The triple milestone of Francia Márquez by becoming the elected vice president of Colombia

Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez made history this Sunday in Colombia.

The first left-wing president of the country and the first coastal president will arrive at the Casa de Nariño hand in hand with the first Afro-American vice president in history.

That duo, from the coalition Historical Pactobtained more than 11.2 million votes, also a historical figure, and defeated Rodolfo Hernandez and Marelen Castillo, of the Anti-Corruption Governors League.

His election also represents a change in the way of coming to power in a country that has historically been governed by elite and urban white men.

For the first time a afro woman will arrive at the presidential house. Márquez represents and embodies the collective struggle for gender and ethnic equality. Her own life is a reflection of that, which is why, in order to know her story, it is key to dwell on the language that she herself uses.

“Live tasty”, “I am because we are” and “That dignity becomes customary” are some of the phrases he repeats and that many Colombians, some without understanding, heard for the first time during the electoral campaign.

She has said that she speaks and behaves like ordinary people, like people who have “calloused hands” from working, because to the hope of some and distrust of others, the elected vice president represents a Colombia that speaks differently, that It has grown far from the centers of power and has survived a decades-long war. Or as she says: she represents the nobodies and the nobodies of the country.

But how did this 40-year-old woman manage to get from the artisanal gold mines in northern Cauca to an office in the Casa de Nariño in Bogotá?

At BBC Mundo we recount the three milestones that your election entails.

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Francia Márquez, Vice President-elect of Colombia

1. An Afro-Colombian vice president

The election of Márquez means that the ethnic diversity that has always existed in Colombia arrives at the presidential palace for the first time.

Francia Márquez was born in Yolombó, a village in the municipality of Suarez, in the department of Cauca. It is a region in the southwest of the country that is mainly inhabited by Afro-descendant and indigenous communities.

Her mother is a midwife, a tradition that she learned from her grandmothers and that, according to Márquez, taught her as a child to see her territory as a space for life. The connection that Afro communities have with their land is such that when a baby is born, they bury her navel so that she takes root and grows with the strength of the place.

Hence, the new vice president frequently uses the word ubuntu, which means “I am because we are” and which is part of African philosophy.

Francia Marquez dances

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Márquez represents the collective struggle of Afro-descendant peoples.

That is the tradition in which Marquez grew up. Her childhood and youth were like those of the majority of black women in northern Cauca. She studied the basics at the nearby school and helped out at her house since she was little.

At 16, she had her first child and became a single mother. To find a livelihood, she worked as an artisanal miner.

Like her, many people with flashlights and pans in hand entered the mines on the banks of the Ovejas River in search of a little gold to sell to the highest bidder.

“When I met Francia, I was a young miner, with a very strong character, she had no filter,” recalls Elizabeth García, a lawyer and Arhuaca indigenous woman, in a conversation with BBC Mundo.

And Márquez admits it: she has said that being an impoverished black woman builds character, because there is no other way to get ahead.

The question now is whether that character that led her to the vice presidency will be enough to materialize everything she represents and defends, especially the reduction of the gaps of inequality and discrimination towards women and towards those who inhabit ethnic and rural territories.

“The fear is that the expectations are too high with her. I think she runs the risk of suffering from the Obama syndrome, which is to think that by having a black president the discrimination problems will end and it turns out not ”, she explains. Sandra Bordapolitical analyst and professor of political science at the Universidad de los Andes.

But although it is impossible for him to live up to expectations, Borda considers that Márquez does have in his hands “an enormous power to, at least, begin to change the trend of problems of racial and gender inequality in the country.” .

2. An environmental lead vice president

Francia Marquez in campaign

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Márquez has said that he talks and behaves like ordinary people.

In the community of Márquez, as she has recounted, people see the Ovejas River as their source of livelihood. As a father and mother at the same time, he is highly respected and cared for.

That is why in 2009, when a project appeared to divert the course of that river to a nearby dam, she began her activism.

“That meant that women could not continue working and that was their livelihood. So life itself brought France into a leadership role, I don’t think it was planned; simply having suffered in her own flesh the issue of discrimination, having been a very young single mother, led her there,” says García.

In addition to the diversion, mining titles were delivered to multinational companies that were going to evict the population in order to start the business.

It was 2009 and Márquez then decided to file a tutela action that was denied twice until they managed to get the Supreme Court to review it. The highest court agreed with the community: the company had not done prior consultation or followed due process, so the mining titles were stopped.

That first achievement positioned her as a local leader. It was the first political step of hers without perhaps realizing it.

