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Colombians Fight for Equality

It is widely known that Latin America is one of the most unequal regions in the world. Poverty and wealth are consistently divided into zones of exclusion and privilege throughout the region. The fluidity of racial identity has resulted in the larger issue of a lack of acknowledgement and awareness of racism in Latin America, specifically Colombia.

The fluidity of racial and ethnic identity helped mask any discrimination and inequality because there were no rigid boundaries of how people could be identified. This idea perpetuated the very common belief in Latin America that the region does not have a racial problem. This issue, coupled with Colombia’s weak democratic institutions, have had serious trickle down effects into the racial disparities that are embedded within the criminal justice system.

Another interesting aspect of racism within Colombia is the lack of analysis surrounding government-led initiatives that appear to be a step towards racial equality on the surface. Kwame Dixon and other political scientists found that there was limited analysis of Afro-Latin American politics due to very little social demographic statistics on Afro-Latin populations.[i] Still, Dixon was one of the first researchers of Colombia’s Law 70 which provided legal rights to Afro-Colombians. He found that while Law 70 was an important tool in the civil rights movement, it was ineffective in actually combating any deeper structural racial discrimination in the state.[ii] Any surface level success of promoting Afro-Colombian rights was overshadowed by the deep, structural issues that are embedded within Colombia’s criminal justice system. While this may be true, Afro-Colombians are becoming more aware of these structural issues and less content with how the governments are addressing it.

The rejection of racial issues within Colombia’s criminal justice system have only more recently been questioned following the death of 22-year-old Janner García. Protests swept across Puerto Tejada calling the police out for the murder of García. This is not the first public outcry following the death of an innocent Black man at the hands of police officers. A similar wave of protests took to the streets after Anderson Arboleda was killed after suffering from serious blows to the head in May, 2020. Again, a young Black man’s death was at the hands of hostile police, and the list of related incidents continues. Racial violence, led by the police, in Colombia is worsening and citizens have had enough.

Illustration Credit: The Bogatá Post

The excessive force used by police officers that ultimately led to the deaths of García, Arboleda, and many more Afro-Colombians reveals the systemic racism that is deeply embedded in the criminal justice system. The brutal beating and killing of Afro-Colombians mirrors the unnecessary violence that ultimately killed George Floyd and led to protests across the U.S. proves that the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the U.S. has successfully influenced Latin American social movements.

Racial politics has emerged with the senseless killing of Afro-Colombians, hinting that while Colombians are calling for a more equal society, there needs to be consistent efforts made within the criminal justice system in order to see positive change. The overwhelming pattern of protests and BLM movements within Colombia hint that ethnic-racial inequality is increasingly becoming an important topic because equality is a foundational element to a democracy. Afro-Colombians are profoundly aware of their basic human right to and are reasonably demanding that political representatives uphold their rights through accountable legislative law and policies. It is with this recognition and promotion of the fundamental right to equality that racism and racial inequality is being rightfully addressed in Colombia. If citizens are unable to hold their governments accountable for the promotion of equal rights, the legitimacy of a state’s ability to appropriately represent its people is undermined. Thus, addressing and remediating these injustices are crucial steps towards a stronger framework for democracy, and it appears that Colombia is on the forefront of a serious fight for racial equality.

[i]Dixon, Kwame, and Ollie A. Johnson. Comparative Racial Politics in Latin America. New York, NY: Routledge, 2019. [ii]Dixon (2019), pg 4.

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