#21M - International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Interview with Gissela Chalá Reinoso, former Deputy Mayoress of Quito

Why should Local and Regional Governments act together against racism and all forms of discrimination?

More than 500 years ago now, the Euro-centric vision led to the creation of a binary relationship between the West and the East, which also has to do with "oppressors" and "oppressed". This has created a "coloniality of power" which has brought racism. Racism is nothing more than a form of biologization of race that seeks to justify the series of crimes against humanity; but also the dispossession and the uprooting of the territories of those who are enslaved. That is why it is fundamental the government has a vision to confront this problem. 

Structural racism is always reinvented and updated; while institutional racism generates exclusion and the naturalization of uprooting and racialized processes. Therefore, it is fundamental that in this new century we can face racism together from a local and municipalist perspective and based on a Pact for the good future. This implies fighting socio-economic inequalities, but also recognizing their intersectionality. This intersectionality has to do with race, with ethnicity, with class, but also with women, with gender.

Generating an anti-racism agenda does not only have to do with signing agreements or claiming it on social networks, but demands a political will: a will that must be transversal and correct all forms of historical distortion, of inequality, and which is able to close the gaps. These gaps not only have to do with inequalities, but also with cultural gaps, as discrimination was naturalized through a series of "microracisms".

Poverty has color and these are the elements that we have to fight.

What does it mean to be an "anti-racist city"?

Cities are meeting points. However, life in cities is not equal for all. Racism, discrimination and all related forms of intolerance further open and widen inequality gaps. It is important to collect, compile and build agendas listening to social movements and through citizens' participation; and to transform them into public policies. In this sense, it is essential that anti-racist cities work jointly in network.

Making structural and institutional racism visible is a duty not only of Local Governments, but of the society as a whole, in order to better link - for instance - education with identity, as in the case of Ecuador. In Ecuador, we promote "ethno-education," which is nothing more than the recognition that education goes hand in hand with identity and ancestry. How do we move forward? How do we relate with solidarity? We don't have only to promote tolerance, but rather build solidarity, as recalled by the philosophy of Ubuntu. "I exist because you exist".

What are the local initiatives/policies that can be implemented at the municipal level to fight racism?

We have three fundamental elements in the Metropolitan District of Quito. In the first instance, the Declaration of the Decade of the Afro-descendent inhabitants of Quito, which is nothing more than localising the international Declaration of the United Nations, and which affirms the need to recognize the existence of the Afrodescendent people; as well as to recognize their contributions from their ancestry and historical contributions to the construction of the Metropolitan District of Quito.  This implies the recognition of the violation of their rights for more than 500 years; but also new public policies. In this sense, the National Plan for the Eradication of Racial Elimination and Discrimination generated in the Government of the Citizen Revolution, was complemented in 2022 with the agreement signed by the Metropolitan Mayor, Santiago Guarderas, and his Deputy Mayor, Gissela Chalá Reinoso, as an initiative of the latter. 

This means precisely adhering to a framework agreement that makes it mandatory to create public policies to reduce inequality gaps and combat all forms of discrimination and related intolerance, as recalled in Durban in 2001.

These public policies have to do with the restitution of economic, cultural and social rights, but they also generate a reflection on how to reduce social and spatial segregation through the Right to the City. The Right to the City is a notion which is able to bring services closer, which generates new centralities in the "ghettos of inequality" where historically the Afro-Ecuadorian people live. The initiatives and competencies that Local Governments have from the COOTAD (the Land Management Code, a law that proposes and demands us to work precisely with the groups of priority attention, as established in the 2008 Constitution of Ecuador) should not remain only in the existing legislative and normative scope, and must necessarily be translated into public policy for achieving good living for all.

On this March 21, 2023, a few years away from the first 4th of the century, it is important to problematize racism. This should go hand in hand with reviewing all those academic theories that allow us to further understand the multiple forms of racism. However, those of us who have had to live through those cruelties and moments of systematic inequality and discrimination need today more than ever to raise our voices.

The coloniality of power that continues to be part of the current world order has not only to do only with economic inequality, but with a political view that excludes us, relegating racialized peoples in cities. Such historically segregated, excluded neighborhoods are today going through a logic of micro-politics where violence, drugs, lack of opportunities to access the essential rights of life is a daily occurrence. In Ecuador, we are facing a process of regression of rights where we have seen with great pain and impotence as children: more than 500 children have been prosecuted for being part of gangs and criminal groups, and all of them belong to popular sectors of the most impoverished cities of Ecuador, and 90% are of Afrodescent.

This world continues to exclude and naturalize all related forms of intolerance, including new ones such as the aporophobia: fear, rejection of the poor, which today is part of it in a way never seen before.

That is why it is important that governments sit down together and act to make these problems visible, and build data not only to collect them, but to transform them into policies. These are global problems that we cannot face alone.

Several important initiatives are being carried out in Quito. The agreement for a Quito free of racism and discrimination and all related forms of intolerance and the Metropolitan Plan of Territorial Planning foster public policies to reduce discrimination and place public policy as tools for social transformation.  

Citizen participation is key as it is the co-creation of instruments and regulaotry tools  that allow generating proximity and ownership of the space.  I am not talking about empowerment, but about ownership of these elements that have already been built.