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Program 0042
October 17, 2000

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

GRACIELA LOPEZ: Judges, prosecutors, teachers, psychologists, police-everybody together given a special focus in prevention and early detection of the problem. Violence is a cultural problem.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Uruguay’s domestic violence troubles. And the rediscovery of Uruguay’s national music.

[a man singing an upbeat song in Spanish while playing a guitar]

KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Uruguay has only three million people but studies show that nearly half of the women there have experienced domestic violence. For years government authorities of this South American country ignored the issue. But now under pressure from women’s rights groups, Uruguay is taking some steps to address the problem. Common Ground Special Correspondent Reese Ehrlich reports from Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo.

[sounds of a ringing phone, answered by a woman speaking in Spanish]

EHRLICH: Casa de la Mujer, or “The Woman’s Home,” is one of the few places in Montevideo where abused women can come for help. Anna, who asked that her last name not be used, says her husband had been assaulting her for years. He’s a college-educated businessman.

ANNA: [via a translator] Over many years he subjected many to physical and psychological violence. He would abuse me verbally by telling me I was nothing, that I couldn’t do anything in the world. He continually put me down in front of our children. He was the boss of everything. He resented when I wanted to work and have my own money. In time, he opened a business selling agricultural products. The physical violence began in 1993. I didn’t report him at first. I thought it was our economic situation and when that got better he would change.

EHRLICH: When Anna finally sought help at The Woman’s Home, counselors encouraged her to file a police report as a means of documenting the abuse.

ANNA: [via a translator] I didn’t understand anything about domestic violence. If my husband was violent with a group of men there would be a complaint filed with the police. Now I understand that if a man is violent with his wife it’s important to file a complaint. Otherwise he won’t change.

EHRLICH: Despite her filing a complaint, however, the beatings continued. Eventually Anna forced her husband to leave, and today she lives on her own. A 1997 study showed that an estimated 46 percent of Uruguayan women experienced physical or psychological violence, with 23% of all women reporting severe abuse. According to a recent Public Health Ministry report, if current trends continue domestic violence will become the country’s number two public health problem by the year 2004. Fanny Samuneski , a psychologist with the group Woman Now, says the causes of domestic violence are a complicated mix of economic, social, and psychological factors. Uruguay is undergoing a deep economic recession, which contributes to the problem, says Samuneski .

fanny Samuneski: [via a translator] Yes, unemployment and poverty worsen conditions of life. It’s one cause of domestic violence. Alcoholism is another. But something lies underneath these factors. Yes, men are economically frustrated, but not all frustrated people become violent. Some people become very sad, but don’t destroy. Domestic violence happens only when one person resorts to violence and the other can’t stop it. It’s a situation of inequality and lack of power.

EHRLICH: Rates of spousal abuse in Uruguay are particularly high compared to other countries. But that may be because Uruguayan social scientists have done a better job of surveying women. Samuneski says the underlying causes of domestic violence are no different in Uruguay than elsewhere in the Western world.

Samuneski: [via a translator] All Western men have a conception of being macho, of what is masculinity and femininity. I don’t know Eastern societies, but for Western societies the situation is very similar. I include European men. I studied in France and the situation was exactly the same.

EHRLICH: The problem, says Samuneski, is that long after other countries began to combat spousal abuse the Uruguayan government did very little. For example, Uruguay still has a penal code provision that allows charges to be dropped against a rapist of a woman under 18 if she agrees to marry him. While the law is not currently applied, Samuneski says it reflects Uruguay’s historic attitudes towards women

Samuneski: [via a translator] Uruguay’s civil law is a translation of the Napoleonic Code, which was adopted from Spain. The law holds that the rape of a woman is an attack on the family’s honor and on the honor of the male heads of that family, much more than a violation of the woman’s rights. So the law included the possibility that if the raped woman married the rapist it erased the offense against the family and charges would be dropped.

[A radio announcer speaks in Spanish]

EHRLICH: Every weekday Elena Fonseca hosts a woman’s news and interview program on a popular AM radio station. The show is called “Never On Sunday.”

[The song Never On Sunday plays, followed by a another radio announcer, followed by an English-language rock song with the lyrics, “Today is a winding road”]

EHRLICH: Fonseca and the group of women media activists who run the show often discuss issues of domestic violence. Fonseca says they reach a working-class audience that doesn’t often discuss the issue.

elena fonseca: Our audience is a popular one. They are half and half, men and women, who hear us, and we are very glad with that kind. Because, I mean, this was a choice, not to be in a more elitist radio, where everybody knows what you are talking about. In this place, in this radio, I, we know that are people who have never heard about what we talk.

