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Conference Announcement

500 Years in America. 150 Years Since the Abolition of Slavery. Past and Present of Afrodescendants in Latin America and the Caribbean.

An International Conference, October 18, 19 and 20 2001. Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.

Location : Museo del Oro, Casa Simón Bolivar, Historic Center of Cartagena

This conference will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Promulgation of the National Constitution. It also unites with the World Conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance being held in South Africa in 2001, as well as the CES' annual observation that this year is dedicated to inclusive citizenship.

Themes and Rationale



On May 21, 1851 the law abolishing slavery declared that all enslaved persons in Colombia would be legally freed as of January 2, 1852. The year 2001 commemorates 150 years since the formal abolition of slavery in Colombia. This event has coincided with the recognition of the 'black question' on the Colombian political scene, especially in those regions with a strong Afro-Colombian population such as the Pacific coast, the Caribbean zone and the major cities. It has unfortunately also coincided with the sharpening of armed conflict in Colombia and the massive displacement of Afro-Colombians from the Pacific area as they flee the violence to the large urban areas or across national boundaries to Panamá and Ecuador.

From the official abolition of slavery in 1851 until the present, Afro-Colombian populations have passed through periods of being 'forgotten' of being 'invisible' and now, of war. As Afro-Colombian social movements jostle for a social and political position in Colombia, they must contend with the distinctions between the Pacific Coast zone that has traditionally been at the margins of national dynamics, but which has a majority Afro-descendant population, and the Caribbean region where an ideology of tri-partite race mixture has inhibited the development of ethnic or historical agendas, with the exception of the Palenque of San Basilio. What kind of repercussions will the diverse ways of assuming their African heritage and their black identity have on any Afro-Colombian social movement?

This conference will address issues critical to Afro-Colombians in terms of the process of modernization, legislative reforms, economic marginality and the ideological, social, cultural and ethnic dynamics evident historically and today in Colombia.

The conference is organized around three thematic sessions during three days and complimentary cultural events.

The first day will be dedicated to historical questions regarding the arrival of the enslaved African population to Latin America and the Caribbean. Questions about the slave trade, provenance, and conditions of transport will be addressed along with topics like the various mechanisms for manumission, cimarronaje or runaways and the settlements they created, and armed, symbolic and cultural resistance to enslavement. These themes will be examined in dialogue with the present contradictory processes of discrimination and assimilation, segregation and integration which have helped shape the local and regional diversity of Colombia's populations as well as the interethnic relations between them. These discussions will explore and explain, in part, the different interpretations about Afro-Colombian populations. Are they assimilated, subjected, accommodated or truly accepted as part of Colombian society or have they resisted the homogenizing force of the nation state?

The second day will be devoted to an analysis of contemporary dynamics based on regional and urban studies that have developed within Colombia according to diverse analytical paradigms. How can we understand black ethnicity in an urban environment and an ambiance of globalization? What types of cultural resistance do Afro-Colombians offer? How can we understand the plurality and multicultural reality of these Afro-Colombian populations?

The third day will focus upon political discussion regarding the future of Afro-Colombians. How can they react to the internal displacement that has so harshly struck the black population of Colombia's Pacific region? How to combat ethnic and racial discrimination? How to construct a state that will incorporate ethnic perspectives within its institutions and programs? What is the state of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights among black populations? Should reparations be an integral issue for people of African descent?

This conference seeks to include all scientists who wish to discuss these issues, so that the social dynamics of Afro-Colombians might be approached through different disciplines like history, sociology, economics, geography, anthropology etc. and from different analytical perspectives.

The choice of Cartagena de Indias was not a neutral one. It was one of the most important ports through which enslaved Africans arrived in Nueva Granada. Cartagena represents a specific experience for Afro-descendants in Colombia, even though the local elite has created a distinctive ethnic image. Cartagena's population is defined as tri-ethnic and the city stands as a symbol for those who believe in the capacity for dialogue that the African Diaspora has manifested in the Caribbean. It is a geographic space where cultural interchange that speaks of dialogue has been realized between distinctive cultural groups. On the other hand, Cartagena is also a synonym for the complexity of ethnic identity for the Afro-Colombian today. This is the place that will allow us to think of the past, the present, and the future; of Afro-descendants in their totality, and in all of their possibilities for lives worthy, through their collective organizations and their aspirations, of an inclusive and emancipating citizenship.


York/UNESCO Nigerian Hinterland Project
Department of History, York University,  Toronto, Canada
Email: nigerian@yorku.ca
Fax: (416) 650-8173