ECLAC study identifies poverty, exclusion and stigmatisation:
Current situation of indigenous and afro-american peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean
After centuries of exclusion and denial, the 10% of the region's population that is of Indigenous origin, and another 30% of African origin, including black and mixed race people, continue to be treated like minorities, even when they are actually majorities in their own countries. Furthermore, throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, ethnicity tends to be synonymous with poverty.
Today, however, these peoples are raising their demands with great strength and visibility both within their own countries and at international forums. Some Indigenous groups demand territorial autonomy and greater authority over the management of their own resources, while the ghost of separatism has begun to haunt some countries.
A recent study, Ethnicity, "race" and equity in Latin America and the Caribbean (Etnicidad, "raza" y equidad en América Latina y el Caribe), by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has found that "poverty, stigmatisation and exclusion have become structural" for indigenous and black people. The study's authors, ECLAC consultants Alvaro Bello and Marta Rangel, find that most live in poverty, with no access to an educational system that takes into consideration their particular cultural, linguistic and religious needs. In many cases, they have lost their main means of subsistence, usually land and natural resources. For decades they have been emigrating to large urban centres, where they have access to unstable, poorly paid, low quality jobs.
Bello and Rangel provide an overview of the current situation facing people of Indigenous and Afro-American origin, contrasting the raw reality of their present conditions with the impressive advances in recent decades in the field of universal recognition of human rights and the specific rights of these groups. Finally, they propose some new ideas.
The authors view ethnic-racial discrimination as part of the heritage of Luso-Brazilian and Spanish-American colonialism, which has generated a very concrete form of "internal colonialism" that contradicts the myth of real integration. In fact, integration of Indigenous and African-American people has been "symbolic and discursive in nature, while in practice it has been denied."
In spite of this, the current situation of Indigenous peoples cannot be compared to what it was decades ago, when most lived in rural areas and the State treated them as poor "campesinos". This changed dramatically during the eighties and nineties. Although Indigenous areas and territories ?ancestral lands? still exist, migration to the city created new areas where large groups of people of Indigenous and "campesino" origin now live alongside the descendants of previous migrations. Something similar has occurred with Afro-Americans, although perhaps with more strength as they held no claim to large tracts of land.
The idea of belonging to a community and adapting to the changes brought by modernity has proven to be very dynamic. Migration is no longer synonymous with cultural uprooting or identity loss, say the authors, who add that "the urban space has become a new stage for the unfolding of Latin America's cultural diversity."
Mexico City, Bogotá, Santiago and Lima all have large Indigenous neighbourhoods, which have given shelter to wave after wave of new migrants who create formal and informal networks, neighbourhood, cultural, political and productive organizations, all based on a shared identity. In Chile's case, over 70% of the Indigenous population (about 700,000 people) live in urban areas. The ECLAC study found that not only have social, community and blood ties remained, they seem to have reproduced and grown stronger to the point where they have created "Indigenous social capital" of enormous value.
Education is a major factor in inequality and exclusion. Problems of access and coverage combine with those of educational "displacement", although there have been some advances in this area, given that the cultural assimilation approach that prevailed for a long time has now been abandoned. Today, in Bolivia, Guatemala, Chile and other countries, people are beginning to respect cultural differences and bilingualism, and are learning to value differences within their societies, although a lot remains to be done.
Ethnic discrimination is a major cause of unequal access to health care, a situation further worsened by the evident deterioration in natural resources, and ancestral lands that have been lost or reduced. In several countries, major development projects often have negative consequences for native populations. Clear cutting of native forests, oil extraction, or dam building have had a devastating impact on Indigenous peoples and their environment.
In contrast, at the continental level societies there have been advances in the recognition of Indigenous ancestral rights over territories, the environment, and the possession, administration and use of resources. In Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador this recognition has been enshrined in their Constitutions. A series of international and multilateral instances are dealing in depth with discrimination and exclusion stemming from race and ethnicity. However, to date, many declarations remain just that, with no real impact on Indigenous peoples' lives.
The study concludes that until just a decade ago, some countries with a high number of Indigenous people believed that these groups were part of the past and that the advance of urbanization would make governing groups' old dream of assimilation and integration come true.
The authors also conclude that globalisation, the more universal acceptance of human rights and the emergence of identities have raised doubts about the logic of the traditional nation-State. The old values of homogeneity and "national unity" are giving way to heterogeneity and acceptance of differences. Awareness has grown that to overcome poverty, States can no longer look solely to their traditional strategies, but rather they must reformulate their historical relationship with Indigenous peoples.