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Cablegate: Race Relations in Brazil: The Affirmative Action Debate

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.






E.O. 12958: N/A

SUMMARY -------

1. (U) Affirmative action measures aimed at improving the socioeconomic situation of Afro-Brazilians are fundamental to the "Movimento Negro," or Black Movement. Though affirmative action remains controversial, even among Afro- Brazilians, the controversy itself is drawing public attention to the issue of social inequality in an unprecedented way. Advocacy efforts of the Black Movement have generally focused on the periphery of society, and thus have remained out of the public eye, but the affirmative action debate is a mainstream concern. Whether or not advocates overcome numerous challenges to create viable affirmative action programs, the increasing visibility of race issues has contributed to higher levels of Afro- Brazilian political participation and to new legislative efforts designed to benefit Afro-Brazilians. By mobilizing the large Afro-Brazilian population in support of specific political issues, affirmative action could bring about changes in Brazil's broader political scene.

This is the sec7QQQsUUS QUO ------------------------

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2. (U) As explained reftel, self-declared "black" and "brown" Brazilians (a rough measure of self-identified Afro- Brazilians) comprise 46 percent of the population, but have lower incomes and higher rates of illiteracy than other segments of society, and are underrepresented at all levels of business, academia, media, and government. Anecdotal evidence also indicates that Afro-Brazilians are not easily accepted in the upper echelons of society. Maria Aparecida de Laia, the Sao Paulo State Secretary of Culture's Advisor for Gender, Race and Ethnicity, told us that professional contacts who do not know her tend to ignore her and to address her white subordinates when they meet her for the first time. Laia explains such occurrences by saying that Afro-Brazilians are "aliens" within the circles of the white- dominated political and socioeconomic elite.

3. (U) Change is occurring in small increments. Before soccer hero Pele's appointment as the Sports Minister in 1995, no Afro-Brazilian had ever served as a minister in the federal GOB. In 2003, President Lula appointed 4 Afro- Brazilians to his Cabinet, including Matilde Ribeiro as the head of the newly created Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality. At the Afro-Brazilian/African-American Business Summit in April, Judith Morrison of the Inter- American Foundation said that there are 632 black-owned businesses in Sao Paulo, and more than 7 million Afro- Brazilians in the middle class nation-wide. "Raca" ("Race") magazine, the first publication aimed specifically at an Afro-Brazilian audience, achieved immediate and unexpected success when it was launched in 1996, providing an indication of the untapped potential of Afro-Brazilian buying power and the growing interest in products tailor- made for Afro-Brazilians.

4. (U) Despite these indicators of progress, many Black Movement activists contend that the current pace of change is much too slow. Laia told us that the time is ripe for Afro-Brazilians to "take a leap forward" through affirmative action programs designed to expand Afro-Brazilian presence in educational institutions and in the senior ranks of government and business. She contends that integrating Afro- Brazilians into the economic and political mainstream will reduce prejudice. Many of our contacts expressed the view that Afro-Brazilians would not improve their socioeconomic status without a stronger presence in government. Sao Paulo City Councilwoman Claudete Alves argues that Afro-Brazilians must be involved in the development of public policy because it is "impossible to understand" Brazilian racism without seeing Brazil "from a black perspective." Jose Vicente, president of the Afro-Brazilian advocacy group AFROBRAS, told us that he believes that affirmative action measures can help to show Afro-Brazilians that "there is hope." He contends that offering black youth educational and employment opportunities, as well as positive role models, will have a positive impact that "will be felt throughout Brazil."

5. (U) The debate to date has revolved almost exclusively around the racial quotas recently introduced in several public universities (see septel on race and education policy). Opponents of affirmative action believe that race- based programs are misguided, because they view discrimination as a matter of social class rather than skin color. They argue that college entrance exams are color- blind, and that the low Afro-Brazilian participation in the upper echelons of society is not the result of racism. Some point out that Brazil's traditional system of racial self- identification is inadequate for the proposed quota systems, since it provides no objective basis for determining which candidates are eligible for programs, but worry that officially delineating the Afro-Brazilian community through the use of objective physical criteria would only increase racial divisions within society. Despite the objections, a public opinion poll conducted by the Sensus Institute in May, 2004, found that 61.1 percent of respondents support quotas for Afro-Brazilians in public universities.

