., 154-155.


Paradoxically, though, the integrationist claimsthat immigrant nations such as the U.S. and Brazil, comprised of voluntary migrants, contained no minoritiesproved just the opposite. For are Afro-Latinos not the descendants of a group of peopletransferred en bloc, [forcibly], to a State with a population [that] differed from them in race, language, or religion?7 And what of the indigenous peoples that inhabited the South American continent prior to colonization? Certainly they must be recognized as something other than voluntary European immigrants of the sort Chile and Uruguay so emphatically claim. Somehow, in declaring the nonexistence of minority groups in the Americas, the regions leaders in fact clearly delineate exactly what minority there does look like: descendants of slaves, and indigenous peoples. The representatives blindness to this contradiction is indicative of the level of invisibility of people of color and the calcification of the colonial caste system in Latin American society in that era. And it is precisely this type of lacuna regarding issues of race in discussions of ethnicity that makes the struggle of Uruguays Afro Collectivity so trying today: the only approach for progress so far made available to them has been that of egalitarianism and assimilation. While many other countries in the we have no minorities cohort from 1948 and 1966 have since confronted the issue of race (Brazilian universities now use affirmative action, indigenous sovereignty is enshrined in Ecuadors new constitution, and the U.S. worked was rocked by the Civil Rights Movement), Uruguay has not lost its supposed color-blindness. Indeed, it was just a decade ago that its representative to the United Nations stood in front of his colleagues in Paris declared Uruguay to be 99.1 percent white, adding, If you go to Montevideo, you wont see many black people.

Minority Rights and Protections (Where) Do Afro-Uruguayans Fit In? One distinct advantage of approaching the Afro-Descendant movement as minority-rights issue is that it directly responds to the Uruguayan aversion to discussing race. For a modern society to



effectively accommodate historically oppressed groups, according to Bashir, it must engage in a politics of reconciliation that captures three fundamental issues: confronting the past, acknowledging injustices, and taking responsibility and apologizing for causing these injustices.8 If this is true, then shifting the focus of the discourse about the Afro Collectivity from one of poverty to one of race-based exclusion is the only way to achieve the kind of full social reconciliation to which Bashir refers. It could fundamentally alter the way the Afro Collectivity interacts with the government (not as plaintiffs but as rights-claimers), up the ante for demands (reparations, apology), and, most importantly to this analysis, intensify the Uruguayan governments obligations to its minority community under international law. Waging a minority-rights campaign is not a straightforward challenge. In the realm of international law, just as minorities are defined differently in each document that refers to them, so too are the protections provided them, which range from nominal (right to enjoy their own culture) to robust (quotas in congress). The level of compulsion implicit in each text also differs. Treaties and conventions are signed and ratified by states, making them bindingthat is, they represent international law. Other documents, such as declarations and comments, reflect little more than aspirations and ideals (though they may carry moral or political weight that would induce upstanding members of the international community to abide by them). Finally, on a domestic level, the various political structures onto which minority-rights policies must be fused will have greater or lesser capacities to incorporate and institutionalize those requirements. Then there is the equally complex question of how to define just what minority rights are. Because the matter is so broadly conceived and contextually sensitive, the characterization of minority rights varies dramatically from case to case and country to country. Throughout time majority and minority communities have clashed over such diverse issues as language rights,

Bashir, 49-50.


regional autonomy, political representation, educational curriculum, land claims, and many others.9 In the final analysis, most minority-rights struggles will involve a bundle of rights and privileges that are derived from various legal texts (both UN-based and national), which address the particular communitys unique historic experience (genocide, expulsion, exclusion), and which comply with the societys notion of a just and workable solution. As such, each struggle plays out in its own way. The demands of the Turkish minority in Germany and the Travellers minority in Ireland, for example, would likely share little other than the underlying assumption that non-majority groups deserve collective rights. Yet both would be minority-rights cases. It seems likely that an Afro-Uruguayan claim for minority rights would look markedly different than what either of the two aforementioned groups might demand, given that Afro-Descendants speak the same language, live in the same territory, and practice the same religion as their white counterparts. Of course, the community itself that will ultimately determine the groups claims, should the Afro Collectivity officially pursue a minority-rights policy. Interviews with movement leaders indicate that these demands might range from simple responsibility-taking and apology to institutionalized preferential treatment to a reconceived constitution that enshrines multiculturalism. It is not the purpose of this paper to influence or take part in that decision-making process. Rather, this section will simply determine whether Afro-Uruguayans can, indeed, make a minority-rights claim under international law, and then outline one possible that process might take. The first step, then, is to decide which international legal instruments apply to the AfroUruguayan context. Is Uruguay party to treaties or conventions that would oblige the government to take certain measures to advance the economic, political, cultural, and social circumstance of

Will Kymlicka, Multicultural citizenship: A liberal theory of minority rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). Chapters 1-2.


