Todays La Vida En Black History Month message comes from deep in South America. Chile’s first Afro-descendants were brought as slaves and soldiers in 1536, with the explorer Diego de Almagro. The African Slaves worked in farming and agriculture, mined gold and worked on construction projects. The quality of the slaves’ lives was so low the mortality rate was high. Africans were enslaved to supplement the native labor population. Being that Chile is far and islolated, their slave population did remain small. They were taken mainly from Angola, Congo, and the Guinnea Coast. importing them was costly, due to the long routes, which encouraged smuggling.
But as time passed the Afro-Chilean were not just slaves, they also became soldiers. Those that served with distinction, earned “encomiendas”, or land grants. Some notable Afro-Chilean encomiendas owners were Juan Valiente, (the first to own an encomiendas) Juan Beltrán, Leonor Galiano, Gomez de Leon, and Cristóbal Varela.
Another specific group of Black people in Chilean history were members of the 8th Regiment of The Andean Liberation Army that fought the Spaniards in Chacabuco. That Army, organized in Argentina was led by San Martin to liberate Chile and later, Peru. San Martin was a fan of black soldiers because “blacks were the only people capable of success in the infantry.” The Afro-Latino soldiers received their freedom after crossing the Andes and fighting the Spaniards. Inevitably being on the front lines brought the greatest risk of death in battle. This history of Chile is never recognized and those black soldiers did not received the proper commendation for their contribution to the liberation of Chile.