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Rousseff renews backing of quotas for Brazil blacks

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff delivers a speech on July 17, 2013
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff delivers a speech on July 17, 2013. She renewed her commitment to affirmative action programs for Afro-Brazilians in a meeting with 20 leading black groups.

Brazil's president renewed her commitment to affirmative action programs for Afro-Brazilians in a meeting with 20 leading black groups, Racial Equality Minister Luiza Bairros said.

"The president reaffirmed that affirmative actions, and more specifically quotas, represent a central element of the struggle for equality in Brazil," the minister said after the gathering.

It was President Dilma Rousseff's first meeting with black civil rights groups since she came to power in January 2011.

"We are 51.7 percent of Brazil's population (of 194 million) and after 513 years of state neglect, we want our rights," said Educafro, a lobby group promoting the rights of black and indigenous Brazilians, in an open letter to Rousseff.

The organizations called on the federal government to implement a quota system for new public service contracts and exams to benefit Afro-Brazilians, who make up the country's majority but remain at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, according to Educafro head David Santos, a Franciscan friar.

They also want guaranteed access to international and domestic scholarship programs for black students, he added.

Last year, Rousseff indicated that she favored public service quotas for black Brazilians as a way to repay a historic debt for centuries of slavery and discrimination.

She also enacted legislation that reserves half the spots at federal universities for public school students, with priority given to black and indigenous people.

In Brazil, many wealthy families send their children to private schools, where the standard of education is often much higher.

The reserved seats at federal universities are to be distributed between black, mixed race and indigenous students, proportional to the demographics in each state of the South American country.

Santos said Rousseff reaffirmed her support for such measures, which are in the process of implementation.

The organizations also demanded that families of young blacks killed by police "receive financial compensation similar to those paid to families of victims of the (1964-1985 military) dictatorship".

A study released by the Latin American Studies Center Thursday found that 77 percent of young people murdered in Brazil were of African descent.

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