Interview with Beatriz Amaro, Afro-Mexican Leader: “If today we must speak up and raise our voices, we ask that we be allowed to raise them as Afro-Mexican communities”

In the midst of the current humanitarian crisis in Mexico, due to the extremely grave situation of violence, unemployment, insecurity, and a very high rate of migration due to drug trafficking, as well as other sociopolitical issues that have not been addressed, the Afro-Mexican population continues to struggle for and demand constitutional recognition as a people whom, according to the data obtained in the 2015 Intercensal Survey administered by INEGI, totals 1,381,853 persons, equivalent to 1.2% of the national population.

Beatriz Amaro, a leader and human rights defender in the organization Unity for Progress, in the city of Oaxaca, AC spoke with Race & Equality during the pre-sessions for Mexico of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) held on October 12, 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland regarding the need to implement affirmative actions, effective public policies, and action plans in agreement with the Afro-Mexican people, with an eye to reducing the historic impact of racism and discrimination that translates into the Afro-descendant population in Mexico having fewer possibilities for employment, education, [and] participation.  In addition, [she spoke] about the importance of the Review, in which the state of rights in Mexico will be reviewed on November 7, 2018, taking into account some of the recommendations offered by Afro-descendant civil society.

In the midst of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Mexico, what is the greatest need and demand being made by Afro-Mexican civil society organizations to the Mexican State that you wish to highlight in the pre-sessions of Mexico’s Universal Periodic Review?

Without a doubt, the most pressing need and demand of the Afro-Mexican people today is to be constitutionally recognized.  Without constitutional recognition, Mexico’s Afro-descendants will not have a way to demand respect for our rights in accordance with our historic, social, and cultural reality.  While the inclusion of the ethnic-racial variable in the intercensal survey administered in 2015 represents significant progress in at least recognizing the total number of the population, it is necessary to continue working to develop official policies, plans, and projects at the national level that serve to counteract the impact of poverty, lack of opportunities, and structural racism that we experience in our country.  Likewise, the report submitted to the various missions during the pre-sessions mentions the need to create specific plans for attending to women, guaranteeing effective health services, incorporating educational programs that include the Afro-Mexican people’s historic legacy, and creating spaces for dialogue and participation to reformulate the Plan of Action of the Decade of Afro-descendants.

During the most recent public hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) related to the state of Afro-descendants’ rights, the State mentioned a large number of programs designed to benefit the Afro-Mexican people.  How are these programs and/or affirmative actions being implemented?

It is true that the Mexican State has conceived, designed, and likely implemented programs, affirmative actions, or plans for the Afro-Mexican people; however, these plans have never been designed with any of us, nor worked on with us. Allow me to clarify; these action proposals do not include the vision of the Afro-Mexican peoples, nor are they publicized sufficiently strongly to enable the communities to know about the projects that have been designed for their benefit.  Thus, it would seem or could be interpreted as formally fulfilling a commitment, though without any real implementation of these programs, because they are not being reflected in the communities, we don’t know about them, nor are we actively participating in their design, let alone their implementation.  One thing is clear, however: who can better know the reality of the Afro-descendant people of Mexico than we the Afro-Mexicans?  We don’t understand, then, how they can design these projects in the very capital of the Republic, a space to which we don’t have access, and much less how they implement them.  In this sense, it is important that these programs be publicized in the zones where there are greater numbers of Afro-Mexicans, above all in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Veracruz, given that in addition, we are the ones who face the greatest challenges to development.

One of the recommendations proposed by civil society organizations during the pre-sessions to the Universal Periodic Review is a request that the Decade Plan of Action be reformulated.  Why?

I know perfectly well that having a Decade Plan of Action represents great progress, because many countries don’t even have one; but again, the situation is that the development of this Plan of Action that benefits the Afro-Mexican people was not consulted, worked on, or designed jointly with Afro-Mexican civil society.  We didn’t participate.  As such, there are clearly many aspects that don’t touch upon or reflect the situation or needs of the Afro-Mexican population.  I don’t mean to imply by this that the plan is bad or inappropriate; indeed, there are many positive things [about it]; however, I think it is necessary to work in a participatory, dialogical way that is agreed to by the Afro-descendant communities so that it goes beyond simply being a plan and actually becomes a materialization of activities that leads to real and effective implementation.

