Latin America (Regional)

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Universidad de la Cordillera/Observatorio del Racismo en Bolivia (UNICOR), $85,675 over one year; counterpart committed, $40,995.

Observatories are watchdog agencies that monitor social issues and recommend steps toward reform. UNICOR will support the consolidation and expansion of the Red de Observatorios del Racismo en las Americas [Network of Observatories Against Racism in Latin America] and will develop in its members the skills necessary to document racism and work to eliminate it in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. (LA-174)

A Network to Combat Racism

In recent years, as the rhetoric of multiculturalism swept through the Americas, constitutions were rewritten to celebrate diversity and value the rights of all citizens. But the reforms have not yet succeeded in dismantling the entrenched social hierarchies that have Latin Americans of indigenous and African descent stuck at the bottom. Patterns of race-based discrimination that date back centuries are woven into the social fabric and so is the reluctance to acknowledge the daily practices that perpetuate them. Essential to combating racism is a process of research, documentation and analysis that exposes the ills, including the impact on development.

The good news is the emergence of “observatorios,” or watchdog entities, that are rising to this challenge in several countries by monitoring the expression and incidence of racism. A series of exchanges and conferences organized in 2010 and 2011 resulted in the formation of the hemisphere-wide Red de Observatorios del Racismo en las Americas [Network of Observatories Against Racism in Latin America] incorporating observatorios in Guatemala, Colombia and Bolivia along with like-minded institutions in Mexico and Brazil, the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) at the University of Texas and the Southern Poverty Law Center, headquartered in Montgomery, Ala., an important hub of the civil rights movement in the United States. In addition to conducting research, the professionals associated with these observatorios plan to use the findings to train academics and staff from civil society organizations to inform the public of the prevalence of racism and the need for strategies.

Universidad de la Cordillera (UNICOR), located in La Paz, houses the Bolivian observatorio. An IAF award is allowing UNICOR to serve as the administrative and coordinating unit for the network and to support its consolidation and expansion. UNICOR plans to organize visits among staff of member observatorios and to conduct workshops that help members acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to collaborate and compare their findings, engage the public and recruit additional organizations. The project should expand the dialogue on racism and result in recommendations for reform and grassroots action in the countries represented in the network.

Racism is increasingly recognized as linked to poverty and inequality. It has been an obstacle to effecting the political and economic change necessary to improve the well-being of the most marginalized sectors in this hemisphere, specifically indigenous and African descendent peoples. Red de Observatorios del Racismo en las Americas, led by UNICOR, represents a transnational front against racism and a shared effort to encourage the respect and acceptance of cultural differences— so that communities are better positioned to thrive in an environment of social cohesion.

—Alejandra Argueta, IAF program staff assistant