Afro-descendent people exist throughout Latin America and the Caribbean and form an integral part of our existence.
Millions of Black people make up the social, political and economic fabric of the region outside of the countries that usually come to mind. In places like Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela and every corner of the Matria Grande, Black communities have a long and storied history.
The legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade means Black bodies on the continent have centuries of history, but their communities continue to be denied and purposefully ignored.
We, Indigenous and mestizo non-Black Latinx, celebrate Black people much in the same ways we were taught by our colonial overlords. As a relic, an artifact or a folkloric aspect of our ethno-racial composition.
We are keen to mention Black people when discussing music or food, but little else. Even more horridly, there is little to no questioning when we witness blatant anti-Blackness from non-white and white people in Latin America and the Caribbean. This takes several insidious forms.
Carnival rolls around or perhaps a Halloween celebration when Black bodies become a costume. Blackface is left unquestioned. Perhaps, it’s a “harmless” heritage celebration when they’ve asked your child to “dress-up like an Afro-descendent person,” a situation experienced in real life. Or, when you walk by the chocolate aisle and see “Besos de Negra,” or “Black Kisses,” caricaturing Black mouths.
Sometimes you may have never even known the sordid history behind your favorite snacks like “Zambos.” The word is a pejorative term used to racially rank those who were of Indigenous and Black background in the Spanish racial caste system.
This Honduran product is extremely popular and in addition to its name, it has as its byline, “Salvajes del Tropico,” or “Savages of the Tropics.” These very apparent references to Black bodies while packaging plantain chips — a food stereotypically associated with Black people — alongside the word “Savages” for branding, are perfect demonstrations of how these massively harmful Black stereotypes permeate regional discourses across Latin America and the Caribbean. They’re everywhere.
What is so malicious about these types of racist and anti-Black depictions are their reduction of Black bodies, cultures and communities. It erases the significant leadership Black people had and continue to have in the the struggle for our true liberation.
After all, it was Toussaint L’ouverture who led the first successful revolution for independence in the region, abolishing slavery and creating the Republic of Haiti. Toussaint was the same man who would inspire liberation movements against the Spanish conquest across the region.
Jamaica’s Maroons and Brazil’s Quilombos were some of the first iterations of resistance to colonialism — entire groups of slaves who freed themselves from their white captors and built autonomous communities in total defiance to European bondage.
It’s important that we look to the past to understand how Black Latin Americans and Caribbean people are leading the way in the fight for our liberation. These are some of the most powerful movements inspiring ANTICONQUISTAtoday.
Garífuna People in Honduras
The Garífuna are descendants of slaves brought to the Caribbean coast of Central America who mixed with the Indigenous populations of the Americas. Under global capitalism, the Garífuna people pose a threat to multinational resorts and hotels because their ancestral lands are on the magnificent Caribbean coasts of Honduras and Belize.
The Garífuna people have successfully been able to advocate for their right to their territories under protected status and even achieved some limited communal land titles in Honduras. However, the demand for land and tourism, coupled with rampant right-wing violence against them since the 2009 U.S.-backed coup in Honduras, continue to push them off of their lands illegally.
Everyday, the Garífuna continue to organize not only for the preservation of their land, but for the ecological, economic and social rights of the earth.
In recent years, Garífuna groups like OFRANEH have teamed up with Indigenous groups like COPINH to fight the neoliberal government’s ethnic and financial genocide.
Afro-Colombians and the Neoliberal State
It goes without saying that Afro-descendants, and women in particular, have been the most affected by state-sanctioned violence during Colombia’s decades-long civil war. The brunt of force used to squash the massive guerrilla movement, fighting for the dignity of the poorest and most oppressed sectors of Colombian society, was aimed at Black bodies.
The paramilitaries, in collusion and total cooperation with the Colombian state, committed rape, murder and torture while forcibly displacing the largest civilian population in the world, second only to Syria. This impunity continues even in the era of so-called “peace.”
But, Afro-Colombians are resilient. Despite being some of the most impacted by austerity measures under the neoliberal apparatus of President Juan Manuel Santos, the predominantly Black regions of Chocó and Valle del Cauca have led the nation in organized resistance.
