(Published in Colombia Reports)
Colombia’s lack of data regarding their sizable racial and ethnic minority populations are “critical omissions” that makes it difficult to track socioeconomic development and progress, said the lead author of an annual study that came out on Tuesday.
Lack of race and ethnic data stunted Colombia’s ranking in the 2014 Social Inclusion index by Americas Quarterly, a policy analysis journal covering economics, political and social development in the Western Hemisphere. The survey was released on Tuesday, and ranked Colombia 11th out of 17 Latin American countries and the United States.
The index did not allocate the full score and ranking for countries that failed include race and ethnicity data such as Colombia, Argentina, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Honduras. Rankings were established based on 10 variables where complete sets of data were accessible, yet “it must be noted that the comparison doesn’t include some of the most important variables, like race/ethnicity,” the report said.
“While these are socially and politically fraught issues – both historically and today – only by having policy and popular access to these realities can social inclusion be effectively addressed,” the report said.
Underrepresentation of minority communities hinders development
Colombia, similar to many American countries has long struggled with the under-representation of minority communities in official census questionnaires, leaving misunderstanding about the size of these populations.
“This denys these populations a fundamental voice and empowerment,” said Christopher Sabatini, Americas Quarterly Editor-in-Chief and AS/COA Senior Director of Policy, in an interview with Colombia Reports.
“We still don’t have a snapshot in these cases of the race and ethnicity question,” Sabatini said, adding that data is “the key” to a deeper understanding of the intricate socioeconomic, class and political issues that segregate much of Colombian society.
Estimates of the Afro Colombian population range from 10.6% from the National Administration Department of Statistics (DANE) census to 26% by Afro activism groups, easily the largest afro-descendent population in Latin America behind Brazil. These numbers vary greatly, underscoring the larger social issue of a reluctance to claim blackness in a country where stigmas associated with African descent lead many to distance themselves from their afro-descendent roots.
Despite their large population, Afro Colombians also remain disproportionally absent from political office and participation.
Colombia’s indigenous population is significantly smaller, with estimates circling 4% of the population, yet also faces similar issues of under-representation in the country.
Colombia counts among numerous Latin American countries who do not possess official census data regarding race and ethnicity. “I think it’s a serious weakness that Colombia does not collect census data by race and ethnicity,” Sabatini continued. “This could be as simple as asking people to self define themselves.”
“We need this so we can identify the variation in the population – who’s benefiting from social programs and whose not. And without that picture, you miss the entire pattern of exclusion that are still a drag on social economic development and social inclusion,” he said.
Having accurate information on Afro Colombians – one of the most vulnerable populations in the country, Sabatini adds, is “crucial.””Their abilities to create effective policy hinges on their access to this data,” he said.
Sabatini placed the concern in context of the revolutionary peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC. “Should the peace talks come to pass, these will be affecting large swaths of rural [minority] populations in Colombia that haven’t been counted,” he said. “And we need the knowledge to understand how to implement social programs that will benefit these populations, but to do this we need data.”