On Sunday, Colombians elected Francia Marquez, a single mother who worked as a maid before taking on the mining industry as a firebrand environmentalist, as their first ever leftist vice president, making her the nation’s first Black vice president. Her election represents a sea change in a nation long ruled by conservative elites and riven by social inequality.
She was vivacious and blatantly stunning when campaigning. Francia Marquez embraced her identity, questioned the status quo, and suggested a better future while wearing vibrant Afro-Colombian clothing and large jewelry.
The 40-year-old candidate would chant while raising her fist, smiling, “It’s time to move from resistance to power.”
Gustavo Petro, a former rebel, defeated a real estate millionaire in a runoff election on Sunday, becoming Colombia’s first ever leftist president. This was a seismic shift in the South American nation, which had previously been led by conservatives or moderates.
Petro has signaled a social shift in a nation that has always ignored the presence of racism by choosing Marquez as his running mate.
Marquez has also brought attention to Colombia’s Europeanized elitism, bringing up the topic of racism in a nation where the majority of people identify as Mestizo, or racially mixed. Marquez did this by wearing brightly printed clothing and asserting her Afro-Colombian ancestry.
Marquez’s path from a young, Black single mother to the vice presidency of the nation is a remarkable tale of tenacity in the face of adversity.
Nothing in Marquez’s past suggests that she would pursue a career in politics. She was raised by her mother alone after being born in 1981 in a remote town in Colombia’s Cauca region. She was employed as a maid after being compelled to work at a gold mine nearby when she was 16 and pregnant with her first kid to support her family.
When she was only 15 years old, in 1996, she began her early environmental advocacy. Marquez discovered that a project to expand a dam on the Ovejas, the main river in the area, was being planned by a global corporation and would have a significant effect on her town.
The Afro-Colombian community has made agriculture and artisanal mining its major sources of income for generations while living on the banks of the river since the 17th century.
Marquez’s protracted battle to uphold the rights of Afro-Colombian tribes and protect their land began with the Ovejas River campaign. She has been steadfastly campaigning against the multinational corporations that exploit the region around the Ovejas river and occasionally evict residents for the past 20 years.
Marquez didn’t gain widespread recognition until 2014. She was focusing on the illegal miners operating along the river at the time who were searching for gold and, more importantly, using a lot of mercury, an element that separates gold from water but also contaminates it and wipes out biodiversity. Marquez organized a “turban march” in protest, which involved 80 women trekking 500 kilometers over 10 days from Cauca to Bogota. For approximately 20 days, the group held protests in front of the interior ministry. The government promised to demolish all of the illegal farms near the Ovejas, giving the activists the victory in the end.
Since receiving his law degree, Marquez has participated in several forums, given lectures at universities, and spoken before politicians and non-profit organizations. For her work, she received the Goldman Prize in 2018, which is regarded as the environmental equivalent of the Nobel Prize. She was listed among the top 100 most powerful women in the world by the BBC the following year.
“I am someone who speaks out against the ravaging of moors, rivers, and forests. I harbor the hope that one day people will abandon the economics of death in favor of creating one that ensures life “On her website, she stated.
“Our administrations have abandoned the populace,”
Marquez didn’t try to hide her ambition when she ultimately made the decision to run for office in 2020: “I’d like to run for office in this nation. I want everyone to live in freedom and dignity. I want our lands to be places where people can live “Tweeted she. She started her “Soy porque somos” movement in the same year (“I am because we are”). She participated in the left-wing “Historic Pact” coalition’s presidential primary elections in March 2022. Marquez unexpectedly finished third, leading Petro to select her as his running mate.
She frequently referred to her heritage and made the fight to protect Afro-Colombian territories a focal point of her political campaign. “I am an Afro-Colombian lady who has two children on my own and worked in households to pay the bills since I had my first child at the age of 16. However, I am also a recognized environmental activist. Above all, a lawyer who might be Colombia’s first vice president of color “She stated at a number of campaign events.
She said, “Our governments have abandoned the people, justice, and peace.” I wouldn’t be here if they had carried out their duties correctly.
According to Olga Lucia Gonzalez, an associate researcher and expert on Colombia at the University of Paris-Diderot, “among the public, there has been a lot of popular fury in recent months focused towards the political elite, particularly tied to the Covid-19 pandemic.” “Instead of being a member of the traditional political elite, Francia Marquez is from civil society. She uses this as a point of contention, which significantly benefits her.”
Gonzalez claims that Marquez’s capacity to bring up neglected concerns has been her greatest contribution. But more importantly, she added, “she is a woman, Black, and Afro-Colombian, and she brings with her topics that up until now have been entirely disregarded, including the relationship to colonialism, sexism, and racism.
Caterine Ibarguen and Zenaida Martinez, two more Afro-Colombian candidates, also ran for president in the 2022 election, so Marquez wasn’t the only one. Together, they declared their intention to combat the double discrimination experienced by Black women. Only one Black woman served in the previous administration, and there were only two Black lawmakers. This discrimination is reflected in Colombia’s political life.
This is occurring in the nation with Latin America’s second-largest population of people of African descent. Demographers claim that the official census data’s estimate of the percentage of Afro-Colombians in Colombia’s population, which is over 6.2 percent, is vastly understated. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations still experience disproportionately high rates of poverty, violence, and land confiscation. Approximately 31% of Afro-Colombian people, as opposed to 20% of all people in Colombia, live in poverty, according to government statistics.
Marquez has risen to the top echelons of actual political power as a result of Petro’s victory in the 2022 presidential election from a symbolic vice-presidential candidate. Her toughest obstacles are probably yet to come.