Colombia’s indigenous and afrodescendent minorities are underrepresented in the country’s congress and unable to pass legislation related to their communities, the Americas Society / Council of the Americas (AS/COA) said Sunday.
The Washington-based think tank recently released a report comparing the legislative representation of minorities in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Bolivia.
While consisting of 14.9% of the country’s population, the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities have occupied an average of 1.5% of the seats in Congress over the last 15 years.
in Colombia—recognized by the 1991 Constitution as a multi-ethnic and multicultural country—minorities are better represented in Congress and they have proposed more bills than in the other countries examined, said Christopher Sabatini, AS/COA senior director of policy.
Nevertheless, Indigenous and Afro-descendants impact on the legislative agenda is virtually non-existent. This is because the three reserved seat for minority groups offer little incentive for mainstream parties to include minority candidates to their lists.
With enough evidence from analyzing the number of minority bills proposed, their success rate, and the agendas pushed in Congress during three consecutive legislative periods (1998-2010), the report shows that the gains in political representation of Indigenous and Afro-descendants in Colombia have not translated into a social agenda in key issues such as education, poverty reduction, or health. Only one law from the three that passed relate to a social policy issue, said the report.
Indigenous communities have shown to be more organized than Afro-descendants, mainly as a result of latter’s vote fragmentation. Between 1998 and 2010, the Indigenous in Colombia (1,3 million people or 3.4 percent of the total population) had 13 representatives, the equivalent to 1,6 percent of the legislative body. In contrast, between 2002 and 2010 the 4,3 million Colombian Afro-descendants (10.6 percent of the population) only occupied 1,5 percent of Congress (eight seats). Although Indigenous proposed 22 more bills than Afro-descendants, both caucuses had high failure rates of 97 and 92 percent respectively.
Out of the three bills passed, only the 2001 Law 691 of Culturally Inclusive Health Care has important social repercussions. Other important laws such as the Anti-discrimination law and the Law of Native Languages were introduced by non-ethnic representatives or were a ministerial initiative.
To increase the political impact of minorities on Colombian politics, Sabatini calls on the groups to come up with a united political agenda and on the traditional political parties to come up with party policies that will improve the minorities’ representation within their ranks.