Afro-Uruguayansnot simply because they are Uruguayans but specifically because they are African descendants? If so, how might the terms of these international agreements influence or aid the Afro Collectivity in its struggle for equality? The following section undertakes an admittedly lengthy but necessary review of all the international documents pertaining to minorities, highlighting the various provisions of each that would (or would not) prove useful in advancing the Afro-Uruguayan cause.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 27 (1979) and General Comment 23 (1994) The starting point for any discussion of minority rights is Article 27 of 1979s International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ICCPR). While the foundation laid here is a shallow one, Article 27 created the basis for what would decades later grow into the minority-rights regime, and it remains the baseline to which Uruguay, as a signatory, would most certainly be held. It reads: persons belonging tominorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language [emphasis mine]. Structured in passive voice and intended for the individual (rather than group), Article 27 is limited in power and scope. Rather than imply certain positive obligations for action upon states, Article 27 frames the rights of minorities in the negative, prohibiting governments from impinging on some very basic entitlements of the members of minority groups. As such, it has little to offer the Afro-Uruguayan case, in which rights denial is not so much the problem as rights attainment. Article 27 could have been useful to Afro-Uruguayans to protest the cultural repression of the dictatorship years (and indeed, it existed thennot that the military junta cared), the communitys modern-day struggles are economic marginalization, discrimination in hiring and housing, and social exclusion, among others. To remedy such inequities requires proactivity on the part of the government, meaning that rights must be framed in a positive manner.


Indeed, the protections of Article 27 are so weak as to render it unusable today for many minority groups, a failing that lead the UNs Human Rights Committee to revisit it in a 1994 General Comment on the Article. Taking a more liberal approach to the ICCPRs minority-rights statute, the groupwhich is tasked with periodically interpreting UN human rights provisionsheld in General Comment 23 that states are in fact required to work proactively to ensure rights of minorities: [Article 27] does recognize the existence of a right and requires that it shall not be denied. Consequently, a State party is under an obligation to ensure that the existence and the exercise of this right are protected against their denial or violation. Positive measures of protection are, therefore, required not only against the acts of the State party itself, whether through its legislative, judicial, or administrative authorities, but also against the acts of other persons within the State party [emphasis mine].10

The General Comment institutes two important changes to Article 27s interpretation. First, the transition from passive voice (shall not be denied) to active (obligation to ensure) implies a shift from negative rights to positive. Second, the Comment broadens Article 27 to account for not just public but also private actsthat is, not just discriminatory behavior by the state but any behavior by citizens that violates minority rights is prohibited. In sum, according to the HRC General Comment, any state party to the ICCPR is responsible for rooting out racism and discrimination against its minorities wherever it resides, whether in churches, living rooms, universities, or congressional sessions. The HRC Comment also contains a crucial nod to group rights. Although the rights protected under article 27 are individual rights, reads paragraph 6.2, they depend in turn on the ability of the minority group to maintain its culture, language or religion. Accordingly, positive measures by States may also be necessary to protect the identity of a minority.11 In other words,

10 11

Human Rights Council (HRC) General Comment on ICCPR Article 27, 6.1 (1994). Ibid., 6.2.


the result of protecting members of groups must be that the community itself survives and thrives, thus enriching the fabric of society as a whole.

While the HRC Comment is neither treaty nor convention, and as such is technically nonbinding, tradition and political pressure dictate that its interpretation be taken seriously by States party to the ICCPR.12 These, of course, include Uruguaywhich turns Article 27 into a powerful political instrument of protection for Afro-Uruguayans. Unlike the ICCPRs minimal original mandates, the aggressively positive and broad-reaching obligations emerging from General Comment 23 are enormously relevant to the situation of Afro-Uruguayans today. In order to comply with Article 27 as it is currently interpreted, the Uruguayan government would be required to take immediate action to ensure both the continued development and authentic equality of its Afrodescendientes.

Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National, Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992)

The 1990s were an active time for minority rights in the international community, perhaps as a result of minority-related conflicts in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, or perhaps in keeping with a widespread deliberative turn13 away from majoritarian-rule attitudes in democratic theory. The cumbrously named Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National, Ethnic, Religious, and Linguistic Minorities, heretofore called the Minorities Declaration, is the only UN text devoted exclusively to minority issues. While it professes to being inspired by the ICCPRs Article 27, the Declaration reveals a significant change in perspective by the international community, defining


Hurst Hannum, Nationalism, Sovereignty, and Minority Rights (in-class lectures, the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, MA, Sept. - Dec., 2011). 13 Bashir, 60.


minority rights broadly, expressing state obligations positively, and actually celebrating multiculturalism. Using the category of national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic minorities, the Declaration entitles such a group to the standard set of rights (effective participation in cultural, religious, social, economic and public life, the right to enjoy their culture, and the right to establish associations). But it surpasses the HR Comment on Article 27 in terms of the obligations it sets upon states: according to the Minorities Declaration, governments are required to protect the existence and identity of their minority groups and to ensure that they may fully and effectively exercise all their human rights and fundamental freedoms, without discrimination. The follow-up to that directive tasks states with taking appropriate measures to achieve these ends. On a practical level, these include actions to ensure that: minorities participate fully in economic progress and development; minority history is included in educational curricula; and national policies and programs are planned and implemented with due regard for the legitimate interests of minorities. Here appropriate measures is a vague phrase (presumably intentionally so), open to interpretation, and might be understood to include everything from instituting affirmative action and implementing a political quota system to creating new governmental bodies focused specifically on minority rights. In addition, the Declaration solidifies that state action (or inaction) in the realm of minority rights is subject to international oversight. Article 9, the Right to International Assistance, specifies that: The specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system shall contribute to the full realization of the rights and principles set forth in the present Declaration, within their respective fields of competence. Unlike treaties or conventions, UN declarations are non-binding. Like the HRC General Comments, they announce intent, but entail neither signatures nor ratification. As such, the