EHRLICH: Fonseca says for many years the courts and police have simply ignored domestic violence, saying problems of spousal abuse should be resolved at home. She remembers one woman who was violently abused by her husband and who reported him to the police 17 times. Fonseca describes the reaction of the policeman.

fonseca: He said, time after time, ‘Oh, lady, you go back home. He was drunk and it will pass, and he’s a good man, and he will, everything will be OK.’ And she said to me, ‘I’m ashamed to go the 18th time. I’m ashamed to go because it’s like as if I was the fool.’

EHRLICH: Women’s organizations have tried to fill in for the lack of governmental action by providing shelters, legal aid, and counseling services for abused women. But the shelters hold only about 50 women for a city of 1.5 million people, says women’s rights leader Dr. Christina Grela.

DR. CHRISTINA GRELA: [via a translator] The government must take charge of its own problem. Nonprofit groups don’t have the resources to provide the needed care. We are all in agreement that the government must address all aspects of domestic violence-prevention, action, and resolution of the problems.

EHRLICH: Over the past few years women’s groups have been able to apply some pressure to the Uruguayan government. Women’s rights activist Fanny Samuneski says they were encouraged by the Year of the Woman Conference in Beijing and subsequent international gatherings.

Samuneski : [via a translator] Those conferences have been very helpful because they helped us organize and define specific objectives. We looked at how to apply the questions of the Beijing conference to Uruguay’s situation. We were able to prioritize issues. The conference helped us make domestic violence one of the major issues for Uruguay.

EHRLICH: There are some signs that the government is starting to look more seriously at the problem. The Interior Ministry, in coordination with women’s rights groups, has drafted a new domestic violence law that streamlines procedures for getting court injunctions against abusive men, calls for counseling abusive partners, and allows for stiffer penalties for abusers. Interior Ministry official and Police Inspector Graciela Lopez, who drafted the new law, says it stresses prevention and rehabilitation.

GRACIELA LOPEZ: Judges, prosecutors, teachers, psychologists, police-everybody together given a special focus in prevention and early detection of the problem. Violence is a cultural problem. It sees the possibility to change if you want to change.

EHRLICH: In contrast to the law-and-order approach sometimes advocated in the US, both high-level police officials and women’s rights activists stress education and the need for societal pressure to curb the problem. Fanny Samuneski .

Samuneski : [via a translator] Domestic violence won’t be solved only by tougher penalties. In Uruguay only 5 to 10 percent of domestic violence cases are reported to the police. Of those 5 to 10 percent, only a small fraction get into the judicial system. It’s much more important for the emergency agencies to deal with this problem. There needs to be changes in civil law to protect women and children from making it easier to get injunctions. In criminal law we need to rehabilitate the perpetrators. Putting more men in jail won’t solve anything. But if a man won’t stop hitting his wife then he needs to go to jail. But preventative procedures are much more important.

[sound of a marching band]

EHRLICH: On a blustery, windswept day a marching band strides in front of the parliament building, where the proposed anti-domestic violence law is being considered. The law has stirred controversy because it applies to all domestic partners, gay or straight, married or unmarried. Graciela Dufau is woman’s rights attorney who favors the law.

Graciela Dufau: [via a translator] There is a resistance in this country to understanding the new phenomenon, the new families. There is a formation of new extended families such as homosexual families. There’s a big resistance, a very large conservative sentiment against it. We think this is a violation of democracy and the right to determine one’s own life.

EHRLICH: Glenda Rondan, a member of Uruguay’s lower house, says the legislature will overcome objections by conservative lawmakers, in part because women legislators from all the major parties have united to support the bill.

GLENDA RONDAN: [via a translator] There is the political will to pass the law. There’s a great sensitivity by legislators from all parties. The support from the Interior Ministry is very, very important. It shows that the impact of this law helps everyone.

EHRLICH: The domestic violence bill is expected to be debated and voted on before the end of the year. But even if the bill passes, women’s rights activists say Uruguayan society needs to change its attitudes. Radio host Elena Fonseca says she’s beginning to see some of that already.

fonseca: We have a say that is, “no te me sas.” That means, don’t go into a problem that doesn’t belong to you; it’s your neighbor’s problem. And we are starting to lose this behavior. I think now there’s a sort of a consciousness, that is this one, yes it’s increasing, about people to intervene, to say something, to kick the wall, or to do something if you have a neighbor man that are fighting and you know that she is crying and she is in defense. And then if you do something, you call by phone. Anything that helps.

EHRLICH: For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich, in Montevideo, Uruguay.

