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Black Costa Rican congresswomen report racist threats

May 8, 2015

Costa Rican congresswomen Epsy Campbell and Maureen Clarke, both of Afro-Caribbean descent, filed complaints with the government ombudsman’s office this week after receiving a wave of racist threats in person and on social media.

The aggressions began in late April when the congresswomen asked the culture ministry to withdraw funding for a musical adaptation of the controversial novel Cocorí, by the late Costa Rican writer Joaquín Gutiérrez.

Cocorí, about a black boy who meets a white girl and embarks on a youthful adventure, has been denounced as racist by members of Costa Rica’s Afro-Caribbean community. Until recently, the book was required reading at public schools.

Campbell, of the ruling Citizen Action Party, closed her social network accounts this week after they were overwhelmed with racial insults and calls for her to “leave for Africa.” The security ministry offered her physical protection.

The legislators met on Thursday with Ombudsman Montserrat Solano, who voiced his dismay about continued racism in the country, where some 10 percent of the population is black.

“There is racism in Costa Rica and it has surfaced particularly in the past weeks, not only against the congresswomen. This is unacceptable and society must become aware,” Solano said after the meeting.

U.N. representatives and soccer player Patrick Pemberton, a goalkeeper for Alajuelense and Costa Rica’s national team, were also at the meeting. Pemberton has also been a victim of racist aggression in stadiums and on social networks.

In a communiqué, the ombudsman’s office and the United Nations said they regard “with concern the threats against persons of African descent, as well as comments hurting their dignity, especially messages of an undoubtedly racist nature.”

The Afro Costa Rican Women’s Center asked people of African descent throughout the Americas to send letters to President Luis Guillermo Solís and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights condemning the threats against the congresswomen and demanding their protection.

Clarke, a legislator for the National Liberation Party, told daily La Nación: “In my case, I’ve become so used to it that all we want is for Costa Rica to remove the mask and admit what we are: a country that doesn’t accept diversity.”

 

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