Raised fist, discreet smile, African attire. The environmentalist Francia Márquez overcame Colombia’s buried racism and became this Sunday the first Afro-descendant vice president of a country governed, until now, by white male elites.
Hand in hand with senator and former guerrilla Gustavo Petro , he defeated the elites and with him will be part of the first leftist government in Colombia for the next four years.
Márquez and Petro obtained 50.4% of the vote in Sunday’s elections.
“After 214 years we achieved a government of the people, a popular government, a government of the people with calloused hands, the government of the people on foot, the government of the nobodies and the nobodies of Colombia,” said Márquez, 40. .
The elected vice president of Colombia is originally from the municipality of Suárez, a rural area in the department of Cauca, in the southwest of the country, where around 80% of the population lives in some form of poverty.
This reality is not foreign to the majority of the country’s Afro-descendant population. In the midst of the dirty war that the presidential campaign went through, Márquez was the center of a racist and classist fury fueled by social networks.
Several local personalities launched attacks on him related to his skin color and poor background.
Since April, Márquez has received more than a thousand racist comments and messages in the media and networks, according to the Racial Discrimination Observatory at the Universidad de los Andes.
On the platform, together with his family, he celebrated this Sunday the “historic” victory: “together we are going to defeat structural racism in Colombia,” he assured.
Who is Francia Marquez?
Born into a poor family in Cauca, Márquez became a single mother at 16, fled her land under threat of death, cleaned houses to survive and studied law before making her way into politics.
In 2019 they wanted to kill her with grenades and rifle bursts for defending the water of her community, in a region where armed groups impose their law, financed by drug trafficking and illegal mining.
A year earlier, he had received the Goldman Prize, also known as the Nobel Prize for the environment.
Márquez became known in this campaign with a feminist, environmentalist and leftist discourse and for her proposal to “live tasty”, a current of Afro peoples that defends peace and harmony with nature.
“We women are going to eradicate the patriarchy of our country, we are going for the rights of the diverse LGBTIQ+ community, we are going for the rights of our mother earth, of the big house,” she announced during her speech.
In a country where violence breaks out from time to time despite the peace agreement signed with the dissolved FARC guerrilla in 2016, Márquez opted for reconciliation.
We are going “to reconcile this nation, we are going for peace decisively, without fear, with love and with joy, we are going for dignity, for social justice,” he launched before Petro gave his victory speech.
What role will he play in the Petro government?
It is not clear how much freedom Márquez, 40, would have to fulfill his promises to improve women’s rights and help the poor access health and education.
The position of vice president is nebulous in Colombia, where presidents are free to assign ministries or other responsibilities to their second-in-command. Petro is known as a stubborn manager, repeatedly clashing with officials when he was mayor of Bogotá.
Márquez, who has never held an elected position, is scheduled to lead a new equality ministry. It is hoped that it will promote the application of one while emphasizing access to this procedure for indigenous, Afro-Colombian and rural women.
If Petro reneges on plans to give Márquez a policy-making role or micromanages his decisions, the two could clash once in government, Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, director of the Andes at the Center for the Study of Petroleum, told Reuters. the Washington Office on Latin America.
“He has always put what he thinks is most important, or his idea of what things should be, before really getting a full consensus with the others,” Sánchez-Garzoli said, assuring that Petro and Márquez “will face each other.” if he marginalizes her.
Márquez, who came second behind Petro in the primaries of the leftist coalition of the Historical Pact in March, with 783,000 votes, has important support on his own merits, Sánchez-Garzoli said, recalling that he obtained more votes than the winner. of the central primaries.
For Daniela Cuéllar of FTI Consulting, Márquez could be a crucial aid to economic development, serving as a link between the often skeptical local population and big business.
“Márquez could help the companies to have an intermediary respected by the communities in the government, which could help the companies to identify and work on issues of common interest with the communities,” he assured.
With information from AFP and Reuters