Afrovenezuelan Social Movement

Pervasive throughout Latin American has been the State’s spread and use of the idea of Mestizaje as national discourse. Within this has emerged a movement by Afrolatinos who struggle for recognition within the National rhetoric of Mestizaje. In particular we will study the case of the Afrovenezuelans as they move forward within the contexts of the Bolivarian Revolution initiated by Hugo Chavez.

Historical Context
As we examine the Venezuelan case it is no surprise that most scholars begin with historical context of ‘conquest’ and slavery. The African Diaspora in Venezuela and all of the Americans begin with the ‘discovery’ (a term since dropped in Venezuela) of the Americans and the use of Africans as an enslaved labor force. The colonizers rationalized their actions on racial and religious supremacy in which we obviously see the racist ideology, as not only part of the society but as its very foundations.

Eventually slavery was abolished; the different nations won their independence, and struggled to form a national identity, apart from the European colonizers. Governments were established that found themselves in the peculiar situation of having multiethnic/multiracial societies. These different ethnic/racial groups remained at the bottom of the socio, political and economic strata.

Mestizaje as Myth of racial Equality and Democracy
As we fast-forward to the end of the 20th century the governments had adopted doctrines of Mestizaje as the national heritages of these ‘multiethnic’ nations. As mixing had continued throughout the years it was stated that this would eliminate racism This was not the case and in fact, racism had evolved from its more overt forms of the past into more subtle ingrained structures in society, as we see with the Venezuelan Example.
“The ideology of mestizaje, as myth of democracy and racial equality. Masks discrimination and socio-economic situations of Afro Venezuelan indigenous communities This ideology attempted to close the wound by the clash of different cultures and hide the unequal relations of power between the different ethnic groups. In practice, however, it identified the Europeans as the civilizing agent. Making Africans and the indigenous and their descendants largely invisible” Source: Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 32, No. 2, Venezuelan Exceptionalism Revisited: The Unraveling of Venezuela's Model Democracy (Mar., 2005), pp. 76

Using Mestizaje as the discourse to eliminate all discrimination ignored the groups that looked to maintain their cultural identities. Also ignored was the fact that the National identity in which different ethnicities were being coerced to, most often meant assimilation and embracing a homogenous ideology. This State endorsed identity was far from organic or of equal acceptance in the importance given to the contributions of the diverse groups.

In the 1980’s due to the economic crisis there was an increased hostility toward Blacks or Afrolatino Immigrants in Venezuela who were largely blamed. Hostility later on moved from immigrant blacks to the Native Afro descendants in Venezuela, which demonstrated the long ignored racial and discrimination issues of the country.

“As a Response to visible racism and discrimination, there was an increase in the number of organized social movements and Afro Venezuelan organizations. There was a revalue of traditional culture, fueled a culture of resistance and foreground issues of national identity. The main actors in the Afrovenezuelan community being the Union of Black Women and the Afro-America foundation which joined other grassroots organizations to later form the Afro Venezuelan Network of . Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 32, No. 2, Venezuelan Exceptionalism Revisited: The Unraveling of Venezuela's Model Democracy (Mar., 2005), pp. 79

Bolivarian Revolution; legal basis for Red de Organizaciones Afrovenezolanas
In 1998- Poverty and the lack of success of economic policies, brought about opportunities for change in which we saw the rise to power of Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution which are is the legislative basis for the social movement of the Red de Organizaciones Afrovenezolanas (Afrovenezuelan Network)

The group cites the preamble of the constitution in specific as it states the following commitment:
“to the re-founding of the Republic through profound transformations designed to establish a democratic , sovereign, responsible , multiethnic, and multicultural society made up of equal men and women and children, who are the State’s highest interest , in accord with the values of belonging and the national identity”

In accordance with this in its mission, the Afrovenezuelan Network looks for ‘recognition on the cultural, social, educative, and agricultural spheres. To stimulate the social insertion of the Afrovenezuelan peoples and minimize the structural exclusion of the previous years.’

Red de Organizaciones Afrovenezolanas, a closer look

‘One of the distinctive characteristics of the Afrovenezuelan Organizations is its cultural essence, where are vindicated the ancestral codes and symbolisms express through music , dance, culinary, artistry, and religion.
-Asserting that the traditional culture and the new forms of cultural expression are part of the local, regional, national and universal cultural heritage.
-As such there must be a preservation of the cultural traditions of Africa origin, of which many are in process of extinction as part of the national heritage.

Not just a preservation of cultural traditions but an Acknowledge in history of the contributions of Africans and their descendants to the socio-historical, economic and cultural formation of Venezuela in programs of basic education.
The Afrovenezuelan network fights to incorporate the African heritage into the National discourse not only as a source of idealization as mestizaje, but in the context of the contributions and equal worth to said identity.

-Take part in the participation process on the different levels; locally, regionally, and national as is established in the constitution
-Contribute to the protection of the cultural and natural heritage of the Afrovenezuelan communities as part of sustainable development
-Openly fight against any form of racial discrimination and put in practice the plan of action developed in the World Conference against Racism (South Africa 2001) Which was signed by Venezuela.
-Permanent plans in the areas of culture, education, internet, and media to give follow up to the different modes of discrimination in the country, which can be violent in nature
-Place the subject on the public agenda such as education, culture, tourism, health, science etc.
Media: Elimination of stereotypes and negative imagery, cultural values, religions of African peoples
-Demand from the national government the approval of the penalization of racial discrimination

As a movement of social change The Afrovenezuelan network uses both a top-down and bottom-up approach furthering their cause. As previously mentioned they use a top down approach by pushing for legislative reform in penalizing racial discrimination and working within the contexts of government by citing the Preamble to the constitution. It also uses the bottom up approach by focusing on local cultural identities and inclusion of Afrovenezuelans in the local politics.

President Hugo Chavez one noted this mentality by mentioning that as children they were taught that the mother land was Spain, (a sentiment that is very pervasive in different national discourses) and only as he grew up did he really learn that Africa was one too.
As a movement of social change the Afrovenezuelan network faces several challenges; a national discourse of Mestizaje, public refusal to admit this is one of the major issues to tackle, and the invisibility to which they have been relegated to in the national sphere. If there they are not recognized as a group, then it is extremely difficult to combat the structural racism that persists. If you DO not exist then YOU CAN NOT be discriminated upon.
Therefore the challenge is to bring these issues to the forefront, to have recognition in the national sphere, which they look to solve by having the government give official recognition to its African peoples.

As the issue of race no matter if overt or subtle is still pervasive in Latin America we must examine the interconnection of race and class, economic and political power as they are bound to one another .


Herrera Salas, Jesús María, Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 32, No. 2, Venezuelan Exceptionalism Revisited: The Unraveling of Venezuela's Model Democracy (Mar., 2005), pp. 76, 79

Herrera Salas, Jesús María . "RACISMO Y DISCURSO POLITICO EN VENEZUELA". Rev. Venez. de Econ. y Ciencias Sociales 2004: pp111-128.

Images :

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License