Zibechi: New black movements in Latin America

Black lives matter art by Emory Douglas.

Black lives matter art by Emory Douglas.

By: Raúl Zibechi

Last June 11, a group of neighbors from the Morumbi barrio of São Paulo demonstrated in support of the police that killed Ítalo, a 10-year old black boy. According to the demonstrators, the boy was just a delinquent that deserved what happened to him. Morumbi is the city’s richest neighborhood and is known for its mansions and luxury condominiums, where Brazil celebrities and important people live.

That same morning, 30 black activists from the urban periphery arrived with banners and photos of youths murdered by the Military Police, rebuking the demonstrators as “racist killers.” “I am here fighting against the bourgeoisie that goes into the street to make our death natural and banal, the death of black youths from the periphery,” a 21-year old youth from the east zone of São Paulo told the media (http://goo.gl/cdOYBE).

Certainly, it was a small but important response that places in evidence what to many is the current Brazil’s greatest contradiction: racism. It’s interesting to emphasize that the young black militants crossed the whole city, in a trip of no less than two hours each way, to challenge the dominant classes in the territory that represents the nucleus of their power; an attitude that reveals conscience, organization and courage.

That same week of June, the black Colombian communities that participated in the Agrarian, Campesino, Ethnic and Popular Minga carried out important actions, like the takeover of Port Buenaventura, in which 130 boats of fishermen and hundreds of demonstrators grouped together in the Process of Black Communities (PCN, its initials in Spanish) closed the port. “The sea belongs to us,” was the slogan with which they blocked the most important port of the Pacific, the region converted into territory where part of the black people live.

The Association of Community Councils of the Northern Cauca (Aconc) mobilized within the same context as the Minga demanding the defeat of the mining titles that were granted to transnationals, with mass marches in Quinimayó, in the municipio of Santander de Quilichao. One of their leaders, Víctor Hugo Moreno, emphasized that mega-mining “is displacing ancestral and artisanal mining, affecting water sources and breaking up our territories and organizational processes” (http://goo.gl/Loz21s).

The PCN is made up of 120 grassroots territorial organizations, from the Caribbean to the Pacific, and functions with their base in regional palenques (Afro-Colombian historic villages), with a national assembly that elects a council of all the palenques. The Aconc unites around 40 community councils in 10 municipios in the northern Cauca. Both participate in the Agrarian Summit that organized the national strike in June (http://goo.gl/DfboIk).

With big differences between them, the new movements of Brazil and Colombia are experiencing a new phase. After resisting an undeclared war, they show signs of going on the offensive. Of the 5 million black Colombians, terrorist actions of the paramilitary groups and the armed forces have forcibly displaced more than 700,000. In Brazil, violent death of blacks increased almost 40 percent since 2003, when Lula arrived in government, while the violent death of whites fell 25 percent. They are not, of course, the only countries where black resistance is entering into a new stage.

Dozens of collectives have been born in the favelas and urban peripheries of Brazil that represent a new generation of militants; many of them formed in secondary colleges and universities, with strong leadership from young women. One of the most significant is called Occupy Alemão, in the complex of favelas of Maré (Río de Janeiro). The collective groups together between 20 and 40 people; it was born in response to the military occupation of the Alemão favela in 2010, and the construction of cable cars so that tourists can photograph the poor, a real open sky panoptic for control of the population.

Occupy Alemão proposes that: “we occupy our favela with collective actions.” They reject the way in which the lefts relate to the favelas and don’t spare criticisms of the NGOs. Among their activities they emphasize cine-debates, games with children, graffiti workshops, the Occupy Rock Festival held in August 2015 and the annual Black Economic Fair, iteration between black spaces, for the purpose of spread the cultural and political resistance.

In the fairs, each exhibitor gives 20 percent of his earnings to a fund for fights and support for victims of the State. They maintain that: “economic blackness does not offer anything new for the favela or to black people, nor does it represent a new ideology”; to the contrary, “it is the quilombo (palenque) that teaches us about economic autonomy and self-management. The favela inherited it and makes its business of its space. Economic blackness is our best way of supporting ourselves collectively. Our own fair: Black Autonomy!” (https://goo.gl/AQ4Z5I).

The Occupy Alemão members recognize having passed through three stages. The first stage was with NGOs and it left a bad taste. Next, they linked with autonomous movements in other favelas and created the Popular Forum of Mutual Support. In the third stage, they tightened their ties with the React or Die campaign (Reaja ou Seja Morta, reaja ou seja morto), which was born in Bahia in 2005, with which they organized the March against the Genocide of Black People.

The React campaign is, probably, the most important creation of the black movement in Latin America (for its rejection of cooptation and the State, for its autonomous ways, for its radicalism), which we activists should know about (reajanasruas.blogspot.com). Hamilton Borges, founder of React, traces a balance of these 10 years based on what he calls the “theory of general failure, if success is promoting equality. If success is sitting down with the enemy faced with the blood of our people, then we prefer the failure of confronting terror in the streets.”


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Friday, July 22, 2016


Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: