Black Communities in Colombia
and the Constitution of 1991
In 1991 Colombia adopted a new Constitution. According to the president
at the time, César Gaviria, it was nothing less than an “institutional revo-
lution, a peace treaty, a navigation map for the 21st century” (quoted in
Pizarro 1993:151). Drawn up by a Constituent Assembly that was elected in
December 1990, the new Constitution was a response to a perceived state
disequilibrium that had brought the country “to the brink of chaos” (Leal
Buitrago and Zamosc 1991).1 It was meant to demo cratize state structures,
ensure increased pop u lar participation in the decision- making pro cesses
at national, regional, and local levels, and imbue the state with a new le-
gitimacy. Although the pro cess of constitutional reform was not overtly
aimed at “ethnic minorities,” the debates on increasing pop u lar participa-
tion opened a space for both black and indigenous populations into which
issues of ethnicity and nationality could be thrust. In hindsight it is no ex-
aggeration to say that the Constitution of 1991 marked a watershed in the
relations between the state and Colombia’s Afro- descendant population,
providing an important new po litical opportunity structure for the latter
to mobilize.
Whereas various articles dealt specifically with Colombia’s indigenous
populations, outlining their territorial and po litical rights, only Transitory
Article at-55 made specific reference to the country’s “black communi-
ties” (comunidades negras).2 This was the first official ac knowledgment of
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