Afro-Uruguayan are Uruguayans of African descent, who are estimated to be about 6% of the population. They are mainly concentrated in Montevideo.
The first slaves, ladinos--hispanized slaves, arrived in Uruguay in 1534, but eventually settled in Argentina. Most slaves entering Uruguay were imported from Angola.The route to the new world was grueling with numerous casualties, until a route was mapped out from Angola via Argentina, overland, then to Montevideo. Spain initially held tightly to the slave trade, but was unable to control the purchase from illegal sources. In 1740, Spain gave up regulating the slave trade issuing licensia to colonist who could purchase as many slave they could afford.
Female slaves were largely used as domestics--cooking and cleaning. Male slaves were used as dock hands and ranching. Later a color caste of service would develop among slaves. In 1795, laws were pass giving pardos (mulattos) the right to be in certain professions, like tailors and cobblers and deemed morenos to manual labor. This laid down a caste color foundation for future Uruguayan society. Unlike other Spanish territories, the only way a slave could acquire freedom was through death. Slaves could not purchase their freedom.
When Uruguay filed for independence from Spain, rebels were hesitant to enlist Afro-Uruguayans, but because they were short of manpower, they had no choice. Famous regiments included the sixth regimen of El Cerrito and Los Liberto Orientales. The war of liberation later turned into a war against Brazillian invasion. In 1828, Brazil was evicted. Prominent regiment the Immortal 33, a black regiment, was instrumental in Brazil's eviction. Blacks and mulattos were promise freedom for their service, but promises were continuously reneged on. In 1837, black slave Santo Colombo planned a revolt with ex-military soldiers. The plan was discovered and put down. It was not until the Uruguayan civil war did slaves gain their freedom, by President Joaqin Suarez in 1842. Although slavery ended in law, a system of patronato continued, which forced slaves under their master's authority. In 1853, the patronato was abolished, truly putting an end to slavery.
Although freed, slaves still lived in slave-like conditions. Laws were pass preventing blacks from holding certain jobs. Discrimination was rampant. Between 1850-1930, the government of Uruguay instituted a whitening policy, which recruited immigrants from Europe. Immigrants from Europe introduce much job competition for the black population. In 1886, the government banned black immigration to the country. With discrimination, competition, Afro-Uruguayans found themselves at the botton of the economic ladder, the slums of Montevideo, neighborhoods like Barrio Sur, Palermo and Cordûn. They lived in housing called conventillos, where entire families lived in one room.
At the turn of the century, they began to organize themselves politically and socially to combat discrimination and deal with issues pertaining to their community. Organizations like the Black Race Cultural Association, Colonia Sport and Social Club were form to educate, disseminate Afro-Uruguayan culture and art. The publication Nuestra Raza gave exposure to black artists, musicians, poets, and painters. In 1937, Afro-Uruguayans organized into a political party, the Black Autochthonous Party. The party was later disbanded due to poor showing, during election.
After World War II, the Afro-Uruguayan population became more and more marginalize. The government sponsored education taught less and less about blacks, continuing the process of whitening. Afro-Uruguayans were supported by few organizations and seemed to have become invisible. Uruguay became a country of whites with zero black contributions, invisible well into the 90's.
In the latter part of the 1980s with Mundo Afro, founded in 1988, Afro-Uruguayans political activism increased. The organization succesfully lobbied for Afro-Uruguayan to be counted in the census. From 2000 on, blacks made major political gains with cabinet positions, representing the issues of their community. The current administration has recognize Afro-Uruguayan culture and has taken steps of reparation for past injustices.
Afro-Uruguayan culture can be seen in music. The condombe, affiliated with Uruguay, is Afro-Uruguayan. The gaucho or South American cowboy was of Afro-Uruguayan roots.
Appiah, Kwame Anthony and Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.(1999). Africana: the Encyclopedia of African and African American Experience. Basic Civitas Books, pp. 1927-1930. ISBN 0-465-00071-1.
Acosta, Inès. Afro-Uruguayans to Rebuild Cultural Center. Final Call.18-12-2009 retrieved 03-04-2011