September-4, 2001


This is the third World Conference against Racism and Related Forms of Intolerance, but the first to be held in the post-apartheid era. No longer do we have the luxury of pointing fingers at "official racism". Now we must look in the mirror and address the deeper, subtler, and more entrenched issues of racism and intolerance in each of our societies and each of our hearts.

For the IDB, this World Conference and the events surrounding it have served as a catalyst for our own efforts to bring the issue of racism and its links with poverty and inequality into the forefront of our development agenda. With a loan portfolio of over 47.6 billion dollars, and annual new commitments of about 6 to 9 billion dollars, the IDB is the largest of the regional development banks and the largest development lender to Latin America and the Caribbean. Poverty reduction and growth are the central objectives of our organization, and we have become increasingly convinced that we cannot address either of these goals without addressing the issues of race and social exclusion within our region.


The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are home to an extraordinary richness of peoples,, cultures, and ethnic heritages. The region is one of the most racially diverse in the world. This cultural diversity permeates every aspect of life in the region, and provides a wealth of resources and knowledge that can form the basis for development with identity.

It is estimated that more than one-third of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean, or more than 150 million people, is of African or indigenous descent. In fact, the largest concentration of peoples of African descent outside of Africa is found in Brazil. Other countries with large populations of African descent include Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Honduras and Nicaragua, and of course, the Caribbean islands, some of which also are home to significant numbers of people of East Indian descent.

Indigenous peoples are found throughout Latin America and the Caribbean comprising 400 different ethnic groups, each with its own language, social organization, and mode of production adapted to the ecosystem it inhabits. In spite of this heterogeneity, indigenous peoples share similar concerns and visions of development. Five countries (Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia and Ecuador) account for almost ninety percent of the indigenous people of the region.

However, today's diversity was bought at the price of centuries of colonialism, slavery, and forced labor. And the costs of this history of racism and exclusion continue with us today, costs that are the shadow side of the potential gains that could accrue if the human potential of the region were fully realized. Acknowledgement of this history, and of the devastating impact, past and present, of racism and exclusion, is a fundamental first step in moving forward to achieve that potential.


In recent years, as democracy has been consolidated throughout our region, there has been a growing recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities. These rights have often been formally set forth in national laws and constitutions. Now, the challenge is to move beyond written laws to successful implementation of public policies.

A principal stumbling block is the lack of data. Indeed, we know more about the diversity of our region's industrial output than we do about the diversity of its people. Less than one-third of the countries in the region collect information on their populations of African descent in censuses or household surveys. While most do collect data on indigenous peoples, the data is often incomplete.

Nevertheless, in the few countries of the region where the data do exist, the analysis speaks volumes about the links between race, ethnicity, and poverty. Our analyses show that indigenous peoples in Guatemala, Peru, and Bolivia, and blacks in Brazil have on average less than half the number of years of schooling as have dominant groups. Less education translates into jobs that are lower paid, and with fewer benefits. And even when Afro-descendants or indigenous peoples have the same levels of education, the continued presence of discrimination in the labor market leads to lower salaries than for whites. And women of color bear the burden of double discrimination in the family, the classroom, and the labor market.

Health indicators also reveal the cost of social exclusion. 'In Brazil, infant mortality rates for the children of black mothers are almost twice as high as are those for the children of white mothers.

The IDB has set high priority on assisting countries in their efforts to make the invisible visible, through loans and technical assistance to national census and household surveys that explicitly incorporate dimensions of race and ethnicity. Representation of diverse groups in national statistics not only validates their political rights but also serves as the starting point for the informed design and implementation of public policy. This is a sound investment. Our analyses show how the whole economy suffers when entire segments of the population are undereducated, underpaid, and underemployed.

Over the past year, we at the MB have worked, in partnership with our clients and with other international agencies, to build knowledge and awareness on the costs of racial discrimination and exclusion. We are also seeking to increase development funding to Afro-descendant and indigenous communities and to promote diversity within our own organization. From the South of Chile to the Atlantic Coast of Central America, we are implementing participatory community development projects, helping ethnic and racial communities plan and shape their own future.

The IDB stands ready -- through our loans, our policy dialogue, and technical cooperation -- to support our member countries in their efforts to fight racism and its consequences. We have developed an Action Plan on Social Inclusion. We believe our comparative advantage is in data development and dissemination, institution building, and projects in education, health, and justice. The battle for inclusion is a battle for people's hearts and minds, and education and the media are powerful tools for changing perceptions and attitudes.

The IDB is committed to keeping the momentum from this Conference going. We are ready, willing, and able to work together with our member governments, civil society, and partner agencies in constructing a true "New World", one in which the full human potential of all its peoples is realized, and in which diversity is truly valued.