Minorities Declaration is non-binding; in fact it is less so than the General Comments, which are derived from Conventions signed and ratified by state parties. For rights-claiming Afro-Uruguayans, then, the document is relatively powerless, though its reiteration of minority rights as positive rights certainly helps reinforce that interpretation (with each reinforcement, an opinion comes closer to becoming tradition or precedent). The Minorities Declarations most valuable contribution is in the UNs commitment to assistance. Article 9 provides international support that, depending on its application, might translate into anything from pressure on the Uruguayan government from such organizations as the Minorities Working Group or the Human Rights Council to public backing for Afrodescendiente appeals or protests.

Lund Recommendations on Effective Participation of Minorities(1999) In 1999 Europes High Commission on National Minorities (HCNM) issued the Lund Recommendations on Effective Participation of Minorities. The result of a conference on integrating diversity, this 31-page document elaborated on the much-discussed, little-detailed notion of the political rights of minority groups. Most importantly, it outlined exactly what special arrangements to ensure those rights might include. According to the HCNM these arrangements, more commonly known as affirmative actions, might include: ensuring equitable voting systems (they must be arranged such that minorities have influence);creating advisory and consultative bodies; reserving a number of spots in parliament, cabinet, courts, and other high-level organs; issuing executive directives requiring that minority interests are considered within relevant ministries; and the provision of public services in the language of the national minority. Inspired from the Yugoslavia experience and technically aimed only at IJCE member states, the Recommendations have no direct applicability to the Afro-Uruguayan case. Yet, as the first international document that goes into great detail about what ensuring effective participationa notion invoked but not defined in both the Article 27 General Comment and the Minorities


Declarationthe Lund Recommendations actually offer a valuable contribution. Ensuring effective participation is one of the Uruguayan states obligations according the HRC Comment on Article 27; the Lund Recommendations can and should be employed as guidelines on how to undertake that process.

Council of Europes Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities(1995) The final item in our review of international documents regarding minority rights is the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, signed in 1995 by 22 member states of the Council of Europe. Again, it is a Europe-specific texta distinction noticeable in its usage of the label national minorities, a European term of art herein defined as residents and citizens with longstanding ties, distinct characteristics, minority in number, and a concern to protect their community identity.14 Broad but vague, this framing of minorities is as notable for what it excludes (race, ethnicity, and language) as for what it implicitly includes (a territorial identity); it is clearly built around the characteristics of minorities like the Roma and long-standing ethnic enclaves in Eastern Europe. For the Afro-Uruguayan case, it is lamentable that the Framework Convention does not hold in the Americas. For one, its provisions are more robust provisions than those of the ICCPR and Minorities Declaration. The EU doesnt just require non-discrimination, for exampleit specifies that formal equality is not enough: states must promote equality, ensuring that participation of minorities is full and effective, and taking special measures if necessary. Further, it prohibits governmental tactics heretofore unrecognized as diminishing the impact of minorities in national politics: forced assimilation and suspicious political redistricting. Perhaps most importantly, the Convention is European law. It is thus, among all the minority-rights documents in the world, the most binding. Were this Framework adopted by the

Hannum, 2011.


United Nations and its definition of minority expanded such that it could incorporate groups in the Americas and beyond, it would be a powerful instrument of protection indeed.

Are Afro-Uruguayans A Minority International Legal Definition In reviewing the various conventions that ensure and protect minority rights in international law, the aim was to determine which, if any, of the international instruments protecting minorities might apply to the Afro-Uruguayan community. At its heart, that question depends on whether AfroUruguayans meet the requirements to be considered a minority under international law. The answer would seem to be yes. The Minority Rights Group, an international NGO, considers that Uruguay has three minority communities: Jews, Indigenous peoples, and Afro-Uruguayans.15 AfroDescendants also meet all the criteria of the Caportorti definition, under which minorities are a group. These criteria are: 1) numerically inferior to the rest of the population of a state and in a non-dominant position. At under ten percent of a mostly-white population, this is clearly the case for AfroUruguayans.

2) whose members possess ethnic, religious, or linguistic characteristics which differ from those of the rest of the population. Afro-Uruguayans differ from the majority Uruguayan population in one of these three characteristics. First, and most saliently, in terms of ethnicity (or race). Descendants of enslaved Africans from Mozambique, Congo, and other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, Afro-Uruguayans ethnicity clearly distinguishes them from the European-derived majority.

3) and who, if only implicitly, maintain a sense of solidarity directed towards preserving their culture, traditions, religion, or language.

Uruguay Overview, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous People, Accessed Feb. 10, 2011.


