Assistant Secretary General Speech


March 26, 2021 - Washington, DC

H.E. María del Carmen Roquebert, Chair of the Permanent Council of the OAS and Permanent Representative of Panama to the OAS

Distinguished Permanent and Alternate Representatives, and Permanent Observers accredited to the OAS

H.E. Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS
Esteemed Panelists

Our virtual viewers

A pleasant good afternoon,

It is my distinct honor and privilege to offer closing remarks at today’s Forum on “Ending slavery’s legacy of racism: the imperative for strengthening justice and resilience in Afro-descendant communities in the Americas in the face of Covid-19.” Today’s Forum marks the final event of this year’s celebration of the Fourth Inter-American Week for People of African Descent in the Americas.

The topics addressed in today’s forum encapsulated the depth and breadth of the issues confronting Afro-descendants in the Americas. Entrenched racism and discrimination –both subtle and overt – remain a sad legacy of slavery. In many countries, people of African Descent are continuously subjected to discriminatory practices, wherein there is inequality in access to health care, education, banking services, and housing, among others. These disparities ultimately impede their upward social and economic mobility and full enjoyment of human rights, which are afforded to other non-marginalized racial and ethnic groups.

The COVID-19 pandemic has glaringly unmasked these social inequalities. The data speaks for itself. In many countries where Afro-descendants are marginalized, they are the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic and are more likely to die from the virus than any other group. This disproportionate impact is largely due to Afro-descendants’ lower economic standing in many of our societies wherein they are most likely to work in the service industries most affected by the virus, live in overcrowded housing with inadequate sanitation and water service and poor access to health care. It is important to point out that this is not the situation in every country in our hemisphere, and the situation is different primarily in countries where Afro-descendants form a larger percentage of the population and wield political and economic power. In many countries, however, advancement towards this level of socio-political and economic inclusion of Afro-descendants has been measured.

Today’s discussion provided a fulsome overview of the foregoing by highlighting the peculiar challenges facing Afro-descendants in light of pervasive structural racism found in anachronistic legislation and policies. This unsettling reality, lived by one fifth of our hemisphere’s population, must be confronted and adequately redressed. Our distinguished panelists offered numerous remedial actions and measures required to address this flagrant injustice and build resilience within Afro-descendant communities. Legislation and policies in our Member States must promote the equality of rights of persons of African descent through equal access to health care, housing, employment, and education.

The OAS acknowledges the painful paths journeyed by our African ancestors from the shores of their lands to an unknown hemisphere which we now call The Americas. Through its numerous declarations, resolutions, and discussion events on recognizing these vulnerabilities and response measures, the OAS has sought to advance the special agenda for attaining recognition, justice and advancement of persons of African descent in the hemisphere. Notwithstanding this, much work remains and we are committed to continue working towards achieving greater equality for Afro-descendants by amplifying their voices and causes.

As we close this year’s Inter-American Week, I wish to thank our esteemed panelists for their insightful presentations. We hope that your contributions today will lead to a greater understanding of these compounding issues and spur others to action. I also wish to thank everyone who assisted in the planning and execution of the Week’s Activities.

I extend thanks to H.E. María del Carmen Roquebert, Chair of the Permanent Council of the OAS and Permanent Representative of Panama to the OAS, and our Secretary General, Luis Almagro, for their invaluable support. I also take this opportunity to recognize our collaborators: the Department of Social Inclusion in the Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Department of Press and Communication, the Art Museum of the Americas, the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) and Kukily Afrofeminist Arts Collective, and most certainly I express gratitude to all of the Member States and Permanent Observers for their continuous support.

I also wish to give special recognition to our Country Offices who organized commemorative activities for the first time in their respective Member States. We applaud your commendable efforts and thank the Governments for their immense support in organizing these inaugural events. We look forward to strengthening collaboration in future activities to commemorate our Inter-American Weeks.

Finally, I extend heartfelt appreciation to the personnel in my office who assisted in the organization of the Week’s activities, with special commendation to Ms. Kendall Belisle for coordinating the activities, as well as to Ambassador Henry Martin, Tatiana and Abayomi.

A heartfelt thank you once for commemorating with us the Inter-American Week for People of African Descent in the Americas. We wish you continued health and safety.