My project responds to a crucial debate in anthropology regarding the disjuncture between recognition, cultural rights and citizenship. Through an ethnographic examination of two formerly enslaved communities in Colombia and Brazil, my research shows how cultural heritage exemplifies this conundrum. On the one hand, declaring traditional music, dance and rituals as ‘intangible cultural heritage’ is seen as both political reparation for Afro-descendants and as recognition of cultural diversity for multicultural democracies (UNESCO 2010). On the other, heritage declarations have actually helped to institutionalize the political and economic marginalization of Afro-descendant communities in Colombia and Brazil. I will conduct a comparative ethnography of cultural heritage (Breglia 2006, Byrne 2007, Meskell 2009) in San Basilio de Palenque (Colombia) and Quilombo dos Palmares (Brazil), two communities declared as national and world heritage, in order to ask: how and why has Afro-descendant heritage become a critical instrument to recognize cultural diversity in multicultural nations? Since intangible heritage nominations lack enforceable national legislation, my project examines how harmful consequences, such as exclusion and elitism, unfold for communities on the ground (Barry 2001, Fraser and Honneth 2003). Ultimately, my research analyzes whether intangible heritage designations actually reinforce segregating practices, rather than construct equitable cultural democracies as they claim to support (Povinelli 2002).