On this front, too, the Afro-Descendant community would seem to meet the UNs definition of a minority. Culture is a notoriously thorny conceptand no less so here, when Afro-Uruguayans have historically accorded with the Uruguayan states assimilationist program for its immigrant citizenry (adopting Spanish language, Western clothing styles, sending their children to public school, and the like). Yet Afro-Descendants can and do persuasively argue that a distinct AfroDescendant culture has been actively maintained over the centuries. Indeed, cultural expression has been essential in creating a sense of ethnic space and has represented the primary way in which the black community has resisted being erased from the pages of Uruguayan history.16 Well-known aspects of public Afro-Uruguayan culture include Candombe (a drumming and dance ritual), now thoroughly adopted by the white Uruguayan mainstream as Uruguays national music; literary production (newspapers, resistance poetry); and music (tango was born in Uruguays black neighborhoods before being adopted by the Argentines in the 1930s). Less salient but equally important are the cultural differences of private life. Women are less likely to marry and more likely to bear children young than their white counterparts; black women also have a much higher fertility rate than the national average. The majority of Afro-Uruguayan children are raised in poverty, drop out of school by age 15 begin working, and live in poor, segregated neighborhoods yet attend mostly-white public schools. Thus, in significant ways the Afro-Uruguayan family has a different shape, look, and lifestyle than the traditional white Uruguayan family. This is not to say that there is a single, monolithic black culture; there are powerful differences of opinion and lifestyle in all groups, even those that seem homogenous (which Afrodescendientes certainly do not). Rather, Afro-Uruguayan culture is a concept forged and perpetuated by the black community in the 19th and 20th centuries as a counterpoint to Uruguays

Lewis, 8.


increasingly European identity. Just as whites assumed the narratives and heroes of the state during the Batlle era, black Uruguayans took up their own symbols, strategies, and images, and expressionspersistently asserting and celebrating their distinct Afro-Descendant-ness as a mechanism for survival.

A Bundle of Rights What are Afro Uruguayans Entitled To? Let it be clearly stated that the author understands that the minority rights regime was not intended to serve groups like Afro-Uruguayanscommunities that are disadvantaged and phenotypically different than the majority, but which indisputably comprise part of the national body. While they may desire and indeed need more rights than affirmative action can offer, Afro-Latinos or AfricanAmericans patently do not seek the kinds of permanent protections on land rights, language, or religion of the sort typically included in minority-rights declarations. The fact that Afro-Uruguayans do not fit neatly in either the category of voluntary migrant (the model that Batlles Uruguayan nation was based on) or of national minority (the original European concept of linguistically, historically, ethnically, religiously distinct nations within the modern state) puts them into a gray area in international law. However, there are many groups, from African Americans to refugees or exiles, that fall between the two classifications. Should we then just accept that the only doctrine applicable to these disadvantaged, distinct categories is that of universal human rightsa doctrine this paper has already shown to be insufficient for the cause of equality for historically oppressed groups? Quite the contrary. The law is as much about interpretation as it is about original intent, and if these grey-area groups were placed on a continuum between national minority and ethnic group, some of them would indubitably not only meet the definitional requirements of a minority but would also have use for some, if not all, of a minority-rights regimes powerful provisions.


This, certainly, is the case for Afro-Uruguayans. The Afro Collectivity meets the working definition of a minority as laid out by Caportorti; it has a demonstrated and long-term need for the kinds of protections that minority rights provides; and it has been insufficiently served by the nondiscrimination laws that in fact were designed to protect it. In addition, the diversity among bundles of privileges claimed by minorities around the globe reveals the malleability of the minority-rights doctrine. Given these facts, it is the position of this thesis that a minority-rights framework may legitimately be applied and modified to fit the Afro-Uruguayan struggle. The fact that the group has no need for the language or territorial provisions, for example, does not mean that the political participation provisions and cultural protections of minority rights would not be of great use. The question remains as to which of the previously detailed international instruments are of use in formulating this modified minority-rights claim. The most obviously applicable instrument is the ICCPRs Article 27, as interpreted by the HRC General Comment. The first important provision of what this paper will refer to as Article 27 Reinterpreted is its stipulation that the existence of minorities is a question of fact, not government opinion: The existence of an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority in a given State party does not depend upon a decision by that State party but requires to be established by objective criteria. This paper has already established that AfroUruguayans meet the objective criteria established to define a minority group, thus regardless of whether the Uruguayan government agrees with the idea that it is a multi-cultural society with at least one minority group, it would be required to act as if it did. What that requirement means on a practical level is somewhat more vague under Article 27 Reinterpreted. The HRC Comment asserts that Article 27 relates to rights whose protection imposes specific obligations on States parties. But it offers little elucidation on that topic, affirming only that states must take positive measures to protect the rights of their minority community (to


