SEPPIR - Brazils Special Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality
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SEPPIR:  Brazil's Special Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality
By Karen Juanita Carrillo

Members of Brazil's renowned Black Movement - the country's Black Consciousness Movement - are credited with pushing for the creation of SEPPIR, the Secretaria Especial de Políticas de Promoção da Igualdade Racial (Special Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality). 

"It was one of the first things President Lula's government did," Edson Santos, the current head of SEPPIR said in an exclusive interview: "Based on the recommendations from the Durban conference [the United Nation's World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and EdsonSantosnRogerWillian.JPGRelated Intolerance (WCAR), which was held in Durban, South Africa from August 31 to September 8, 2001].

Edson Santos (right), Brazil’s minister in charge of SEPPIR, explains his organizations goals with the help of his translator, Roger Willian (left)

(Karen Juanita Carrillo photo) 

"Durban told governments they needed to do more to promote racial equality.  That spurred on the Black Movement and through their pressure they insisted on the need to create SEPPIR."

On March 21, 2003, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva enacted SEPPIR as a secretariat under law number 10.678 and on June 10, 2008, Brazil's Senate passed HB 419/08, a measure that turns SEPPIR into a ministry-level position.

"This was an initiative of the government, proposed by the president and approved by Congress.  We were created as a special secretariat, devised to advise the government about ways to improve things like healthcare and education," Santos added.  "We are designed to make sure that the government's plans are cross-cutting, so that they provide services to everybody, and so that there is racial equality throughout all sectors."

Providing ownership titles to the lands where Blacks established free territories after escaping from slavery - known in Brazil as Quilombos - is SEPPIR's main push right now.  Since it's creation, SEPPIR has made assistance to the Afro Brazilian families who still live on Quilombo lands one of its central priorities.  Through its program "Citizenship Quilombo," SEPPIR works to provide "access to land, health, education, construction of housing, electrification, environmental rehabilitation, social assistance and encouragement of local production." Local farmers and agribusiness groups are fighting SEPPIR's efforts, because the "Citizenship Quilombo" program could take valuable land tracts off the market.  So far, only 30 Quilombo communities have received land titles, while there are some 1600 still waiting for the Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária (National Institute of Colonization and Land Reform - INCRA) to reward their titles.

In its "The Color of Culture" program, SEPPIR works with the Brazilian energy company Petrobras, CIDAN (Centro Brasileiro de Identidade e Documentação do Artista Negro/Brazilian Center for Documentation and Identification of Black Artists), TV Globo and the Roberto Marino Foundation, to promote the teaching of a primary and secondary grade school curriculum that teaches the "History and Culture of Africa and people of African descent." "The Color of Culture" program was implemented in public and private schools back in 2006.

SEPPIR's ProUni ("University for All") program has ensured that Afro Brazilians have been awarded more than 100,000 educational scholarships. And with its budget of 36 million Brazilian reais per year (or more than 22 million U.S. dollars) the ministry has also developed programs for better health care and employment opportunities in Black communities.  

Santos says that SEPPIR is charged with promoting racial equality, but with Afro Brazilians consisting of more than 90 million of Brazil's recorded 186,842,147 people - some 48 percent, according to the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística), the Brazilian Statistics bureau - the ministry naturally focuses the majority of its work on Afro Brazilian issues.