But the situation did not improve because some time later illegal mining arrived in the area. Communities began to see machinery contaminating the river with mercury.

Francia Marquez campaigning

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Márquez obtained the third vote in the internal consultations of coalitions and parties

In the midst of frustration, Márquez proposed to the women to make a mobilization. She has said that many were afraid, but when she told them that she would do it herself, they sympathized. Fifteen women from Suarez undertook a march with turbans to Bogotá. They walked around 600 kilometers in which more people joined.

More than 100 people arrived in Bogotá. They were located in the Ministry of Justice for several weeks until they managed to be heard.

Thanks to this management, Márquez won the national human rights award in 2015. In 2016 his name appeared in the local press, when he publicly confronted the then president Juan Manuel Santos for a breach of the commitments made with the ethnic communities.

But his total departure from anonymity came in 2018, when he received the Goldman Prizeconsidered the Nobel Prize in the Environment.

According to its website, the award recognizes people from around the world for their sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, even at great personal risk.

As is the case of Márquez, who was the victim of intimidation and an attack that forced her to leave her territory. Her two children are exiled and her family has not been exposed publicly for security reasons. Colombia is one of the countries in which more social and environmental leaders are assassinated each year.

So Goldman split the new vice president’s life in two. Not only because, as he has said, she began to be someone on the public agenda and position herself as a benchmark of environmental leadership, but because with the money she received she was able to buy a house for her family.

3. A vice president who was a domestic worker

Francia Márquez hugs a girl

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France represents the fight for equality

Márquez had to interrupt his studies many times. Sometimes he didn’t have enough to pay for the semester, or he couldn’t stop working to dedicate himself to studying. It took her many years to realize her dream of becoming a lawyer.

Along the way, he did everything. She even worked as a domestic worker in family homes in Cali and she avoided displacement and the threats that came to her because of her leadership in the community.

Until in 2020, at the age of 38, she was able to graduate as a lawyer from the Santiago de Cali University with an award-winning thesis on structural racism.

His entry into politics occurred two years earlier. In 2018, after winning the Goldman, she was a candidate for the House of Representatives of Congress for Afro-descendant communities, but she did not obtain a position.

Two years later and with her law degree in hand, she announced her candidacy for the presidency of 2022 within the coalition of the Historical Pact. She was unable to collect enough signatures to run on her own behalf, so the Polo Democrático political party gave her the endorsement to continue.

In March of this year he faced Gustavo Petro and three more candidates in a preliminary consultation of the coalition. He came in second place with 780,000 votes, while Petro came in first place with more than four million and became a presidential candidate.

Weeks later, the Historical Pact announced that Márquez would be its vice-presidential formula. After months of a contentious and hard-fought campaign, Francia became the first Afro woman to reach the vice presidency of Colombia.

“That France is in the vice presidency means a historic milestone for the women who fight in Colombia. She is the visible face and represents the collective work of Afro-Colombian communities, she was not handpicked, she obtained the third highest vote in the consultations”, says Sher Herrera, Afro-feminist and student of Afro-Colombian studies at Javeriana University.

The challenge from now

Márquez’s feat does not end with his coming to power. Now he will have to materialize his proposal to close the inequality gap.

“It is important to say that although she is good news for women, that does not mean that the gender issue has been at the center of Gustavo Petro’s campaign. In other words, it will not be the government’s priority and it will depend on her and the women who follow her to make it so.

“What we are going to see, surely, are going to be great efforts to try to open spaces for equality and to try to eliminate forms of systematic discrimination,” explains Borda.

live tasty poster

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“Live tasty” is one of Márquez’s campaign slogans

His flagship proposal is the creation of the Ministry of Equality and it is where he has said that he will concentrate his work during the next four years of government.

For some it is an ambitious bet that ignores, in some way, institutions and programs that already exist and that need to be strengthened, before spending resources on creating a new portfolio.

But Borda, on the other hand, believes that “it is tremendously important to raise the profile of the institutions dedicated to the issue because what has happened is that the management around the issue of equality from the point of view of gender and from the point of view of racial, it is a management that is disaggregated, fragmented and therefore does not have a high enough level of coordination to become a priority and to be effective”.

And Márquez has the legitimacy and support of the groups and communities that have spent years trying to position their issues on the public agenda.

“It is not the first time that a black or indigenous woman has tried to reach a position of power, the difference is that the voice of France is that of many others. When France talks about her, she is not talking about her, but all the communities that have a reference for her and she is absolutely clear about it, ”concludes García.

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