September 03, 2014 (Dan Collyns /The Guardian).- Peruvian comedy is brusque and rough-and-tumble, but few outsiders would be prepared for so many casual racial stereotypes paraded for cheap laughs.
One such caricature, La Paisana Jacinta (The Peasant Jacinta), became so popular it got its own weekday prime-time show. Played by a man in drag wearing a wig with plaits, a prosthetic nose and with blacked out teeth, the personality is a parody of an Andean indigenous woman living in Peru’s capital, Lima.
Now, following a recommendation by the UN’s Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (Cerd) to the Peruvian state, the show has virtually disappeared from the airwaves, confined, for now, to a “graveyard” 7.30am slot on Saturdays.
But the television channel concerned, Frecuencia Latina, has not formally indicated whether the programme will be cancelled or not, nor whether more episodes will be recorded.
Nonetheless, anti-racism activists and indigenous groups have greeted the news as a victory.
“So many years of effort at a national level finally caused an echo in the committee and it’s set a great precedent,” said Tarcila Rivera, director ofChirapaq, the Peruvian indigenous cultural group that referred the television programme to the UN body. Chirapaq has campaigned against the Paisana Jacinta character for more than 15 years, presenting a complaint at the World Conference against Racism in 2001, in South Africa.
Rivera says the Peruvian media must “assume its responsibility for the images and content it transmits to society”. “We live in a society which is sick. Racism is an evil which can only be combatted through education,” she said. “We believe Peru has won and indigenous people too.”
The committee’s final recommendation (pdf) to the Peruvian state, a signatory to the UN convention against racial discrimination, specifically referred to La Paisana Jacinta as it expressed concern that “discriminatory attitudes are still deeply rooted in Peruvian society and regretted that the media persisted in broadcasting negative stereotypes of indigenous and African-Peruvians”.
It recommended the state strengthen its “legal definition of racial discrimination in line with international human rights standards” and “avoided the broadcasting of messages, programmes and advertising which diffused stereotypical representations of indigenous or African-Peruvian people”.
There has been no response from the Peruvian government so far.
“This has been a clip around the ear for the Peruvian state, which hasn’t done all it could have to fight against racism,” Fernando Vivas, a media critic and columnist with el Comercio newspaper told the Guardian.
He said it had opened a wider debate about how ordinary Peruvians are presented on television, a medium in which, he says, positive role models are usually played by actors of European appearance.
Wilfredo Ardito, who heads the collective Citizens Fighting Against Racism, said the UN’s recommendation was a vindication for those who had campaigned against racism on TV for many years. “It’s a radical change,” he said. “The protests have worked and I’m very optimistic.”
Last year, Peru’s culture ministry launched a website and telephone hotline to report racism (Alerta Contra el Racismo). The ministry also organised a national survey of African-Peruvians to strengthen their “visibility” and sense of identity.
However, Ardito, a human rights lawyer, does not believe this is enough. He said the state “could have done many things, but did nothing. There has been a lot of talk about the struggle against racism, but no action.” “The state is afraid of the media, it’s passive faced with powerful economic groups,” he added, indicating that civil society had stepped in where the state had failed to act.
“Peru is a racist country where you can insult a woman in the street because of her race with impunity. These programmes are an expression of our society, they would be never be tolerated in Colombia or Ecuador.
But despite the apparent popularity of offensive caricatures like La Paisana Jacinta, it is not the first time activists have forced alleged racist stereotypes off the air.
With a blacked-up face and oversized prosthetic lips and nose, El Negro Mama is a grotesque parody of a dim-witted African-Peruvian man played by the same comedian who plays La Paisana Jacinta.
Following a dogged campaign by the African-Peruvian rights group Lundu, the personality was removed from regular programming and the TV channel fined 74,000 soles (£15,300) by Peru’s transport and communications ministry for failing to regulate its content. Even so, El Negro Mama continues to make occasional appearances on air.
“The most discriminated against are women, the poor and Andean people. These all come together in La Paisana Jacinta,” Vivas said. But, he says, public attitudes are changing, gradually.
In a high-profile snub, the toothpaste manufacturer Colgate withdrew advertising from La Paisana Jacinta, citing its “denigrating” content, reflecting a wider reluctance of advertisers to be seen to promote offensive television content.
Rivera insists the state must act to implement Cerd’s recommendations by taking on the media. Clearly defining racism would “bring millions of people out of their ignorance of the level of damage done by racist and discriminatory attitudes,” she said.
“Education and public awareness are indispensable so that young indigenous people, who now live in the cities in our country, don’t feel ashamed of their origin or culture.”