Afro-Latino Voices Shout: Obama! Obama!

The election of Barack Obama sent shock-waves of pride and excitement through communities of African descent in Latin America. From Colombia to Cuba, and Peru to Venezuela, Afro-Latino activists celebrated Obama's victory at the polls as their own. Although activists noted the symbolic power of an Obama presidency, some remained questioned whether his administration would change U.S. policies negatively affecting their communities and nations.

November 10, 2008

With Barack Obama’s election as the 44th president of the United States, celebrations broke out in various predominately Black neighborhoods across the United States. But the celebrations that took place beyond U.S. borders were just as enthusiastic.

Afro-Latino activists from across the hemisphere circulated emails and statements expressing their excitement over what the coming Obama presidency means for their communities and their nations.

Colombian newscast (in Spanish) on local celebrations of the Obama victory.

Raucous celebrations erupted in Colombia, a nation with Latin America's second-largest Black population after Brazil's. Expectant Colombians even organized election-watching parties and get-togethers. When news of the victory hit the city of Cali, caravans of honking cars and motorcycles flooded the streets with supporters of the president-elect chanting, "Obama! Obama!"

“Right now, we are celebrating this triumph in all of the African-descendant communities of Colombia,” said an exultant Jose Luis Rengifo Balanta, who works with an activist organization in Colombia. “Today, for the first time in history, we have a [U.S.] president who embodies all of the dreams of all of the Black people in the world.”

Igor Correa Caicedo of the Colombian Legal Assistance Center based in Cali wrote: “November 4, 2008, will be remembered as the day when the practice of institutional racism began to come to an end in the world.”

Afro-Colombian activists hoped the incoming Obama administration would bring changes to U.S. policies affecting their communities. “Obama’s winning of the presidency is the best thing that could happen to African descendants in Colombia,” said Ana Castillo, an Afro-Colombian who lives in the United States but travels to her native country frequently. “Because, as he said during one of his debates, he would not support the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.”

Carlos Rúa Angulo, the director of the Bogotá, Colombia-based Ecotambor School of Leadership Formation, similarly expected the Obama administration would reverse U.S. military policy toward his country, which he said has been "lethal" for Afro-Colombian communities.

Across the border in Ecuador, Blacks make up eight percent of the population, but their presence in the national government is scarce. On the eve of U.S. presidential election, Pepe Chala of the Afro-Ecuadoran National Confederation noted an Obama victory would have enormous symbolic value: “It would change the negative perception the world has of people of African descent.”

Some opinions were understandably more measured in Venezuela, where Washington has repeatedly sought to undermine the administration of socialist-oriented (and mixed-race) President Hugo Chávez, who has pushed his country to aid its poor.

“It’s clearly very important and extremely significant to have an African-descendant serve as president of the United States. It’s a transcendental moment,” said author and radio host, Victor Perdomo Fayad, of Venezuela. “From a sentimental point of view, I am happy with this win, because politically it means that new forces and new ideas are pushing away the old establishment in the United States.”

Lucas Gil Ibarguen of the Black Committee against Discrimination and Xenophobia in Caracas, said, “It’s important that Obama won, since he is of African descent, but only if he does not follow the long line of invasions and genocides like past U.S. presidents. If he turns out to be like Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell, he does not deserve our support because then he would be continuing the U.S.’s nefarious history of oppression and militarism.”

Jesús “Chucho” García, a leader in the Network of Afro-Venezuelan Organizations, said he hoped Obama would "open dialogues with the nations of South America" under conditions of mutual respect.

Afro-Cuban journalist, author, and broadcaster Pedro Pérez-Sarduy also signaled that Obama’s election could improve U.S. relations with his island nation: “With Obama, our people’s hope has grown that we will be able to throw aside the history of bigotry that has reigned over relations between the U.S. and Cuba. This will benefit both of our countries, not only us Cubans.”

From Peru—a country with nearly a million Blacks—an exultant Jorge Ramírez Reyna, president of the Lima-based Black Association for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, wrote, "Today is the beginning of a new era for African descendants, today the whole world is looking to us and today we are so much more prouder of our history, of our race and of our belief that a Black man can be president of the most important and powerful country in the world. Today, our ancestors are celebrating, because a son of Africa has fortified the hope of all of our people in the world."

He continued, “Today, every African descendant believes and understands that we can change history—and today the African-American Senator Barack Obama has changed the world.”

Karen Juanita Carrillo is a Brooklyn, New York-based writer and photographer. She co-founded the website and serves as the senior researcher with the UN-affiliated International Oil Working Group.

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