They have organized massive civil strikes in the regions demanding an end to the racist and capitalist policies put in place by Colombia’s governing criollo elites. They continue to bring to light cases of police abuse and the murder of social leaders, including members of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla. Their fight is a fight to end the suffocation of Latin America and the Caribbean by powerful interests like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United States, pushing Colombian people further into destitution.
Guineans Against French Imperialism
French Guiana holds an important part in the conversation about the many modern colonies that exist in Latin America and the Caribbean: Puerto Rico, the Malvinas and the British/U.S. Virgin Islands are just a few. A “department” of France — or colony, as it is actually regarded — borders Suriname and Brazil on the northern coast of the continent. Like many European colonies, French Guiana suffers from extremely high poverty rates and a 23 percent unemployment rate, according to BBC, in conjunction with historic disinvestment.
In response, the country has held general strikes across the nation to call attention to a failing colonial system and to demand that the French government bare responsibility for the chronic impoverishment it has created there. Much like Puerto Ricans, Guineans are stepping forward and are on the front lines of neo-colonialism and modern imperialism under advanced global capitalism.
In response to widespread neglect, Guineans held massive protests during French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to the nation. Naturally, Macron’s response to the unrest was to say, “I am not Father Christmas,” implying Guineans must resolve their “problems” on their own and not expect the French state to swoop in and save them.
His response is unsurprising but does reveal the historical amnesia and racism prevalent in the French empire, failing to address the root causes of Guinea’s problems. The protests against Macron were met by swift repression from the Guinea/French state as police deployed tear gas at the crowds. The bravery of the Guineans serves as a model for all colonies to push back against their colonial overlords — if not to destroy them for good.
Dominicans of Haitian Descent Combating Anti-Blackness
Anti-Blackness happens systematically even in Black-majority countries. Nowhere is it more apparent than on the tiny island of Hispaniola that is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
On the same land exists the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti, and on the other side, the Dominican Republic. Both are Black-majority countries. Whereas Haiti led Latin America and the Caribbean in abolishing slavery while successfully becoming the first independent Black republic, the Dominican Republic continues to exist much within the same socioeconomic confines of its colonial days.
Haiti has been systematically punished for its independence, including a racist colonial debt it had to pay for its “freedom” to France that has carried into the 21st Century. In addition, the devastating impacts of the 2010 earthquake and the subsequent tragic U.N. Special Mission that brought rape, sex trafficking rings and cholera outbreaks to the nation has led many Haitians flee their homeland.
It also leads them straight across a small border into the Dominican Republic. Since 2013, the Dominican Republic has taken extreme and inhumane measures to ensure the perpetual servitude of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent on the island.
That same year, the Dominican Republic approved a law enacting a retroactive birthright citizenship repeal. Before, being born on Dominican soil entitled you to all the rights of citizens. Suddenly, the state began obligating Dominicans to prove their parents or grandparents were also Dominican citizens in order to enjoy legal status.
From the early 1900s, Haitians have migrated and settled in the Dominican Republic to work in a variety of agricultural industries, but primarily as sugar cane cutters. From that point, Haitians were denied any documentation and much less was afforded to their children born on Dominican soil.
Thus, a law that requires parental proof of citizen is a methodical way of denying Haitians any legal standing in the nation. While condemned by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Dominican politicians have gone on record stating this policy would not affect European and white migrants, but was instead something enacted specifically for “Haitians.” Most of those affected were born, raised and have spent most of their lives in the Dominican Republic.
Not having citizenship in the Dominican Republic means institutionalized oppression.
Dominicans of all stripes have come together to denounce the outright discriminatory and anti-Black measure. Mobilizations, international court proceedings and media campaigns continue to call to light the crimes of the Dominican state. At the helm of this revolutionary work are the Dominicans of Haitian descent who are proud to have grown on Dominican soil but will not turn their backs on their Haitian ancestors.
Their fight is one we must all support to eradicate the insidious anti-Blackness our Matria Grande has inherited from centuries of colonization and imperialism.
BY LOLA CAMPOS