Afro-Brazilians celebrate their heritage, demand equality

EFE

Brazil, where more than half the population have African ancestors, celebrates Black Consciousness Day this Tuesday amid a political and social climate that is largely negative toward non-whites.

From the early hours of the morning, some 100 people crowded around the bust of the 17th-century leader of slave resistance, Zumbi dos Palmares, on one of Rio de Janeiro's main thoroughfares.

"We come to pay tribute to the struggle and the statue of Zumbi and to make this a time of resistance, because slavery in Brazil may have ended but racism continues," Joseane Soares, chair of the Federal Council of Social Service (CFESS), told EFE at the foot of the monument.

"This is an occasion for honoring the black culture that is an integral part of this country, and to give it the visibility that is so important," Soares said against a musical background that enlivened the moves of the people gathered there.

Leaders of associations that fight against racism put on an improvised act to commemorate this special date. A representative of the Union of Negroes for Equality noted the absence of Rio's mayor. "Where is Mayor Crivella?" he asked rhetorically.

Marcelo Crivella, a right-wing evangelical pastor, "cut the amount of money originally destined for the celebrations" of Black Consciousness Day, musician and Afro-Brazilian community leader Luiz Sacopa said.

The holiday was created in January 2003, when then-President Dilma Rousseff signed into law a measure that obliged schools to teach elements of Afro-Brazilian history and culture.

Brazil was the last country in Latin America to abolish slavery, in 1888, a landmark event that, as Soares pointed out, did not abolish racism.

"More than 50 percent of the Brazilian population is black, and when you cross that fact with the poverty, the absence of adequate healthcare, the lack of education...all those indicators are concentrated in that fraction of the population that is black," she said.

Soares showed her concern for the coming to power of the president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro , a far-right apologist for the 1964-1985 military regime who has been called a racist due to his controversial remarks.

"Everybody is concerned, but that won't make us retreat. It's our view that all our movements aim to get stronger and promote united action to stop the criminalization and repression that are coming," Soares said about the future Bolsonaro government that begins Jan. 1.

"The black movement is important for fighting racism in Brazil," she said. "We have to fight to be visible and to be able to change the situation, because if we don't talk about what's going on, it's like it's not happening.

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