Although there are different evaluations of how much impact the newly House-approved Statute of Racial Equality will have on the reality of racism in Brazil, the majority of black movements in Brazil claim the statute as a victory, at least symbolic in nature.
The original proposal for the statute, authored by Paulo Paim (Workers’ Party from Rio Grande do Sul state) and approved in the House of Representatives on September 9, underwent several revisions. Many of the historical demands of African descendants were removed.
The alterations of the bill were a result of an agreement made between the Special Secretary of Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality, Edson Santos, and members of a special House commission which has filed lawsuits regarding the unconstitutionality of racial quotas as well as the recent presidential decree, which paved the way for land titles for quilombos, communities of descendents of runaway slaves.
According to Douglas Belchior, member of the General Council of the Blacks and Working Class Union Center, the changes in the statute’s text “diminished the political potential of Paulo Paim’s original bill.” The current version of the bill only serves “the interests of the powerful.”
One the other hand, Marcelo Paixão of the Black Movement of Rio and director of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro’s Institute of Economy, stated that the compromise with the House’s conservative members was necessary in order to get the statute approved. In his way of thinking, “The mere fact that it was approved is in of itself a victory.”
Among articles that were removed from the original bill are two issues which were challenged regarding their constitutionality: the obligation of racial quotas for Afro-Brazilians in universities, and the definition of official recognition of quilombos. Besides these, the guarantee of quotas for Afro-Brazilians in the media, and the public health care system’s requirement to identify patients by race were both removed. In addition the racial quota for political parties was reduced from 30% to 10%.
What the approved statute does establish for the protection and promotion of racial equality is the guaranteeing of spaces in high schools and colleges for Afro-Brazilians, the teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian history, the providing of government incentives for businesses with more than 20 employees and whose work force is at least 20% Afro-Brazilian, and the giving of up to three year prison terms for those who practice racism on the Internet. The statute also officially recognized\s capoeira as a sport and guarantees the free exercise of African-based religions.
The statute provides for a special office to accompany the implementation of the law as well as to prosecute violent police actions against black populations. One report recently stated the number of homicides among blacks is twice that among white.
According to Paixão, the black population is more exposed to situations of risk than is the white population in various regions of the country. The professor stated that it is a social issue, in the way that blacks are inserted into society.
“I do not believe that the statute, if it is not accompanied with other effective measures, will change this scenario.” He went on to say that the involvement of various governmental organs will be necessary for the promotion of racial equality.
“These issues demand state policies, and should not simply be the responsibility of one secretary or office. What is necessary is a coordinated effort of various governmental offices, and a change in direction of public policy.”
In Paixão’s opinion, the statute could have been more ample. “It could have been bolder, with more far-reaching policies. Social struggles around race need to be intensified so that we may achieve racial equality in Brazil. What will transform this statute from the written to living word are the social struggles.. The approval of the statute is at least a partial victory because the Brazilian State at least recognized the need for policies aimed at the Afro-Brazilian community.”
Belchior also agreed and added that the approval represents “a symbolic movement, and an important marker for the black movement.”
Now there is speculation about how the bill will be handled in the Senate, where it may go to special commission or to the full Senate. Paixão stated that it is necessary “to be careful in saying that the House approval is a great historical victory, because it still needs to be passed by the Senate, which is more conservative than the House.”
Belchior, on the other hand, believes that the Senate will approve the bill, though he acknowledges that there will need to be social pressure to not remove other parts of the bill. “We are expecting that the statute will not be further watered down.”
If the Senate passes the bill, it will go to the President for his signature. It is hoped that it will become law on November 20, National Black Consciousness Day.
First Urban Quilombo
After 11 years of struggle, the remnant community of Família Silva Quilombo finally have gained title to their land in the city of Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul. The document was officially delivered on September 24 by the federal government.
With this land title, the community becomes the first officially recognized urban quilombo of the country. Onir de Araújo, the lawyer for the community and member of the Unified Black Movement, stated that the decision gives hope for other quilombo communities in the country.
“This is an immeasurable victory for the black population. Not only here in Rio Grande do Sul, but for the entire country. It is a reference for struggle here in Brazil as well as for the international community. This case reopens the issue of urban space as well as the view that quilombos are folkloric and subjects for paintings. No, they are for real.”
Fifteen families live in the locale. The area is part of the wealthy Três Figueiras neighborhood, a highly sought after region for builders. City planners were already planning to remove the quilombo in order to build a road. After much pressure, the city canceled the plans.
Rita da Cassia da Silva, one of the members of the community, affirmed that the title is their guarantee that they will be able to remain on the land. However, there is still much to be done, like building better housing, bettering the infrastructure, and establishing income generation projects.
Six years ago, the federal government donated six sewing machines, but there was no space to work. “We lived through various eviction threats, and now we have guarantee that we can stay. We are the fourth generation of families here. Without land, it’s no good. We can’t make a living without it.”
At the beginning of this month, one more quilombo should receive land title. Another five quilombos are in the process of gaining land title. The state of Rio Grande do Sul has 135 quilombo communities.
Brasil de Fato