With regard to what was said earlier, is there an alternative proposal designed by the Afro-Mexican civil society organizations in relation to the Decade Plan of Action?

I would love to say yes, that a joint proposal exists that has been developed, discussed, and agreed to by the entire Afro-Mexican social movement to propose a joint work agenda, but unfortunately, we don’t have one at this time.  Organizing, discussing, and agreeing to an agenda requires not only absolute political will, which I believe each and every one of the social organizations that comprise this movement has, but also budgetary support to enable us to make progress to that end.  In order to build an inclusive, plural, and diverse agenda that is made up of all of the voices in the movement, we need to do work that requires financial support.  Nonetheless, we have made significant progress.  In the case of the women, we have performed several agenda exercises that we believe are essential to include in the Decade Plan, just as our recommendations were included in the alternative report submitted by the civil society organizations to the Universal Periodic Review Committee.  We hope our voices can be included.

What has been the impact of today’s humanitarian crisis in Mexico on the Afro-Mexican population?

We don’t have official numbers or studies of what the impact of the wave of violence underway in Mexico has been on the Afro-descendant people, nor do we have real disaggregated data that enables us to statistically know the real state of the Afro-Mexican people.  Certainly, as I noted earlier, a 2015 intercensal exercise was performed that provided an initial introduction of the Afro-descendant populace, though did not cover all of the localities; as such, the data, apart from being very general, are not accurate.  However, we can say that the state of human rights of our entire population has worsened, precisely because in addition to the dynamics of vulnerability our communities had already been confronting – such as poverty, inequality, [and] lack of access to health, education, and employment – new forms of victimization take place as a result of the impact of the dynamics of drug trafficking, circumstances that clearly put our people in a state of high risk and defenselessness.

What do you see as the principal challenges of the Afro-Mexican social movement in the current context?

As I was saying, one of the principal objectives is to continue fighting for constitutional recognition of the Afro-Mexican people.  However, in order to do that, we believe it is very important to unify the movement’s political will in order to present a proposal for jointly working with the Mexican State and other scenarios for political advocacy.

I think another principal challenge is to be able to play an important role in more decision-making spaces in order to ensure that the proposals and projects developed therein benefit us [and] are designed in accordance with our realities, from the perspective of our Afro-Mexican men, women, youth, boys, girls, and adolescents.  If we continue to allow these spaces to be occupied by academics, who with the very best of intentions attempt to describe and heighten the visibility of our situation, we will not be able to occupy these spaces ourselves to empower ourselves for our reality.  We ourselves, empowered by our history, reality, and purpose, need to be prepared to make presentations before national and international bodies on our reality, denunciations, and demands.

If today we must speak out and raise our voices, we ask that we be allowed to raise them from the perspective of our organizations rather than from academia.  Certainly, what we need is for them to train rather than represent us in order to incentivize the participation, commitment, and training of Afro-Mexican women and men with an eye to having the tools we lack for [removing] the educational gap that we oftentimes confront.  What we want is for them to provide us support in the form of tools, to be heard [in spaces] where we should be heard.

What are your expectations for the Universal Periodic Review, in which the state of human rights in Mexico will be evaluated?

I feel that due to the grave human rights violations that exist in Mexico today, the matter of the state of Afro-descendant rights will not be a priority.  However, I feel that spaces such as the pre-sessions provide us with opportunities to undertake very important advocacy whereby we appropriate our own realities, precisely because they motivate us to develop exercises for systematizing the work we are carrying out in order to be able to present it to different mechanisms in which we will certainly be able to make the voice heard of a people that needs international support, solidarity, and attention, so that we can continue to apply pressure to have our rights respected, protected, and recognized.

We hope that the Universal Periodic Review will be able to address at least two of the recommendations made in order to receive the international backing we so need and be able to monitor the Mexican State’s compliance with said recommendations.

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