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In the 21st century, strikes against race and ethnic discrimination became an ongoing issue. It is known that the USA is one of the democratic countries, in which racial discrimination has been always a perplexing problem. Even nowadays, the Afro-Americans are struggling for their civil rights and democratic equality. However, this paper does not deeply analyze American discrimination; on the contrary, it will thoroughly investigate the main dilemmas concerning ethnicity and race in Venezuela in comparison with the USA. Needless to say, the object of this scientific paper was not simply chosen. The main priorities were made on the lack of evidence of the racial discrimination of Afro-Venezuelans. Now, scientists still cannot reach an agreement about whether there is race and ethnical discrimination towards Afro-Venezuelans or not. One claims that the concept of discrimination in Venezuela is completely different comparing with the other countries, such as the USA that considers racism a concept of the negligence of rights and needs of those who look different from the main population. On the other hand, there exists an opinion that there is no discrimination in Venezuela since all people are equally treated. It can be explained by the fact that almost all Venezuelans have a mixed background. Therefore, it is clear that the society of Afro-Venezuelans must be deeply analyzed in order to identify the main ethical and race issues.
Afro-Venezuelan Ethnic Group
If one takes into account the geographical perspective, it is known that Venezuela is located between Brazil, Colombia, and Guyana. The general population consists of 27 minorities from Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Africa, and Arabic countries. Moreover, there is a group of indigenous people, Afro-Venezuelans, whose rights have always been neglected. Afro-Venezuelans are people with a mixed heritage of the African background. They are difficult to identify because of the strong race mixture. Therefore, some people claim that there is no race discrimination towards Afro-Venezuelans at all. However, other people argue that the needs of Afro-Venezuelans have been always neglected comparing to the dominant white race.
Negligence of Afro-Venezuelans’ Rights
Historically, it is known that, in the past, Afro-Venezuelans were employed as slaves for cultivating the cacao fields at the beginning of the 16th century. Eisen (2014) thinks that, at that time, the rights of Afro-Venezuelans were totally diminished. They did not have any social and political rights to struggle for their ethnical identity. Since the 17th century, Afro-Venezuelans have been considered the slaves who had to work in the fields. At that time, they were highly employed as slaves by the Cortez family. This family was known for its inhuman behavior towards slaves. The Cortez family totally neglected the rights of Afro-Venezuelans and claimed that these indigenous minorities were very lazy and bad workers. In the 1640s, one could observe the rapid growth of cacao sales. As a result, more Afro-Venezuelans were enslaved. Statistically, there were approximately 17 000 slaves at that time. Undoubtedly, there were few attempts of fighting against slavery; however, they finished unsuccessfully. The government still continued racism and ignored the human rights of freedom. In 1813, Simon Bolivar tried to rebel against the local government. He achieved political freedom for people from Uruguay and Panama; however, regarding the Afro-Venezuelan community, there were no improvements. In the 1930s, a new constitution was adopted, but it did not guarantee any social or political freedom for indigenous people. What is more, the new constitution totally neglected the religious beliefs of Afro-Venezuelans by declaring Roman Catholicism as a single religion. Kiely (2012) points out that, up to the 20th century, the rights of Afro-Venezuelans were not taken for granted. Even in 1961, when the new constitution was written, it did not criticize the previous constitutions of the 19th century that totally neglected the rights of Afro-Venezuelans. Therefore, it is evident that racism and discrimination are still prevalent in Venezuela.
Salas (2015) thinks that slavery has terribly influenced the historical and demographic situation in Venezuela. It can be explained by the fact that, after the abolition of slavery in 1854, Afro-Venezuelans still did not get the desired equality and freedom. Until nowadays, racism still exists in society in the form of neglecting the rights of indigenous people. The state government decided to whiten Venezuela by prohibiting the non-European immigrants to immigrate into the country. The situation was significantly worsened in 1952-1958 when Marcos Pérez Jiménez ruled Venezuela. One of his plans was to whiten the population with the help of selective immigration (only the white-skinned people).
A Significant Role of Chávez’s Government
Since that time, Afro-Venezuelans have been striving for their civil rights and political equality. Nowadays, the Afro-Venezuelan community is not considered an indigenous minority according to the constitution. Comprie (2013) claims that some improvement regarding the race and social discrimination of Afro-Americans was seen during Chávez’s government. Hugo Chávez has challenged a lot the concept of Afro-Venezuelans racism. He highly respected Venezuelans’ African heritage and fought for the freedom of indigenous people. Hugo Chávez is recognized as one of the biggest fighters and reformists for the rights of Afro-Venezuelans. He was the first president in Venezuela’s history who highly respected the indigenous ancestry. Hugo Chávez adopted a new constitution in 1999 that significantly changed the general perceiving of the Venezuelan population. According to the constitution, Venezuela is recognized as a multi-ethnic society, in which human rights and freedom, including the rights of Afro-Venezuelans, must be highly respected. What is more, the new constitution highly stressed the importance of intercultural education taking into account both social and religious peculiarities of the Venezuelan society. As a result, in 2005, the Presidential Commission was created. The main duty of this organization was to protect the rights of indigenous people and struggle against discrimination. This organization helped to educate society on the roots of Afro-Venezuelans, their historical peculiarities, and fight against slavery. Moreover, Comprie (2013) points out that, in 2011, the Afro-Venezuelan Network created the law against racial discrimination in Venezuela. The main objectives of the law include the establishment of the mechanism that would control, punish, and eradicate any type of discrimination in Venezuela. Comprie (2013) thinks that one of the main changes was the celebration of Afro-Venezuelan Day on May 10 each year. At that time, Afro-Venezuelans celebrate their freedom and improvements in terms of race discrimination. Thanks to Chávez’s government, Afro-Venezuelans got many improvements in the following fields:
- Education. More than two million African descendants got the right to be educated. Moreover, nowadays, it is required to teach Venezuelan students how the rights of Afro-Venezuelans have been neglected since the 16th century. Therefore, the history of the African descendants’ race discrimination is not conveyed anymore.
