Profile | Ecuador: The Struggle of Afro-Ecuadorians

The majority of Afro-Ecuadorians reside in the northern coastal regions, particularly in the Esmeraldas province.  There are also small black populations in the urban centers of Quito and Guayaquil, and in the Chota-Mira Valley of the Carchi and Imbabura provinces.  The black and mulatto population is estimated to be about 1.1 million, or 8 percent of the total population.  Afro-Ecuadorians are the descendants of slaves originally brought to the country in the early 16th century.  It was only in 2001 that the first national census included a question about ethnicity. Before that groups could only be distinguished by language. Since Afro-Ecuadorians speak Spanish, their numbers often did not appear.

 

Ecuador’s society remains stratified with reports of overt social prejudice against blacks in all spheres of society.  Nevertheless, Ecuador has no formal policies of racial or ethnic discrimination and is constitutionally defined as a “multinational” country. There is only one Afro-Ecuadorian member of congress.  The Collective Rights of Black and Afro-Ecuadorian Peoples law passed in 2006 established The Afro-Ecuadorian Development Council (CONDAE), a government office which creates policies and strategies for improving black communities.  It is the second state-level body explicitly for Afro-Ecuadorians. The other group that informs the president on black issues is the Afro-Ecuadorian Development Corporation (Corporación de Desarrollo Afroecuatoriano, CODAE), formally launched in 2002.  CODAE was created in 1998 during the interim presidency of Fabian Alarcon, but formally institutionalized in 2002.

 

Although the Development Project for the Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians (Proyecto de Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indigenas y Afroecuatorianos, PRODEPINE) took aim at black communities in 1998 with funding from the World Bank, it was predominantly an indigenous-focused initiative.  While Afro-Ecuadorians have mostly benefited from the indigenous rights movement’s promotion of a multicultural, multiethnic, and multinational Ecuador, government development programs for Ecuador’s indigenous populations have simply been applied to Afro-descendants, without taking into consideration their unique situations.  The 2006 Afro-Ecuadorian law sought to disaggregate the needs of Afro-Ecuadorian communities from those of the indigenous.  While the new laws and departments are the first serious attempts to address the problems faced by blacks within society, significant change in Afro-communities has not happened.

 

Recent constitutional and legal gains are the positive results of the Afro-Ecuadorian movement that began about 30 years ago with the formation of black empowerment organizations. The Center of Afro-Ecuadorian Studies, an organization that studies Afro-culture and advocates racial consciousness, was founded in 1979.  It was the first organization to rally around issues pertaining to marginalized blacks in Ecuador and is still active today. Another long-standing group is the Association of Black Ecuadorians (Asociacion de Negros Ecuatorianos, ASONE), founded in 1988. Its aims include developing cultural pride and reversing environmental damage by logging companies and shrimp farms in the coastal region. In 1989, the Afro-Ecuadorian Institute was founded to revive African traditions among Ecuador’s Afro-descendants.

 

Since these formative first years of the black movement, many more groups have formed.   Founded by soccer star Agustin Delgado, The Agustin Delgado Foundation works to improve the socio-economic situation of Afro-Ecuadorians in the Choto Valley.  The Center for Studies and Investigations of Afro-descendants of Ecuador studies black communities to better inform the movement’s agenda and has worked with continental black and indigenous groups on children’s issues.  The Equality Alliance fights discrimination and works to increase the national profile of black Ecuadorians.  There is also the Black Community Movement (El Proceso de Comunidades Negras), based in San Lorenzo, Esmeraldas.   One of the largest groups, the Afro-Ecuadorian Cultural Center, lobbies the government on Afro-Ecuadorian issues. These groups primarily work independent of one another or work only on a regional level. The National Confederation of Afro-Ecuadorians (Confederacion Nacional Afroecuatoriana, CNA) is one of two nationwide groups advocating on behalf of Afro-Ecuadorians. CNA was founded in 1999 and recognized legally in 2003.  The other nationwide group, also founded in 1999, is the National Coordinator of Black Women of Ecuador (Coordinadora Nacional de Mujeres Negras de Ecuador), an organization that has been very effective at creating a national profile, as well as making rounds in international policy circles.

 

 

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