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Wed, 05.27.1536

The Afro Chilean Community, a story

*The Afro Chilean community is celebrated on this date in 1536. They are descendants of Black slaves who were brought to the Americas via the middle passage to Chile.

They also comprise recent migrants from the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa. Afro-Chileans continue to face erasure & discrimination within modern Chilean society. African slaves were first brought to the Spanish colony that is now Chile in 1536. After crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Africa, two overland routes trafficked many enslaved Africans to the colony: one crossing west from the northern coast of South America and another traveling north from Buenos Aires over the Pampas and the Andes. Many slaves did not survive the difficult journey in captivity. The (then) slave port of Valparaíso was also utilized in the slave trade to transport captives.

Given that the type of economic activity in colonial times, for climatic reasons, was never any large tropical plantations (cotton, sugar, and tobacco, among others), Europeans did not see the need to import a large contingent of black slaves, like that of the Caribbean. Another reason was that, because of the Arauco War, indigenous Mapuche people were stolen from their lands, which were exported to Peru at a much cheaper price than a black slave. Although no economic benefits led to any large importation of African slaves to Chile, roughly 6,000 Africans were transported directly to Chile, where they went into mainly domestic service as a means of status for colonists and as a workforce in the mining of Gold in Arica.

By 1590 Afro Chileans made up 20,000 people, but by the time of emancipation made up only 4,000 in 1823. The Afro Chileans of Arica were many during the colonial era. The city was founded in 1570 and belonged to the Viceroyalty of Peru between 1824 and 1880, to the Republic of Peru. Arica was annexed to Chile after it won the Pacific War. The city received this large number of slaves because its territory was optimal for cultivating cotton and sugar cane in the Azapa Valley. Most of the slaves who arrived came from the West Indies or the African continent, especially from present-day Congo and Angola.

In addition, after discovering the silver mines of Potosí, Arica became the main port of disembarkation for the slaves who were taken there. During that time, the Spaniards did not live in Arica, as the anopheles mosquito in the Azapa Valley transmitted malaria. Black Africans or their descendants in Arica were immune to tropical diseases. In 1793, the book Guía del Perú was published, which reported on the ethnic composition of the inhabitants of the "Partido de Arica." Once Spanish presence in Valdivia was reestablished in 1645, authorities had convicts from all over the Viceroyalty of Peru construct the Valdivian Fort System. The convicts, many of whom were Afro Peruvians, became soldier-settlers once they had served their terms. Close contact with indigenous Mapuche meant many soldiers were bilingual in Spanish and Mapudungun.

A 1749 census in Valdivia shows that Afro-descendants had a strong presence in the area. Although most Afro-Peruvians came as convicts, Chilean slaves arriving at Coquimbo and Valparaiso ports were two or three times more expensive. During the 18th century, Valparaíso was an important port for the slavery business. According to the Oro Negro Foundation, 2,180 slaves were sent to the port of El Callao in 1783. In the new millennium, discrimination and social exclusion remain important issues for African descendants in Chile. In the southern areas of the country, the presence of blacks is almost non-existent, and most are foreign immigrants or passing tourists.

Adding to the absence of historical ties in the area provokes mistrust, rejection, and prejudices around the black community. On the other hand, in the north of Chile, the case of José Corvacho, an Afro-descendant official of the Solidarity and Social Investment Fund (FOSIS) of the Arica and Parinacota Region, was known to public opinion in December 2010, who was fired according to their statements due to their skin color. This led to the resignation of the Regional Director of FOSIS and investigations of the case, reopening the debate on ethnic inclusion in the country. On April 8, 2019, Chile gave legal recognition to the Afro Chilean people by enacting Law 21,151.  Afro Chileans have formed various entities and organizations to defend their culture and identity. These entities are coordinated through the Afro Chilean Alliance.

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