enjoy its culture, participate effectively in public life, and to thrive) whether its legislative, judicial or administrative authorities, [or] against the acts of other persons within the State party. The Minorities Declaration offers a clearer picture of what these rights are, and what their protection implies. Minorities must participate fully in economic progress and development; minority history is included in educational curricula; and national policies and programs must be planned and implemented with due regard for the legitimate interests of minorities. States must take appropriate measuresfrom instituting affirmative action and implementing a political quota system to creating new governmental bodies focused specifically on minority rightsto ensure that these obligations are met. Combining the group rights included in Article 27 Reinterpreted with the state obligations laid-out in the Minorities Declaration, we begin to get a clear enough picture to determine where Afro-Uruguayans are lacking in terms of rights, and where the Uruguayan government must develop remedies. This is where the roadmap laid out by the Lund Recommendations comes into play. They are delineated here in bullet points so that we may afterwards evaluate the current government programs of Uruguay according to these standards. Ensure effective minority voice at the level of the central government: special representation of national minorities, for example, through a reserved number of seats in one or both chambers of parliament or in parliamentary committees; and other forms of guaranteed participation in the legislative process; OR formal or informal understandings for allocating to members of national minorities cabinet positions, seats on the supreme or constitutional court or lower courts, and positions on nominated advisory bodies or other high-level organs; OR mechanisms to ensure that minority interests are considered within relevant ministries, through, e.g., personnel addressing minority concerns or issuance of standing directives; and special measures for minority participation in the civil service.


Create an electoral system that facilitates minority representation: Proportional representation systems, where a political party's share in the national vote is reflected in its share of the legislative seats, may assist in the representation of minorities. Some forms of preference voting, where voters rank candidates in order of choice, may facilitate minority representation and promote inter-communal cooperation. Lower numerical thresholds for representation in the legislature may enhance the inclusion of national minorities in governance.

Establish advisory and consultative bodies that: Serve as channels for dialogue between governmental authorities and national minorities. Such bodies might also include special purpose committees for addressing such issues as housing, land, education, language, and culture. Can raise issues with decision makers, prepare recommendations, formulate legislative and other proposals, monitor developments, and provide views on proposed governmental decisions that may directly or indirectly affect minorities. The effective functioning of these bodies will require that they have adequate resources.

The Current Rights Situation of Afro-Uruguayans Chapter Four assessed the achievements of Afro-Uruguayans over the last decade in successfully lobbying two Frente Amplia governments for certain new legal and social rights from the Uruguayan government. As a quick reminder, these accomplishments reflected CERDs recommendations for anti-discrimination policy reform, and included the establishment of Afro-Descendant-specific offices in various ministries, as well as the creation of an Honorary Commission Against Fight Racism and Discrimination and a new anti-discrimination law. The following section offers a comparison of the existing rights structure for minorities in Uruguay with the minority-rights privileges articulated in Article 27 Reinterpreted, the Minorities Declaration, and the Lund Recommendations, revealing the areas in which the Afro Collectivity might legitimately call for government action. In regards to the first Lund section, regarding full political participation, there is much room for improvement in Uruguay. Despite the fact that roughly ten percent of the Uruguayan population


is Afro-Descendant, and that in some provinces that proportion comes closer to 25 percent, there is currently just one black congressman of 100 in the Chamber of Deputies (lower house) and not a single senator of color. The disproportionate whiteness of the Uruguayan General Assembly leaves the Afro Collectivity severely underrepresented in national decision-making. This deficiency is somewhat ameliorated by the existence of three government Afro-Descendant thematic units in the Housing and Youth ministries and in the National Institute of Women, inclusionary mechanisms that partially fulfill the Lund Recommendations to ensure that minority interests are considered within relevant ministries. However, the reduction in 2010 in the number of Afro-Descendant offices from thirteen to the existing three diminishes the salience of Afro-Descendant concerns within the government, and suggests a lack of political will supporting such initiatives. In addition, as discussed in Chapter 4, funding and management have always lacked in these particular units. In terms of the second Lund section, regarding advisory and consultative bodies, we find the Honorary Commission Against Racism, Xenophobia, and All Other Forms of Racism. Comprised of members of the Education Ministry, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of the Exterior, Executive Council on Education, and three representatives from anti-racism NGOs, the group is tasked with investigating and reporting back on the current situation regarding racism and discrimination in Uruguay. It is also expected to suggest juridical modifications or new norms to address situation, design educational campaigns to erode attitudinal racism, and offer legal consultation to victims of racism. Yet research17 has revealed that the Commission, like other Afro-Descendant thematic units in the government, lacks adequate resources to truly undertake its duties, and the honorary characteristic so boldly declared in its name indicates that it wields somewhat less influence than what the Lund Recommendations envisions. An additional advisory position created under the


Authors interviews with Claudia de los Santos, Beatriz Ramirez, Monica Olaza, and Orlando Rivero.