MCHUGH: Coming up, Uruguay’s national music

[upbeat Uruguayan music]

PORTER: In the United States in the 1960s the young civil rights movement gave rise to a vibrant Black arts movement. Today in the South American nation of Uruguay a Black empowerment movement is emerging that includes a strong assertion of cultural identity. That can be seen in the rediscovery of the African roots of Uruguay’s national music, candombe. Common Ground‘s Special Correspondent Reese Ehrlich reports from the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo.

[a man singing an upbeat song in Spanish while playing a guitar]

EHRLICH: Uruguayans love candombe music with the same passion that Brazilians embrace samba. And like samba, candombe fuses African rhythms with European melodies and instrumentation. But these days some Uruguayans are rediscovering the African roots of candombe.

[upbeat Uruguayan song]

EHRLICH: Here at the Mundo-Afro Cultural Center, four men pound out sophisticated rhythms on tambor drums while a woman’s chorus sings traditional candombe. The tambores, which look a little like potbellied conga drums, are played with an open hand and a drumstick.

[sound of drumming and singing]

EHRLICH: The renewed interest in black culture is part of an incipient movement against racial discrimination here. Most white Uruguayans think racism doesn’t exist in their country. But a disproportionate number of blacks live in poverty, receiving 20 percent lower wages than whites for similar work. No blacks reach the upper levels of business or government. Candombe musician Eduardo Da Luz, says Uruguay is undergoing a new cultural and political awakening, which includes the election this year of the first black member to the House of Deputies, the lower house of the national legislature.

eduardo Da Luz: [via a translator] We observe with a lot of pride how a black man or woman can now succeed in politics, and not just in music. It’s something very important, because it never happened before. In the US there’s racism; here the racism is hidden but it exists. In the military black officers can rise only to certain levels. They can’t become a general. It’s not permitted. And to have a black man as a senator or a deputy is very rare. We observe with a lot of pride that a black brother was elected and can help lead the country.

[sound of drumming]

EHRLICH: Candombe originated during colonial times when African slaves used drums as part of their secret religious practices. Over the years the religious aspects faded away. But a lively music and dance remained. For much of this century black Uruguayans only played candombe during Carnival and at black family events. Da Luz says the country’s white upper crust shunned the music as uncivilized.

Da Luz: [via a translator] A lot of Uruguayans saw candombe as a music of poor people, of barefoot people and children begging in the streets. Candombe was a music of the streets, not part of our society. Well, it took a long time for candombe to win acceptance here.

EHRLICH: In the 1940s candombe started to become more acceptable as it was fused with tango and other popular musical styles of the era.

[a song combining tango and candombe]

EHRLICH: In the succeeding years musicians combined candombe rhythms with mambo and even rock and roll. But candombe really soared to national prominence when musicians fused candombe with the singing and guitar style known as “canto popular,” or popular song.

[an example of candombe fused with canto popular]

EHRLICH: In 1973 the military seized power in Uruguay and candombe became associated with resistance to the brutal dictatorship. The military had banned public demonstrations, so inventive Uruguayans transformed a Carnival day traditionally devoted to candombe music and dance into a day of protest. Thousands of people could gather on De De Las Llamadas, the Day of the Drum Calls, and express opposition to the military without getting arrested, says Beatriz Ramirez, Montevideo’s first black city councilperson.

Beatriz Ramirez: [via a translator] During the years of dictatorship here it became a day of resistance for all of Uruguayan society, the Llamadas, who are a voice for the simple citizens of Uruguay to rebel against the diabolic dictatorship that ended the democracy that Uruguay had for many years. It became a day of rebellion, of resistance, and helped us change to a democratic government, which we have today.

[an example of candombe fused with canto popular]

EHRLICH: By the time the military regime fell in 1984 candombe had fully emerged as Uruguay’s national music. While appreciating the new popularity of candombe, many black Uruguayans felt the new fusion had lost its African roots. Drummer and composer Ruben Rada is one of the country’s most famous musicians.

RUBEN RADA: [via a translator] The candombe of whites who love candombe is a completely different sound. The whites use a simplified guitar strumming style.

[Rada hums/chants the simplified style]

EHRLICH: Rada says that style is very square compared with the black rhythm that sounds like this

[Rada hums/chants the black style]

RADA: The rhythms is very good. It’s like Stevie Wonder and Pat Boone, you know.

EHRLICH: Rada says black musicians also face discrimination. They had a harder time earning a living from their art, making recordings, and traveling abroad on government-sponsored trips.

RADA: [via a translator] Whenever artists were sent abroad to represent Uruguay they never sent black people. Not many people in the world, including Latin Americans, know Uruguay has black people. The cultural leaders of the government never supported black culture. They always sent car racers, tennis players, classical musicians, tango musicians, folk-loric musicians, but no black musicians.

