Cablegate: Brazil: Not a Multiracial, Multicultural Paradise

DE RUEHSO #0895/01 3101757
P 061757Z NOV 07






Summary -------

1. (SBU) Discrimination against Afro-Brazilians tarnishes Brazil's international reputation as a tolerant and welcoming country home to hundreds of indigenous groups and immigrants from every corner of the world. In Brazil the issue is extremely divisive with many claiming that racism does not exist, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Some Afro-Brazilian activists believe part of the problem is traditional racism against "darker-skinned" people, but place equal, if not more, blame on internal divisions and a lack of common efforts within the black community. Analysts tell us that a combination of legislative action and private sector initiatives as well as a change in the national culture is essential if Brazil is to move past decades of racism. End Summary.

Background ----------

2. (SBU) Brazil is home to between 90 and 100 million descendants of African slaves - over half of the country's total population. Despite the 1888 abolition of slavery, Afro-Brazilians still face significant economic, political and social challenges. Blacks are overwhelmingly poor, representing two-thirds of Brazilians below the poverty line, and do not have access to good education. Afro-Brazilians face serious hurdles entering the formal labor market and securing high-paying jobs. Blacks earn on average half as much as whites and are twice as likely to be illiterate.

3. (SBU) Discrimination against Brazil's black population is a cruel injustice that remains a powerful reality, according to Elisa Lucas Rodrigues, President of the Sao Paulo State Council on the Participation and Development of the Black Community (CPDCNGSP). Rodrigues, a 2005 International Visitor (IV), remarked that a 2003 law that requires public schools to teach African culture and history is a positive first step; her Council has trained 16,000 teachers in the subject. Maria Aparecida de Laia, General Coordinator of Sao Paulo's Special Secretariat for Participation and Partnership's Coordinating Body for Issues of the Black Population (CONE), also hailed the law, highlighting its vital role in raising the self-confidence of young Afro-Brazilians and allowing them to see that they can achieve more than basic service jobs. (Note: The law does not cover private schools which are overwhelmingly dominated by richer, white Brazilians. End Note.)

4. (SBU) CPDCNGSP President Rodrigues expressed support for state and federal universities that are self-implementing quota systems to ensure greater diversity. According to the Special Secretariat on Racial Equality, over 40 universities have already adopted such quota systems. These opportunities have helped provide a superior level of education to many Afro-Brazilians, who for generations were denied a higher degree, CONE Coordinator de Laia said. Senator Paulo Paim of President Lula's Workers' Party (PT), the only self-declared Afro-Brazilian senator, is leading an effort to require federal universities to have quotas in place. There is much debate within the Afro-Brazilian community regarding quotas, however. Denise Aparecida Tobias, a family attorney involved in initiatives supporting the Afro-Brazilian community, said that some Afro-Brazilians contend that quotas separate blacks even more from whites.

Community Self-Image Improving ------------------------------

5. (SBU) De Laia noted that Afro-Brazilians have achieved major success in a number of academic fields. More Afro-Brazilians are becoming scholars and researchers, more scholarships are granted to Afro-Brazilians and more academic papers are being published on Afro-Brazilian issues. Only a few years ago, whites were the principal authors of research projects on the Afro-Brazilian community, she said, and now blacks are taking the lead. Attorney Tobias claimed that Afro-Brazilians are beginning to see some hope in media and popular culture. Widely-viewed soap operas no longer "fear" featuring black actors, and due to Afro-Brazilian athletes'

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success, particularly in soccer - the national obsession - black self-confidence, non-existent for generations, is on the rise. Moises de Freitas, a researcher on Afro-Brazilian socio-economic development, said Afro-Brazilians are increasingly more likely to identify their race on surveys, a sign that they are no longer afraid of admitting who they are instead of trying to classify themselves in another category. Father Jose Enes de Jesus, President of the Institute of the Black Baptist Father (IBBF), a Catholic organization trying to get Afro-Brazilian youth off the streets, claimed that in the last fifteen years, Afro-Brazilians have become more conscious of their racial identity and have begun to demand more rights and more follow-up by authorities on racial crimes.

Government Efforts Needed -------------------------

6. (SBU) In March, Minister of Racial Integration Matilde Ribeiro made a provocative statement in which she asserted that it is natural for blacks to dislike white people. Many criticized her statement as a racist incitement, prompting Vice President Jose Alencar to deny the existence of racism in Brazil; however, it helped raise awareness of an often overlooked issue. CPDCNGSP President Rodrigues expressed disappointment that the Sao Paulo State Government fails to financially support many agencies dealing with disadvantaged groups, including women, children and senior citizens, impacting the programs her entity can run. Government agencies handling diversity and discrimination, as well as those working on education and health, need greater integration to improve the lives of Afro-Brazilians, CONE's de Laia commented. Federal, state and local offices in large urban areas charged with this portfolio are making progress but smaller and more rural cities and towns lack basic support for such initiatives. Maria da Penha Guimaraes, IBBF Legal Coordinator, noted that government initiatives help the poor and disadvantaged in general rather than targeting Afro-Brazilians, adding that many laws are not enforced, further complicating anti-discrimination efforts. The government is effective in providing basic food aid to the poor, of whom many are Afro-Brazilians, but does not build an "infrastructure" for personal growth and development or mechanisms to help improve the community as a whole, she said.