- Medical Care. The Constitution of 1999 significantly improved the rights of Afro-Venezuelans. It totally changed the whole health care system in Venezuela. Afro-Venezuelans gained the right to basic medical care.
- Political Activity. The Constitution of 1999 allowed Afro-Venezuelans to participate in the election. Moreover, in 2003, more than a million of Afro-Venezuelans got legal citizenship.
The Controversy of Race Discrimination in Venezuela
Most scientists claim that the problem of race discrimination in Venezuela is very perplexing. It can be explained by the fact that 95% of Venezuelans do not see any racial discrimination in their country. Surprisingly, most dark-skinned people claim that they are proud to have such type of skin. It means that people of different colors are not discriminated against because of their physical difference. Moreover, Afro-Venezuelans say that almost all residents belong to the same ethnical group; thus, there cannot be any type of racism. They identify themselves as mestizos, i.e. people with mixed heritage.
However, the results of the Trans Africa Forum have shown that racism is still alive in Venezuela. Garcia (2005) claims that, despite the fact that Afro-Venezuelans deny that they are discriminated against, the white people continue neglecting the rights of the dark skin population. He (2005) supports his viewpoint with the following evidence: in the news, Afro-Venezuelans are called the burned people. Moreover, sometimes they are called monkeys, because of their different racial background.
Moreover, racism can be seen in the governmental structure. The white skin voters are considered the high class. They voted against Chávez’s government because they did not care about the rights of the minorities. On the contrary, the black voters supported Chávez with an intense desire to have their rights improved. According to the above examples, it is clear that despite denying the fact that the color of skin does not matter it still matters.
Undoubtedly, in the current government, there are many members of the Afro-Venezuelan background. However, it does not make the life of indigenous people easier. They are still victims in politics, economic, social, medical, and educational sectors. Race discrimination can be witnessed in the poor areas of Venezuela, where Afro-Venezuelans do not have acceptable living conditions. They still cultivate many plants for consumption and selling. Unfortunately, for some Afro-Venezuelans, it is the only way to survive. Poverty is an ongoing issue in this region. Moreover, the inhuman behavior towards Afro-Venezuelans can be seen by the police officers who are used to discriminating against the people of color rampantly.
Comparison of the Concept of Racism in the United States of America and Venezuela
According to the definition, the term racism means a set of human prejudices that deny the concept of equality with the people of color. Moreover, the racists completely neglect the rights of ethnic minorities to have freedom and opportunity for a better life. When talking about Venezuela, most people deny that there is racism in their country since most residents look pretty much the same and have curly hair and dark skin. If to take these characteristics into account, one can absolutely agree that there is no racism. However, most Afro-Venezuelans contradict their keen beliefs that there is no racism by pointing out that they want to have a European appearance: straight hair and white skin. Moreover, they claim that they have European blood that makes them a privileged social group. Therefore, the controversy over the topic of race discrimination is clearly seen. The issue is much worsened because Afro-Venezuelans deny that there exists any form of discrimination at all. However, when they do not get a good job or sufficient medical care, they will usually complain about the negligence of their ethnic rights. It is also true that skin color differences are not among the most vital issues in Venezuela comparing to the USA. It can be explained by the fact that the population of Venezuela is more homogenous compared to the USA one, in which different types of appearance signalize that the person is an odd one in the white society.
One more difference between perceiving the fact of racism in Venezuela and the USA is the definition of the term racism itself. In Venezuela, it is believed that racism is an anti-black movement that totally neglects the rights of people with Negroid features. For instance, in the USA, any person with Negroid appearance may be discriminated against. On the contrary, only dark black people are considered a different ethnic minority. These people may feel prejudice towards their ethnic identities. It is also true that the issue of race discrimination is not an ongoing problem in Venezuela comparing to the USA. Thanks to mixed heritage, Afro-Venezuelans are not totally discriminated against. However, it does not mean that they should stay calm when their rights are neglected. Therefore, a different definition of race discrimination and perception of color may lead to the disregard of the fact that there is no ethical and race discrimination in Venezuela.
To sum up, the need for defining the concept of race and ethnical discrimination is burning since even modern civilization, and new scientific researches cannot give a clear explanation of why Afro-Venezuelans are discriminated against. Therefore, the moment of recognition has to be taken forward in order to analyze the historical context and life conditions of Afro-Venezuelans that will depict a full picture of life in Venezuela. Unfortunately, most Afro-Venezuelans still believe that they were raised without any racial prejudices. It is true that this ethnical minority is not discriminated because of their skin (as it is in the USA where Afro-Americans are usually called the niggers); however, different color of skin and mixed heritage has led to poverty in the Afro-Venezuelan regions. Moreover, if one analyzes the term racism broader, taking into account the historical context, it will be clear that racism is alive in Venezuela. It can be explained by the fact that Afro-Venezuelans are discriminated not because of the color of their skin (Afro-Venezuelans belong to the mixed heritage of African origin), but because of their class, especially if they belong to poor people who live in bad conditions. These people do not have any access to health care and other social services. The local government must take immediate steps in order to stop discrimination and promote equal rights for all residents.