current president, Jose Mujica, that of Romero Rodriguezs role as itinerant ambassador for AfroUruguayan issues, is too new and untested to evaluate either its role or its efficacy. Finally, both the ICCPR and the Minorities declaration call for governments not only to abstain from engaging in discriminatory behavior but to actively root out and punish racism wherever it occurs within national borders. Uruguays 2007 anti-discrimination law, 17.817, achieves only part of this mandate. While it does indeed outlaw racism and discrimination and any acts that incite racist or discriminatory behavior, the law has never been invoked in court.18 In fact, a comprehensive search of the judicial archives revealed that in the 105-year history of the Uruguayan Supreme Court, not a single discrimination case has ever been tried; in two cases, an appeal in 200319 and a housing dispute in 2002,20 racial discrimination was mentioned as an aggravating factor, but both occurred prior to the passage of Law 17.817. The longstanding lack of discrimination suits in the court system, and the failure of law 17.817 to create a forum for such cases, suggests that the legal system falls short of the international requirement of effectively protecting minorities against discriminatory treatment and ensuring their equal access to justice. The brevity of this section on the current rights context of the Afro Collectivity reveals the inadequacies of minority protections and mechanisms for advancement in Uruguay. While it is important to note that certain important improvements have taken place in the past decade, these mechanisms, while necessary, have not been sufficient to achieve equality for a historically oppressed and marginalized national minority; notable gaps remain in the legal, social, and political infrastructure as it pertains to Afro-Uruguayans. Deriving from the doctrine of egalitarianism and non-discrimination, in limited compliance with the dictates of the CERD, the Frente Amplias Afro


Fabian Muro, Una Cuestion de Piel, El Pais, Dec. 22, 2011. Available online: Accessed March 18, 2012. 19 Suprema Corte del Uruguay, Sentencia No. 326/003. 2003. 20 Suprema Corte del Uruguay, Ficha No. 172/000. 2002.. C


policies fall far short of what even the most limited stipulations on minority rights, such as Article 27, require.

The Demands of the Afro Collectivity In March, 2012, I conducted in-depth interviews with three key figures in the Afro Collectivity, Beatriz Ramrez (director of the National Institute of Women and former head of its AfroDescendant department), Orlando Rivero (a left-leaning activist), and Claudia de los Santos (Coordinator of the NGO Mundo Afro). Among other questions (the answers to which have been incorporated throughout this paper), I asked each person to state his or her goals for the Afro movement. Regardless of the political stance of the interviewees, there were certain constants, which essentially reflected the non-differentiation focus of the modern movements origins in Mundo Afro: public awareness projects, inclusion of Afro history in the national educational curriculum, and fomenting a more robust national discourse that problematizes race. Beatriz Ramrez, at my request donning her two hats (as current government member and former activist), mentioned all of these objectives and several more in a comprehensive, detailed set of goals. Her demands touched upon injustices and inequities that currently plague nearly every sector of Afro-Uruguayan life, including representation, education, housing, and economic wellbeing. The first target was: obtaining effective political representation, specifically through a quota in congress. Second, Ramrez saw a dire need for establishing equity in education via support (economic, social, and emotional) for students of color, which includes the incorporation of AfroUruguayan history into the national curriculum. Ramrez also criticized the national povertyreduction methods as lacking in race-specific mechanisms that would target the poorest Uruguayan communities, namely Afro-Uruguayans. She believed that more housing policy reforms were necessary, from constructing more affordable housing and ending housing discrimination to returning property to the black families from whom it was expropriated during the late 1970s and


early 1980s. Orlando Rivero, the former Mundo Afro director whos taken on a more radical role outside the organization, added one more demand to Ramrezs demands, which is the requirement that foreign companies investing in Uruguay be required to hire targets of ten percent black employees. What these six demands amount to is neither precisely minority rights nor simple nondiscrimination. Rather, they form a hybrid model for rights that Rivero and Ramrez both referred to as social inclusion. Within the context of our discussions, I understood the term to refer to the need for carving out a space to accommodate Afro-Uruguayans in the nations identity and prosperity, by whatever means necessary. Per my sources, this vision of multicultural justice would require some mix of individual and collective rights that blends non-discrimination doctrine and minority rights. The quota for Afro-Uruguayans in parliament and in private firms, for example, goes beyond what CERD recommends, while the reparations, housing, and education demands are in line with CERD-style positive measures. The next and final chapter will discuss specific legislation that might provide the foundation for a new social and political paradigm that affirms the collective identity of Afro-Uruguayans while actively combatting the marginalization that belonging to such a social group currently portends.


Chapter 6 Current Events in Affirmative Action and Recommendations

Affirmative Actions in the Parliament In November 2011, news emerged from Uruguay that an bill proposing affirmative actions for AfroDescendants would be introduced in the house in the coming months. The date for the debate has now been set as April 12, 2012. Known colloquially as the Carballo bill (after its sponsor, Congressman Felipe Carballo), the legislation carries the backing of four additional members of the house from several of the various parties that comprise the Frente Amplia alliance; President Mujica has also declared his support. While the Afro leaders expressed optimism that the Carballo bill would pass at least the lower house of congress, its fate at this dateespecially in the Senateremains unknown. However, given that it represents the first-ever recommendation for group rights for AfroDescendants, even if it does not pass, it should be considered a historic turning point in the debate on race in Uruguay. In its current draft form, the bill is anticipated to contain the following provisions for AfroDescendants: 10 percent of government jobs reserved for Afro-Descendant people with demonstrated aptitude Modification of the Investments Law that would require that all foreign companies wishing to invest in Uruguay must hire at least 10 percent Afro-Uruguayans as a counterweight to the investment incentives Establishment of state-sponsored educational scholarships targeted at students of color in every stage of the educational process, with emphasis on increasing the number of AfroDescendants that attend college or receive vocational training Inclusion in the educational curriculum of the history of Afro-Descendants in Uruguay and their participation in the most important processes of our nation