The Private Sector as a Model? ------------------------------

7. (SBU) Researcher de Freitas assisted in a major project on social and racial issues in the workplace which demonstrated that the private sector may be ahead of government in some anti-discrimination efforts. His findings also highlighted that challenges remain. Many businesses in Brazil, including even large corporations, are family-owned and conduct business with other family-operated companies. Black Brazilian families do not have a history of owning large businesses and therefore have difficulty competing. Because of the nature of family ownership and the fact that the rich attend the same schools and religious and social organizations, networking is extremely important. Blacks do not belong to these same networks and therefore face this additional obstacle. According to de Freitas, many businesses are moving away from hiring based purely on networking, potentially opening the field to more blacks.

Divisions within Afro-Brazilian Community -----------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Contacts repeated that unity is a major challenge for the Afro-Brazilian community in fighting discrimination. Da Penha of IBBF said Afro-Brazilians are divided based on various "shades of blackness." As she explained it, "darker" blacks do not consider "lighter" blacks to be "real" Afro-Brazilians and do not cooperate on common causes. Many "lighter-skinned" Afro-Brazilians also do not rally around the black cause to avoid having society group them with Afro-Brazilians as a whole, and some Afro-Brazilians do not even recognize themselves as black. De Freitas commented that black people suffer from prejudice perpetrated not only by non-blacks, but also by "lighter-skinned" blacks, who are sometimes the most virulent racists because they consider themselves better than

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"darker" blacks because of their lighter skin tone. Rodrigues said that while there is a national movement to address these issues, it does not get much attention because Brazilians are more concerned about immediate problems such as their next meal or paycheck. Da Penha said that the Afro-Brazilian rights movement needs mre unity and structure, but more importantly, blcks must change their mentality and gain confidene to battle racism. Mauricio Pestana, a 2006 IVand prominent Afro-Brazilian political commentator also called for greater cooperation, saying tha a serious lack of leadership prevents black Brailians from pressing for more rights. Brazil does not have a Martin Luther King, Jr., he said, and wthout one, internal fighting and the absence of common effort are impeding progress. In attorny Tobias' opinion, this lack of a culture of organized activism to promote change is a serious problem. Many blacks do not want to "fight" because they believe that whites will always have more power. She added that Afro-Brazilians do not want to help each other because doing so would highlight their "blackness" and make them lose favor among whites.

Other Challenges Remain -----------------------

9. (SBU) CPDCNGSP President Rodrigues lamented the fact that the majority of Afro-Brazilians serve in poorer paying jobs and are not represented in senior state government offices. She said part of the problem is because power is often passed down from father to son in Brazil, and it is therefore difficult for blacks to hold leadership positions if historically they have never had any. CONE's de Laia argued that an overwhelming number of Afro-Brazilian descendants live in shantytowns and represent the demographic with the lowest education level in Brazil. No matter what successes Afro-Brazilians have achieved, whites still have an easier time finding jobs and securing a higher salary, adding that there are no major Afro-Brazilian business executives. Rodrigues also criticized severe police brutality aimed at blacks in custody, but said the Council is working on this issue through a mandatory diversity training course for all incoming police officers created in 2005. De Laia said that black youth are particularly prone to problems because they regularly resort to violence to resolve disputes. She said police often do not pursue the possibility of hate- or race-related motives in crimes perpetrated against Afro-Brazilians specifically because law enforcement denies or ignores the existence of racism.

Comment ------

10. (SBU) The plight of Afro-Brazilians is a complicated issue that sheds the myth - advanced in the 1930's by renowned sociologist Gilberto Freyre - of "racial democracy" as a key component of Brazil's "luso-tropical civilization," warm and friendly people, beautiful beaches, laid-back music and a carefree lifestyle. Racism is a serious problem that impacts the lives of millions of Brazilians. It limits their educational and social opportunities, which, in turn, hinders their entry into the workforce and participation in the mainstream economy. Both the public and private sectors have an obligation to take serious steps in addressing deficiencies, but the real question is whether Brazilians as a whole are ready to acknowledge the problem and willing to take action. Doing so would require them to move past decades of discrimination and change their whole mindset on race and culture. Undoubtedly this will be an issue of growing importance in Brazil for years to come. End Comment.

11. (U) This cable was cleared by Embassy Brasilia.


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