Abel Barrera Hernandez will be given a national award recognizing his human rights work with the organization Mexico Negro (Black Mexico), the first organization in Mexico dedicated to fighting for equal rights and recognition of the country's African descendants. The award was announced by Mexico's La Jornada Monday.
Barrera Hernandez's human rights work started in 1993 when he helped found the Center for Human Rights in Tlachinollan in the southern state of Guerrero — a state that has seen a spike in violence in the recent years, including the disappearances of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college.
Three years after founding the human rights center, the organization turned its fight to promoting equality and the recognition of people of African descent, changing its name to Mexico Negro (Black Mexico).
Barrera Hernandez is known for speaking out against impunity, which he says comes from a long history of discrimination against those who have different lifestyles or who speak another language.
Mexicans of African descent suffer a specific kind of discrimination in the country, since they have been “erased from history and have been denied development after slavery,” says the activist, adding that they still face a wealth of stigma in society. It was not until 2015 that the national census bureau even considered including the country's black population as worth counting. In that year's count, more than 1.4 million people identified themselves as “Afro-Mexican” or “Afro-descendant.”
More recently, Barrera Hernandez has been outspoken about demanding justice for the disappeared Ayotzinapa students, and has openly criticized the government for their lines of investigation on the matter.
The prize — the Recognition for Equality and Non-Discrimination 2015 — is awarded by the National Council for the Prevention of Discrimination, which is made up of representatives of the private and public sectors, as well as academia.
The award will be collected Wednesday by Peñaloza Sergio Perez, another organizer behind Mexico Negro.
This is not Berrera Hernandez's first award. We was also awarded a human rights prize by Amnesty International Germany in 2011, and the Robert F. Kennedy award for Human Rights in 2010.