Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff plans to support affirmative action quotas that will increase the number of Afro-Brazilians in government positions, an anonymous source close to the Executive told L’Agence France-Presse on Monday. While the percentages have not been defined, the quota system would apply to all new government contracts and employee openings.
A formal announcement of the measure is expected on November 20 to coincide with Brazil’s Day of Black Awareness. This law would build on the gender quota law, in effect since 2009, which calls for 30 percent of political candidates to be women. President Rousseff also championed the university affirmative action law, enacted on August 29, which reserves 50 percent of admissions to public universities for underprivileged public school students—the majority of which are of African, mulatto or Indigenous decent—over the next 10 years.
These quotas are meant to address what President Rousseff calls the country’s “historical debt” to a large sector of Brazilian society that has been underrepresented in higher education. Although Afro-Brazilians represent 53 percent of the country’s population, only 8,700 students of African descent attend public universities.
Joaquim Barbosa was elected on Wednesday as Brazil’s new Supreme Court president in a plenary session held by the court's 10 justices. His two-year tenure begins in November with the retirement of the court’s current president, Carlos Ayres Britto.
Barbosa was appointed by former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to the Supreme Court in 2003 and is the only Afro-Brazilian to have ever served on the court. Barbosa is currently presiding over the high-profile mensalão (“big monthly payout”) trial, involving a congressional cash-for-votes scheme that surfaced in 2005.
Brazil has the largest black population behind Nigeria, with Afro-Brazilians representing 53 percent of Brazil’s population. Though there are a total of 200 million people of African descent in Brazil, they face significant challenges in reaching the higher echelons of society. Barbosa has constantly criticized what he views as pervasive racism and social inequality. For example, illiteracy rates among Afro-Brazilians run as high as 20 percent, but drop to only 6 percent for whites.
Barbosa came from humble beginnings. He was born as the son of a builder and was educated in Brazil's state school system. He then moved to the capital, Brasília, where he studied for a law degree at the city's best university. To support himself through college, he worked as a typist and a domestic worker in one of the city's courts, and later began a successful career as a public prosecutor.
"Barbosa made history today, as it is very rare in Brazil to see Blacks in positions of power in the corporate world, in universities and in government," said Marcelo Paixão, who directs the Laboratório de Análises Econômicas, Históricas, Sociais e Estatísticas das Relações Raciais (Laboratory of Economic, Historical, Social and Statistical Analysis of Race Relations—LAESER), a research center that focuses on issues of race at Brazil's Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro—UFRJ).
Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.
A 10–0 decision by Brazil’s Supreme Court, O Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF) on April 26 was a landmark verdict for Brazil’s Afro-descendant population. The STF approved the incentive program for black and underprivileged students to attend college in Brazil, ProUni (Programa Universidade para Todos—University Program for All); after the end of slavery and the passage of the Racial Equality Law, this was the most important public policy addressing the Afro-Brazilian population.
The challenge to ProUni’s constitutionality was filed by the Democratas party, which argued that the universities’ adoption of the system violated constitutional principles of equality. On the other hand, social organizations claimed that quotas are a mechanism to reverse historic exclusion and create opportunities for thousands of descendants of African slaves. In 2003, only 3 percent of Afro-Brazilians had a university degree; in 2010 this number was 10 percent. These figures pale in comparison to the actual number of Afro-Brazilians: 51 percent of the population, according to the latest census.
The approval of quotas marks the end of a decade-plus debate in Brazil—one that saw biased opposition to the system by the mainstream media outlets, despite strong support from the Afro-Brazilian rights movement. The media’s opposition contradicted public opinion: Datafolha polls from 2006 and 2008 showed that the 65 and 62 percent, respectively, of Brazilians actually supported the affirmative action plan.