On September 9, 2018, Afro-Panamanian candidates to elective office in Panama participated in the Gathering of Afro-Panamanian Candidates, a collective space that sought to sensitize candidates’ political participation based on the recognition of their ethnic, historical, and cultural identity. In addition, this encounter was conceived of as a space for dialogue and reflection between the politicians and the community in general on the sociopolitical dynamics faced by Afro-Panamanians, and the possibilities for including and acting upon proposals that respond to the needs of this population.
Gerardo Maloney, the event organizer, feels that this activity, as a strategy for approaching and sensitizing the community and candidates who self-identify as Afro-Panamanians, becomes a great opportunity for work that is discussed, collaborative, participatory, and democratic: essential aspects for decreasing the gap [created] by clientelist processes that permeate Panama’s electoral processes and fail to provide adequate responses which the community deserves and needs. In addition, Maloney emphasizes the need to reach presidents, various government organs of control, political parties, and others, so that the process of raising awareness regarding the responsibility of candidates’ political participation relates to the needs of the people.
The candidates who participated in the event were from various political parties, and included a presidential candidate, candidates for the national assembly, mayoralties, and representative candidates for ‘corregimientos’ [small villages], noted Gerardo Maloney, who additionally said, “In these events, we try to have a get-together based on identity, and leave the actors’ and candidates’ political identity somewhat to the side while all of us SPEND TIME TOGETHER, because this was precisely about the community getting to know the candidates and for the candidates to get to know each other independently of [their] political parties.”
The candidates had the opportunity during the event to discuss their proposals and commitments which, among other elements, highlighted the need for the Afro-descendant population to progressively participate more in decision-making spaces. They additionally expressed their commitment to the objectives of the International Decade for People of African Descent, the development of politics of inclusion [and] recognition, and affirmative actions for promoting Afro-Panamanians’ rights to health, education, [and] employment, among others. For its part, The Political Platform – established as a plan of development priorities that brings together the guidelines of the Durban Plan of Action and Decade Objectives – urged the candidates to be sure to include among their proposals elements guaranteeing the respect for diversity and full rights as citizens for all of the actors who comprise the nation, regardless of their ethnic or cultural origin.
Likewise, Afro-Panamanian youth who participated in the activity expressed their interest in having an encounter between these candidates and young people, declaring that this space should be consolidated as an opportunity to insert the issue of sensitization into the political arena with regard to Afro-Panamanians, especially in the context of the very important ethnic self-identification in the 2020 census route.
Race & Equality applauds this type of initiative and with full conviction declares that the path to the inclusion and recognition of the rights of Afro-Panamanians requires this community to win and be represented in State-level decision-making spaces, in order that from there progress be made in designing and executing structural plans that entail a dialogue with Afro-Panamanians’ dynamics and provide responses to their demands.