EHRLICH: That’s beginning to change now that Uruguayans are trying to learn more about the African roots of candombe. Some are joining classes to learn about the tambores from master drummers such as Benjamin Arrascaeta. He explains how the sound of the tambores differ from other drums.

[sound of drumming]

Benjamin Arrascaeta: [via a translator] That’s the sound of the conga.

[sound of a more metallic drumming]

Arrascaeta: [via a translator] This is the repique. The different sound comes from the tuning and from the drum head. The drumskin is rougher on the conga and finer on the tambor.

[sound of more drumming]

Arrascaeta: [via a translator] This is the sound of the bombo. It’s a candombe drum that was introduced into the music only in the 1950s. It functions as base. Its sound is distinct from the other tambor.

[sound of more drumming]

[sound of a more metallic drumming]

Arrascaeta: [via a translator] We not only play the drumheads, we also beat rhythm on the side of the drums called, “the wood.” The wood is one of the elements that didn’t exist when candombe began, but it’s very popular today.

[sound of tapping out or beating a rhythm on the wood]

[sound of a female singer]

EHRLICH: There are other signs of a new cultural and political ferment in Uruguay. During the 2000 Carnival audiences saw a production of Opera Negra, a full-scale folk opera. It tells the story of a black tambor player falling in love with a white woman. It’s a Romeo and Juliet story in which the white parents object to the relationship.

[sound of a female singer]

EHRLICH: Washington Salvo helped write lyrics for Opera Negra. While at night he works with candombe musicians, during the day he’s the government minister in charge of national elections. He says Opera Negra exposes the fact that whites think racism doesn’t exist here.

WASHINGTON SALVO: [via a translator] Ask people if they would accept a black man marrying their white daughter. You would see the amount of discrimination. The idea of marrying a black person and then having children: very few whites would accept this.

[sound of rapid-fire drumming and singing]

SALVO: [via a translator] The opera isn’t a protest against prejudice. There are no signs, no demonstrations. But yes, there’s a criticism against existing prejudice that unfortunately exists in our society against black people. Blacks don’t have access to the upper levels in society and our culture. They have difficult lives and face barriers that whites don’t face.

EHRLICH: Opera Negra was recently performed again in Montevideo before a sold out audience at a major theater.

[sound of rapid-fire drumming and singing]

EHRLICH: Every Sunday in Montevideo’s neighborhoods black and white young people gather around open fires to tune the skins on their tambor drums. Sparks fly as they throw balled-up newspapers onto the fire, lending an eerie light to the frigid night air. Then, 50 or 60 people strap on their drums and march down the street to a pulsating beat.

[sound of rapid-fire drumming]

EHRLICH: Musician Eduardo Da Luz says these “domingueras,” or “Sunday jams,” are part of the resurgence in traditional or “pure” candombe.

Da Luz: [via a translator] The domingueras are made up mostly of young people interested in learning and playing pure candombe. It’s not candombe with drum sets, like in rock bands. They want to experience the pure candombe from our roots. Young kids, teenagers, are building their first weapons of candombe. It’s a good path for this new blood to experience. Of course, it’s music of the people.

[sound of rapid-fire drumming]

EHRLICH: Da Luz says that both blacks and whites are interested in the African roots of candombe.

Da Luz: [via a translator] Candombe is part of the identity of the Uruguayan people-whites, blacks, and mixed race. There are a lot of whites who play the tambor very well, as do many blacks. It’s not just a rhythm for black people. It’s a rhythm that identifies our Uruguayan republic. Blacks and whites have the right to play it.

[sound of upbeat singing and drumming]

EHRLICH: That spirit of multinational unity pervades the Mundo-Afro Cultural Center here in the heart of Montevideo. Mundo-Afro has become a nexus for both political and cultural activists of all races who want to see black political empowerment. Election Minister Washington Salvo.

SALVO: [via a translator] It’s clear that Mundo-Afro for many years has revalidated black values, what we call “negritude,” in the sense of black music, poetry, clothing-all the traditions of Uruguay. Mundo-Afro is a great popularizer of these values. These go hand in hand with efforts to stop prejudice. This includes greater black representation in government.

[more upbeat music]

EHRLICH: City council member Beatriz Ramirez, who is also a cofounder of Mundo-Afro, says artists and political activists share common goals.

ramirez: [via a translator] We’re arriving at the same starting point to discover exactly who we are. Artists and political activists together are struggling for social, economic, and political rights.

[more upbeat music]

EHRLICH: Traditional candombe and black political empowerment involve a small but growing number of Uruguayans. Activists at the Mundo-Afro hope to widen both movements in the years to come. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich, in Montevideo, Uruguay.

[more upbeat singing and drumming]

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security