In an interview about his reason for introducing the bill, Congressman Carballo said that despite the existence of Law 17.817 regarding the fight against racism and xenophobia, the afro population is discriminated against, and we have figures that clearly show this reality. As such, he argued, it is fitting for Parliament to approve a law that establishes positive discrimination or affirmative action with norms that would help favor the participation of blacks, principally in the educational and labor sectors.1 Critique of the Carballo Legislation and Recommendations On the most basic level, the primary victory of the Carballo law would be one of recognition. For the first time the groups collective identity would be incorporated into the Uruguayan body of law, essentially an acknowledgment of Afro-Uruguayans as a national minority distinct from the majority. While they do not explicitly refer to group or minority rights, the Carballo provisions nonetheless make great strides in moving Uruguays political system away from the liberal, egalitarian model toward one that accounts, at least in part, for the differing needs of certain populations. In this way, the legislation must be seen as the starting point for establishing collective rights. The text also makes the crucial leap between framing Afro-Uruguayan privileges as positive, rather than negative rights. In mandating affirmative actions such as quotas and scholarships, the law is calling for the state to actively promote the advancement of its black citizens, a move that significantly departs from the negative obligations laid out in Law 17.817 (do not discriminate). While such legislation is groundbreaking for its recognition of the special needs of AfroUruguayans, the Carballo falls short of Beatriz Ramirezs four-point plan for social inclusion regarding political representation, poverty reduction, and housing. Additionally, the affirmative action law is

Eduardo Delgado, FA impulsara ley a favor de los afrodescendientes, El Pas, Sept. 8, 2011. Available online: Accessed Apr. 4, 2012.


unambitious when it comes to legislating the private sector; it aims its hiring policies only at foreign (not domestic firms) and makes no mention of curricula or scholarships for private schools. The following recommendations address some of these missing elements, suggesting changes that might be implemented to create of the Carballo legislation a more complete foundation for social inclusion in Uruguay. Special representation. The lower chamber of parliament should be mandated to reserve a certain percentage of seats for Afro-Uruguayan politicians. While the goal of proportionality (i.e., 10 percent) might be impracticable in the short term given the disadvantaged context of AfroUruguayans in terms of social and educational achievement, improvements in the educational system in particular should begin to produce an increasing number of qualified candidates, making proportional representation a feasible long-term goal. It might then be expanded to include proportional representation in the upper house, or Senate, as well. Reinstatement of Afro-Descendant offices and program eliminated in 2010 and legally mandated portion of legislative budget to support them. The Lund Recommendations suggest that governments implement mechanisms to ensure that minority interests are considered within relevant ministries. While this was an area of particular success under president Tabare Vazquez, the number of Afro-Descendant programs and positions in the government has since decreased from 13 to four. This step backwards must be remedied, and the budgetary issues they suffered addressed as well. Equal Opportunity Legislation. A law should be passed that prevents people with equivalent qualifications and experience from receiving lower wages, less access to jobs or government services on grounds of race, ethnicity, or gender. This type of program (which must also be widely publicized and vigorously enforcednot merely enacted), is necessary to address the up to 80-percent income 94

gap between black and white workers in the same positions, as well as to help bring Afro-Uruguayan women out of indigence. Targets for Afro-Descendant Participation in Private Companies. This should be applied not only to foreign companies investing in Uruguay but to Uruguayan firms of a certain size as well, and might be supplemented with company- or state-run training programs to capacitate black workers for work in the skilled sector and prepare Afro-Uruguayan professionals for managerial positions. Promoting Entrepreneurship. As it has in the past, the Uruguayan government should offer subsidies or low-interest loans to black entrepreneurs launching promising businesses, as well as other tools for success. This affirmative action program would replicate the state aid given to Italian businesses during the Batlle era that helped bring the immigrant community into the middle class and is a necessary step toward economic inclusion and justice. Justice in Housing. The eviction of thousands of Afro-Uruguayan families from their homes in Barrio Sur and Palermo during the 1970s and 1980s dispersed a tight-knit community, expropriated housing from property owners, and created a housing crisis among renters. To make reparations for these actions, as well as to restore a portion of the Afro-Descendant community to the area widely considered the black homeland, the state must (a) compensate Afro-Uruguayan families that were evicted from their homes, either by gifting houses of equal value in a similar location to that of the original property, or through financial means; and (b) construct a stock affordable housing in Barrio Sur and Palermo, which must surpass the number of units torn down in the 1970s and 1980s, so as to house a similar proportion of the black community. These units might be distributed by lottery among the qualifying (low-income) Afro-Uruguayan population. Educational Support Network. In addition to the proposed scholarships for Afro-Descendant students and inclusion of Afro-Uruguayan history in the national curriculum, there are several 95

