A warm "Buiti achuluruni" was the Garifuna welcome for the more than 1,000 participants who traveled to La Ceiba, Honduras, to attend the first World Summit of African Descendants. The World Summit of African Descendants: Integral and Sustainable Development with Identity was organized by Organizacion de Desarrollo Etnico Comunitario and the International Civil Society Committee to commemorate the United Nations (UN) and Organization of American States (OAS) International Year for People of African Descent.
Summit participants included civil society, government, and international organizations from more than 30 countries. I headed the Department of State's delegation. The U.S. delegation also included several staff from the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs and U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as officials from the U.S. Embassy in Honduras.
Participants in the opening ceremony included President Porfirio Lobo of Honduras, President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala, Vice-President Alfio Piva of Costa Rica, ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps in Honduras, central government ministers, the mayor of La Cieba, representatives of 34 international delegations, and the local community. President Lobo stressed, "Racial and ethnic discrimination in whatever type is intolerable…There is no exception." He also said, "The rights of people and the rights of communities should not be concessions of one government because we are all born equal and with the same rights." Other speakers avowed their solidarity with African descendants, the importance of diversity, and a willingness to work together to improve the conditions of African descendants, who are frequently economically, politically, and socially marginalized.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sent a message to Summit coordinators and participants. She said, "We must continue to improve racial equality in the region and around the world. We need to promote greater diversity, openness and understanding. We must expand education, entrepreneurship, and employment opportunities to more people to meet the shared challenges before us." In addition to Secretary Clinton's statement, an African Union (AU) representative delivered a statement highlighting the expansion of AU missions, including their new mission in Washington, D.C., and encouraging African descendants to play an active role in the AU.
The Summit celebrated the rich cultural heritage of African descendants with performances by Honduras' Garifuna Dance Troupe, Chen Lo and The Lo Frequency (a U.S. group sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Honduras), and Caribbean artists. Chen Lo and The Lo Frequency's soulful rhythms showcased songs from several U.S. African American artists. In addition, local youth showed off their dance talents performing to top 20 pop songs. An exhibit of images from the U.S. Embassy's International Year for People of African Descent photo contest was on display during the event. The International Year for People of African Descent photo contest, held in April, also celebrated the month of African Heritage in Honduras.
The Summit highlighted African descendants' positive contributions to their respective countries and the world, while acknowledging and discussing the challenges African descendants continue to face. The event concluded with a declaration, including a request for a Permanent African Descendants' Affairs Forum in the UN, the OAS, and the European Union, and the creation of a development fund for African and African descendant communities.