The director of a Colombian anti-racism organization has accused three government ministers of “state racism” following their failure to attend a meeting on the development of the predominantly black Pacific region of Choco.
Ray Charrupi, who heads up the Cali-based organization Chao Racismo, told Colombia Reports that the three ministers are not familiar with, nor are they interested in becoming familiar with the undeveloped Pacific region inhabited mostly by Afro-Colombians.
The meeting, initiated by Colombia’s Ombudsman Jorge Armando Otalora, took place in region’s capital city of Quibdo with the purpose of discussing the lack of infrastructure and violence experienced by the populace. The ministers of Interior, of Mining, and of Health were all supposed to attend, but all three failed to show up, according the website of the Ombudsman’s office.
“[The ministers] believe the Pacific region and its inhabitants are third-class Colombians who do not deserve attention, even when the Ombudsman directly summoned them,” Charrupi said.
Systematically abandoning Afro-Colombians and indigenous lands and territories amounts, according to Charrupi, to what he has termed “state racism.”
Charrupi claims that his organization has coined and uses the term “state racism” to replace the more commonly used “structural racism.”
“A structure cannot be identified, held responsible, or convicted. But state institutions that, in actions and omissions, weaken the rights of ethnic territory and populations like in the case of the Pacific region – yes, they can be held responsible and convicted.”
Charrupi said that Afro-Colombians, who make up at least 10% of Colombia’s population, are underrepresented in the government.
According to Charrupi, there currently no black ministers in President Santos’ cabinet, nor are there any black generals in the armed forces. He also claimed none of Colombia’s four highest courts have any black judges, nor have they ever in their history.
“The representation of Afro-Colombians at the national level in congress has decreased, not because blacks didn’t participate actively in the elections, but rather because in addition to the abysmal situation we were in, now the political and electoral mafias have tried to usurp the seats intended for the African community,” Charrupi said, referring to the March election of two representatives from the Ebony Foundation of Colombia political party.
Neither of the two representatives are Afro-Colombians, despite the fact that these seats are specifically allocated to representatives of that community. He claims they have never worked for the black community, nor did the black community vote for them.
Uribe’s black minister and the free trade agreement
Unlike other constituencies, Charrupi says that the disenfranchised community of Afro-Colombians do not have the political influence to pressure the presidency to change policy or appoint ministers sympathetic to their plight. He a demonstration of this occurred in the previous administration of Alvaro Uribe.
Uribe appointed an Afro-Colombian woman to Minister of Culture in his second term as president. But, says Charrupi, this was not done with the intention of increasing the influence of the black community in the government, but rather at the specific request of a US congressman.
According to a 2005 cable sent by the US embassy, later published by Wikileaks, US congressman Greg Meeks proposed that then-President Uribe appoint a black minister in order to gain support for the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement from the Congressional Black Caucus.
It was thought at the time that the free trade deal would face difficulty passing a vote in congress. To shore up support, Meeks “proposed” that he appoint a black minister, stressing that “these kinds of gestures would improve Colombia’s image among the Congressional Black Caucus, who would be voting soon on the Andean Free Trade Agreement and Plan Colombia,” according the leaked cable.
Less than two years after the meeting with Meeks, Uribe appointed Paula Marcela Morena, an Afro-Colombian, as Minister of Culture.
The US-Colombian Free Trade Agreement was eventually passed in 2011, albeit with little support from either the Congressional Black Caucus or the Democratic Party. Those opposed cited possible adverse economic effects and reports of human rights abuse in Colombia.
- Interview with Ray Charrupi
- Ante la ausencia de Estado, Defensoria inicio una ‘cruzada’ para enfrentar crisis humanitari en Choco (Ombudsman’s website)
- Congressman Meeks meets with President Uribe, Vice President Santos and Minister of Interior and Justice Pretelt (Wikileaks)