PUBLIC SECTOR GETTING STARTED ------------------------------

6. (U) Afro-Brazilians are far from achieving equal representation in the public sector, but some progress has been made in the last decade. According to Claudete Alves, the only Afro-Brazilian woman on the Sao Paulo City Council, the mere fact that the government is acknowledging the existence of racism is a step in the right direction. Economic and social inclusion of Afro-Brazilians has become a political concern for the GOB. In addition to appointing Afro-Brazilians to the cabinet and creating a special cabinet post for race-related issues, President Lula has reached out to the Afro-Brazilian community with such visible gestures as visiting a traditional Afro-Brazilian community (quilombo). The Foreign Ministry (Itamaraty) has introduced a new program to assist Afro-Brazilians and other underprivileged groups to prepare for the rigorous entrance exam for the diplomatic service.

7. (U) Quota systems have been introduced in some municipalities in Sao Paulo state. Both state- and national- level institutions are exploring the possibilities for new affirmative action programs, some of which would go beyond quotas. The draft Statute of Racial Equality, sent to Brazilian Congress in April, would introduce quotas for federal workers, and offer incentives for private companies with government contracts to implement affirmative action programs. Other proposals include diversity training for police, who are often accused of racial profiling and of using unnecessary force against Afro-Brazilian suspects.

PRIVATE SECTOR SLOW TO TAKE ACTION -----------------------------------

8. (U) Anecdotal evidence indicates that discrimination in hiring practices is widespread, but not openly acknowledged or endorsed. Afro-Brazilian contacts tell us that a job announcement that requires a "nice appearance" is understood to mean that "blacks need not apply." Recent studies in Sao Paulo shopping malls by the researchers of the Inter- American Union Institute for Racial Equality (INSPIR) estimated that only 2 percent of the employees were "black," while another 13 percent were "brown" (mixed). Neide Aparecida Fonseca, president of INSPIR, concluded that there is "color and race-related prejudice" in hiring practices for "positions that are visible or require interaction with the public." However, studies of discrimination in employment are rare. Some activists conjecture that companies choose not to track their employees' racial identity, because they do not want to be pressured to introduce affirmative action measures. Recently, the Colombo clothing company introduced a twenty percent quota for Afro-Brazilians, but it is the only major company to have done so.

9. (U) Leaders of the Black Movement would like to see a push for affirmative action measures in the private sector. They assert that even multinational corporations that have affirmative action programs elsewhere have not instituted them in Brazil. At the Afro-Brazilian/African-American Business Summit in April, Dr. Sueli Carneiro, President of Geledes Institute for Black Women, criticized international companies operating in Brazil for "conforming to Brazilian racism," rather implementing affirmative action and nondiscrimination policies similar to those they use outside of Brazil.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM U.S. EXPERIENCE? -------------------------------------

10. (U) The affirmative action debate is seldom raised without reference to the U.S. experience. At the Afro- Brazilian/African-American Business Summit, Brazilian and U.S. participants were quick to point out that Brazil's present situation is comparable to that of the U.S. twenty or thirty years ago. Afro-Brazilian activists tend to view the current U.S. situation in a very positive light. From the Afro-Brazilian perspective, African-Americans have achieved considerable social, economic and political empowerment. Humberto Adami, president of the Institute of Racial and Environmental Advocacy, complained that most Brazilians do not hesitate to "import the American way of seen on Fox Television," but "complain about copying the U.S." when it comes to affirmative action.

COMMENT --------

11. (SBU) Affirmative action is a relatively new and very controversial idea in Brazil. So far, affirmative action has not progressed beyond simple quota systems and attempts to increase recruitment of Afro-Brazilians to government positions and in a few public universities. While Brazilian authorities have yet to determine how far to carry such programs, affirmative action is the issue that has most sparked the interest of the general public, generated public debate, and drawn attention to the Black Movement in Brazil. Only time will tell whether the ambitions of the Black Movement on this and other issues will come to fruition, but the incipient mobilization of the Afro-Brazilian community that it represents could lead to wider changes over time in Brazilian politics. End comment.

12. (U) This message was coordinated with Embassy Brasilia and Consulate General Rio de Janeiro.


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