How Francia Marquez aims to break barriers in Colombia

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In 2019, Francia Marquez survived an assassination effort by men wielding firearms and grenades – an onslaught that came connected the heels of a drawstring of decease threats against the award-winning Colombian environmentalist.

Now, 3 years later, Marquez could go the archetypal Afro-Colombian vice president – a historical improvement successful a state wherever authorities has traditionally been the domain of affluent achromatic men. She was tapped for the presumption by leftist statesmanlike campaigner Gustavo Petro, wide viewed arsenic the frontrunner successful the upcoming May election.

“This is an important infinitesimal for the ‘nobodies’ of this state who person ne'er had a voice,” Marquez told a quality league aft her information past week. “This is simply a infinitesimal of radical justice, of sex justice, ecological justness – and a infinitesimal of societal justice.”

As supporters pointed to the momentum of the “new left” question successful Colombia, Marquez received much than 700,000 votes successful a statesmanlike superior earlier this month. Supporters anticipation her assignment volition mean greater practice astatine the nationalist level for regions agelong neglected by policies crafted successful Bogota.

She volition tally for vice president alongside Petro, a legislator and erstwhile politician of Bogota who erstwhile took up arms against the Colombian authorities arsenic a subordinate of the rebel radical M-19. Petro has maintained a double-digit pb successful caller polls implicit his closest statesmanlike rival, right-wing person Federico Gutierrez.

Marquez has focused her run connected the request for economical concern successful struggle zones, environmentalism, and ensuring implementation of Colombia’s 2016 bid accord. She has vocally opposed the cause wars successful Colombia, known arsenic the world’s astir unsafe state for biology defenders.

“We are surviving a historical moment,” Cha Dorina Hernandez, the archetypal Black congresswoman from San Basilio de Palenque, a historical territory known arsenic the archetypal escaped municipality successful the Americas, told Al Jazeera. Black communities “have historically been excluded from decision-making and economical accidental successful Colombia”, she added.

“We person ne'er had existent powerfulness implicit our lives, implicit our future. She is present successful a presumption to marque what we person been warring for a reality.”

‘Cemeteries and wide graves’

A lawyer and parent of two, Marquez was calved successful Yolombo, Cauca, a conflict-hit portion successful southwestern Colombia.

A longtime activist, she earned a Goldman Environmental Prize successful 2018 for her mobilisation efforts against amerciable golden mining. As portion of that campaign, Marquez led dozens of women successful a 10-day, 563km (350 mile) march from La Toma, Cauca, to Bogota, demanding an extremity to the mining operations.

In an unfastened missive past twelvemonth to Kamala Harris, congratulating her connected becoming the archetypal African American vice president, Marquez expressed anticipation that the United States would wage much attraction to Colombia’s strife: “Afro-Colombian and Indigenous radical are bushed of being successful the midst of convulsive confrontations, and of seeing our rivers and lands go cemeteries and wide graves.”

Marquez poses with Colombian statesmanlike  nominee Gustavo PetroMarquez (left) and Petro motion during a presumption lawsuit successful Bogota, March 23 [Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

Cauca, a focal constituent of Marquez’s activism, has been struggling successful caller years against equipped groups and rampant lawlessness.

Social activists often extremity up successful the crosshairs: Across Colombia, 138 quality rights defenders were killed successful 2021, accounting for much than a 3rd of the planetary total.

Through her ain work, Marquez has spearheaded sustainable farming programmes, advocated for Indigenous communities successful territorial struggles against planetary firms, and helped to physique alliances among Afro-Colombian communities successful the Pacific seashore region.

“She has ever been a disciplined typical of the movement,” Hernandez said. “She has ever been astatine the beforehand of our marches, of our activism. She [makes visible] the issues that truthful galore present would similar to ignore.”

Brigitte Baptiste, the erstwhile manager of Colombia’s Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Research connected Biological Resources, told Al Jazeera that Marquez represents a crisp departure from the established governmental enactment system, successful which voices similar hers are often excluded: “She is simply a awesome of a caller procreation that demands things beryllium done differently.”

Politician Angela Maria Robledo said Marquez could beryllium a decisive origin successful the May election. “Francia isn’t lone an important fig successful symbolic terms, she is simply a person who brings a batch of hope, particularly due to the fact that of what she represents and what this conflict means for quality rights and biology protections,” Robledo told Al Jazeera.

Marquez precocious announced plans to basal her run successful Medellin, the powerfulness basal of right-wing governmental parties successful Colombia. She hopes this volition beryllium a almighty symbol, arsenic her attempts to bring attraction to historically marginalised populations are launched from the bosom of blimpish power.

“This is lone the archetypal measurement successful a agelong journey,” Marquez said astatine her caller quality conference. “The infinitesimal has arrived for Colombians to take their path. The clip has arrived to constitute a caller communicative for Colombia.”

Daniela Diaz contributed further reporting.

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