Latin Governments Struggle to Lift 'veil of invisibility'

Until recently, Latin American leaders treated racism as if it were someone else's problem. South American presidents in 2000 even issued a statement condemning its resurgence in "other parts of the world."

If Afro-Latin Americans were poorer and less educated than whites, and underrepresented in government or corporations, the thinking went, it was a problem of class, not skin color.

Then, a quiet but stunning U-turn.

Governments have not only stopped ignoring racism but are drafting anti-discrimination laws, negotiating a tough hemispheric agreement to deter racism despite U.S. skepticism, and counting the number of blacks in their midst -- all moves that activists say are needed to lift the veil of invisibility that has shrouded Afro-Latin Americans for centuries.

These advances have not come with the searing drama that marked the U.S. civil rights movement. But for a region where many blacks have long led a marginalized existence, it is heady stuff.

"That there is an awareness that you need to create government institutions, implement public policies, name black justices, is a drastic change," said Ariel Dulitzky, an expert on the subject at the Organization of American States.