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Can Obama boost cause for Afro-Latinos?

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While activists don't expect Mr. Obama to specifically reach out to their communities, they do hope that the dialogue between him or his administration with Latin American leaders could have a positive impact.

Between 30 and 40 percent of the population in Latin America is of African descent – compared with just 10 percent for indigenous.

Claire Nelson, a development equity specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank, who has focused on the Afro-Latino population for more than 15 years, says that black activism is seeing a resurgence thanks, in part, to the rise of Obama. "[It] has come a long way in terms of organization and strength."

Gains for Latinos of African descent vary across countries. In the Caribbean, in English-speaking countries such as Jamaica and Barbados, most heads of state are of African descent.

"It's not perfect, the dialogue on race and class, but political power is in black hands [there]," says Ms. Nelson. "In the rest of Latin America power is not in black hands."

The black civil rights movement in Latin America is strongest in Brazil and Colombia, which boast the largest populations of black Latinos. Brazil has made major advances with affirmative action and its first black Supreme Court justice, Joaquim Barbosa, who is considered one of the most influential justices. A major advance for Afro-Colombians came with a 1993 guarantee of rights to formal titles to their ancestral lands. Today they are also guaranteed representation in federal Congress.

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