BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  World: Americas
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
Brazil's 'Africans' seek equality
Rio Favela
Most of Brazil's poor neighbourhoods are black
By Tom Gibb in Sao Paulo

Brazil has often been described as a country that has managed to achieve racial harmony.

However, today there is a growing black movement arguing that Brazilians of African decent are grossly under-represented and are barred by poverty from many of the privileges enjoyed by those of European descent.

Three hundred years of slavery, 300 years of submission - it's hard to teach people to change that mind-set

Father Alexander Coelho

At the centre of the movement are communities originally founded by former slaves - which are now demanding titles to their land.

The small fishing community of Camburi lies on an isolated white sandy beach surrounded by thick tropical forest. In past centuries, this made it a perfect place for a hideout for runaway slaves - or Quilombo - as such settlements are called.

Brazil - racially varied, but divides remain

Genesio dos Santos, aged 74, was born here and remembers his relatives talking about how the village was founded. Today he is leading the villagers' demands to be given land.

"My uncles, like Uncle Fernando, lived to 105. My mother lived to a 103. So we can trace our family back more than three hundred years," he says.

"But today, we are not able to use the land as we would like. I'm sure however that my wife and others that follow will have that liberty to live here as they please," he adds.

Constitutional promise

Across Brazil, there are almost 1,000 Quilombos.

Rio carnival
The carnival image of racial harmony

When Brazil became a democracy in 1988, the new constitution specified that they should be given land. But in practice, only a handful have.

The local priest in Camburi, Father Alexander Coelho, urges villagers to unite to demand land.

He says that Brazil has a race problem which it is only starting to face up to.

"Three hundred years of slavery, 300 hundred years of submission - it's hard to teach people to change that mind-set," he says.

"In Brazil, there was no discussion about race ... there was a pseudo-equality. When we started to talk about it, we were accused of bringing racism to Brazil," he argues.

"But the facts show otherwise. Black women especially are marginalised .... most of the poor neighbourhoods are black, and there's no racism here?," he adds.

Discrimination at the top

A growing number of black activists point out that although almost half of Brazil's population is of African descent, only a handful of the top politicians or members of the upper echelons of parliament are black.

Someone shouted 'hey black man, using the master's car?' That's the discrimination, the prejudice you find here.

Equiel Baltazar, professor of law

This is also true of highly-skilled jobs.

Equiel Baltazar, a black law professor who grew up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, is campaigning to make people aware of rights which, he says, many black Brazilians don't know they possess.

Mr Baltazar says he studied law because of the discrimination he suffered, adding that, being poor and black, he had tremendous difficulties paying for his studies.

"When I managed to save and buy a car for instance, one day I was in Rio and I stopped at a traffic light. Someone shouted 'hey black man, using the master's car?' That's the discrimination, the prejudice you find here."

Today, a growing number of people are recognising that Brazil needs to do more to integrate different races, especially in terms of education and opportunities for work.

Otherwise, in practice, people end up without the same rights and opportunities.

See also:

27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Brazil
15 Mar 00 | Americas
Brazil reviews its cultural mix
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories