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The African Presence in Central American History  

Robinson Herrera

Far from monolithic, the seven Central American countries—Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama—each have unique cultural traditions and historical trajectories. Their different geographies, while not deterministic in any facile manner, influenced their development in ways that continue to shape their national characteristics. The cataclysmic 16th-century Spanish Conquest introduced new peoples and cultural traditions to the region. African slaves, primarily from the sub-Saharan region, accompanied the first Spanish ventures, and, later, as the colonies consolidated and grew, peoples of African descent, both enslaved and free, became a part of the area’s economic and cultural landscape. Starting in the late 18th century, African peoples from the Caribbean—whether forcefully exiled or as a result of searching for economic opportunities—traveled to Central America. Despite a contemporary collective historical amnesia that imagines Africans isolated in specific regions, namely the Caribbean coast, peoples of African descent can be found throughout the Central American nations. Rather than addressing each country, a thematic approach that focuses on the Spanish Conquest, slavery, emancipation, the ethnogenesis of African connected cultures, the historical erasure of Africans, and the contributions of peoples of African descent helps to understand the complex ways that peoples of African descent have impacted the history of modern Central America. For far from isolated to small populations along the Caribbean, the African presence can be discerned throughout the region, even in places often perceived as entirely devoid of its influence.

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Beyond Slavery: Abolition and Post-abolition in Brazil  

Hebe Mattos and Wlamyra Albuquerque

What happened after slavery in the first slave society of the Americas? How did the abolition process shape post-abolition Brazilian society? On September 28, 1871 the Lei do Ventre Livre (Free Womb Law) signaled the end for slavery in Brazil. It created, for the effects of the compensation of slave owners, a general registration of the last slaves, which shows that Brazil officially recognized around a million and a half of them in 1872. How did these last enslaved workers live and politically influence the legal process that resulted in their freedom? Certainly they did so, since between flights, negotiations, and conflicts, the number of slaves fell by half over the following years. In this process, conditional manumission letters became almost like labor contracts, the results of negotiations between slaves and slave owners which gave expectations of freedom to some and prolonged the exploitation of the labor of others. In 1887, abolition seemed inescapable. En masse flights of the last slaves made it a fact, recognized by law on May 13, 1888. How could social relations be reinvented after the collapse of the institution which had structured the country, in all its aspects, since colonization? This dismantling would have consequences that were not only economic but would also redesign the logic of power and the architecture of a society willing to maintain distinct types of citizenship. Old experiences of racism and citizenship were redefined in the process. Former slave owners fought for compensation for their lost property until Rui Barbosa, an old abolitionist and minister of finance of the first republican government, decided to burn the registration documentation in 1889, thereby preventing any compensation proposal for around seven hundred thirty thousand slaves freed by the abolition law. With the Republic (1889), a new racialized rhetoric narrated abolition as the product of the republican action of the “emancipating race,” which guaranteed freedom without conflict to the “emancipated race.” It thus made invisible not only the fundamental action of the last slaves, but also the demographically majoritarian status of the free Afro-descendants in the Brazilian population, evident in the action of numerous black abolitionists. For Afro-Brazilians, the struggle remained to define their place and rights in society. More recently, the political action of the Brazilian black movement in the commemorations of the centenary of abolition (1988) established the idea of incomplete abolition, defining May 13 as the date of the struggle against racial inequality in the country and consolidating the post-abolition period as a field of historiographic research.