corollary considerations that the state must take into account for either of these programs to effect the desired change. (a) Simply offering educational scholarships is not sufficient. The state must also ensure that Afro-Uruguayan parents and students are made aware of the financial aid and encouraged to take advantage of the funding. (b) In a community in which very few members have strong educational backgrounds, high-achieving students of color will lack the social capital of their white counterpartsi.e., role models within the community and academic help at home. As such, a state-supported in-school and/or after-school assistance program should be established which will provide both academic preparation and emotional support for Afro-Uruguayans, to help keep them on track for educational success. This may include counseling for college applications or and help in job placement. (C) Inclusion of black history and contributions in the national curriculum must be implemented sensitively, thoroughly, and continuously through the years, such that it instills in all students the integrality of the black community in the Uruguayan nation, rather than perpetuate their marginality by being treated as a one-off topic on the sidelines of history. Conclusion - Why Collective Rights Are Necessary for Social Inclusion It is the position of this thesis that while neither non-discrimination doctrine nor the existing minorityrights regime is an ideal framing for the Afro-Uruguayan situation, a progressive stance on equality in Uruguay will have to acknowledge some form of collective rights for the Afro population. Certainly this is a stance that many scholars, in Uruguay and around the globe, would argue with, for a number of reasons. In the first place, a multicultural justice model stands in contrast to the liberal view of society as based on egalitarian assumptions in which all men are by nature equal, and are thus in possession of the same basic rights, and that, as such, in a just society everyone should be equal before the law.2

James B. Muldoon, The Development of Group Rights, in Jay A. Sigler, Minority Rights, A Comparative Analysis (Greenwood Press, 1983).


But this argument has proven false in many respects. In the first place, the notion of stateensured egalitarianism assumes an ideologically neutral and very capable state, one willing and able to apply and enforce the law equally, without bias. History has proved time and again that such a state does not exist in reality,3 discrediting the normative assumption of liberal political theory. Another frequent critique of collective rights is that of the slippery slope argument. This fearbased rationale says that if we grant certain privileges to one group, more and more groups will begin to demand special rights, leading to the disintegration of society as a whole. This argument does not carry weight for a number of reasons. In the first place, as Kymlicka points out, the post-Cold War world has been dominated by conflicts between ethnic and national groups, and resolving these disputes is perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing democracies today.4 So it is simply not feasible or desirable to refuse to address an urgent problem threatening nations now because it may (or may not) cause issues down the line. Finally, the slippery slope argument assumes that all groups in society have infinitely flexible needs and aspirations5essentially, it espouses the notion that whats good for the goose is good for the gander. In reality, though, each so-called minority group, whether we are referring to the traditional minority-rights traditional (i.e., ethnic communities) or the colloquial usage (i.e., women, disabled people), shares a unique set of characteristics and a distinct historic experience that makes their present needs not interchangeable but rather finite and specific. The idea that governments would suddenly find themselves forced into giving each societal faction its own rights, simply by virtue of having once addressed the needs of one group, is thus not really coherent. Were

If ever a nation were created with that ideal in mind, it was the United States of Americaand yet here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, slavery thrived for centuries and even today African American men are six times more likely to be murdered than white men and black defendants are between 20 and 57 times more likely to be sent to jail for drug charges than whites (CF, Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (The New Press, 2010(, Ch. 3. These figures effectively dismantle the notion that even the most well-intentioned and idealistic state is capable of realizing a race-blind, egalitarian society. 4 Will Kymlicka, The Rights of Minority Cultures, (Oxford, 1995), 1. 5 Idem, Do We Need a Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, Constellations (Vol. 4., No. 1, 1997), 81.


modern society to become a bonded coalition of many different groups, each with their own special rights addressing their own particular needs, that circumstance would result not from a slippery slope descent but from a reasoned, deliberative discussion. So is multiculturalism really a threat to social cohesion? This paper agrees with Bashir (2008) and others, and with the minority-rights doctrine of international law, that every historically oppressed group in a multicultural society has the right to make particular demands on the majority government. Indeed, for justice to be served, they must make such demands, because a majority government either cannot or will not ever represent its needs, which derive from its particular past experience. Bashir refers to such a deliberative multicultural model as the politics of reconciliation, and argues that it is indispensable to tackle the demands of historically excluded social groups6 In the final analysis, the political argument may be the strongest case to be made for why the Afro Collectivity should maintain its burgeoning movement toward collective rights. Because of the Uruguayan governments history of class consciousness at the cost of color-blindness, and because of its European-based national identity, the status-quo state simply is not able to address the social practices and structures that have excluded Afro-Uruguayans. This thesis has argued that a combination of minority rights and non-discrimination mechanisms, which it has dubbed the social inclusion model, will provide the most powerful legal framework for achieving equality in fact as well as in law. By endowing Afro-Uruguayans with some collective and some individual rights, social inclusion recognizes the groups history of oppression and resulting shared identity, while simultaneously accepting its desire for integration with mainstream society. In the 21st century, it is no longer acceptable to let the tension between these two sets of demands impede their enactment. Rather, Uruguay must harken back to its progressive and inclusive traditions to ensure that AfroDescendants are no longer la gran ausente.

Bashir, 68.



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