Susana Baca: Ambassador of Afro-Peruvian Music and Peru's First Black Cabinet Minister

Photo: Peru's Cultural Minister Susana Baca.
Creative Commons/Wikipedia

In July 2011, Susana Baca accepted Peru's President Ollanta Humala's invitation to join his administration, making her the first cabinet minister of African descent to hold office in Peru. On accepting the post of Cultural Minister, Baca says that one of her goals is to combat discrimination against Peru's African and indigenous populations.

"I am the symbol of inclusion," said Baca to school students in her hometown of San Luis de Canete, reported the Associated Press. "I don't hate the people who segregated us, who punished us, who hurt us. I just don't want anyone else in our country to go through what I did."

Baca has an approval rating of 62 percent in Peru, making her the country's most popular cabinet minister, according to an 2011 Ipsos Apoyo poll. Baca is best known as a musical performer and musical anthropologist of Afro-Peruvian music. She is known as an out-spoken advocate for human rights and equality.

Africans in Peru

In 1527, Africans arrived in the modern nation of Peru as a result of the European slave trade to the west coast of Latin America. (But see also Olmec, kingdom from c. 1200 BC to 400 BC). Spain financed the establishment of  sugar cane plantations using slave labor in the river valley region of San Luis de Canete. It was more than 300 years later, in 1854, that Peru finally abolished slavery in the region.

At one point in Lima, Peru's history, people of African descent were counted as the majority of this capital's citizens -- at approximately 40 percent. Today, approximately 10 percent of Peru's 29 million people are of African descent, just under 3 million known. Many Afro-Peruvians have again migrated to cities such as Lima seeking work opportunities, reports The World Summit of Afro-Descendants. In August 2011, The World Summit of Afro-Descendants conference was held at the National University of La Ceiba in Honoduras. It was sponsored in part by the United Nations and designed to examine the African diaspora -- including the estimated 150 to 200 million Latin Americans of African descent.

According to the World Summit's report, Africans in Peru have a high rate of joblessness and work in low-income sectors. The work of women like Susana Baca helps improves conditions for people in this region. Baca is among the 2 percent of Afro-Peruvians who have earned a post-secondary education. Her work through the Peruvian government may have a favorable impact on laws and policies impacting African and indigenous people in Peru.

References: African Diplomacy: World Summit of African Descendants in Honduras Demands ReparationsAssociated Press; Peru's First Black Minister: Barefoot Singer; Frank Bajak; Sept. 2011

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