She was a mother at the age of 16, and graduated in law at the age of 36.
Gustavo Pedro and Francia Marquez made history this Sunday in Colombia.
The country’s first left-wing president and the first coastal president arrived in Gaza de Narino hand in hand with the first African-American vice president in history.
The duo received more than 11.2 million votes from the historic Coalition Coalition, defeating Rodolbo Hernandez and Marlene Castillo from a historic, and anti-corruption governors league.
His election also reflects the transition to power in a country historically ruled by the elite and urban whites.
For the first time an Afro woman is coming to the Presidential Palace.
Marquez represents and simulates the collective struggle for gender and ethnic equality. Her life is its reflection, so the key to knowing her story is to stop at the language she uses.
Some Colombians, for some time, heard for the first time during the election campaign some of the phrases he repeatedly repeated, “live deliciously”, “I am because we are” and “that dignity becomes a habit”.
The new vice president, representing Colombia, speaks differently because of the beliefs of some and the distrust of others, who say it has grown so far that he speaks and behaves like ordinary people and “hands down” without work. Escaped from power centers and decades of war. Or as she says: she represents no one in the country.
But how did this 40-year-old woman manage to get from an artisan gold mine in North Gaga to an office in Casa de Narino in Bogot?
They have three milestones on BBC Mundo, which is considered their election.
1. Afro-Colombian Vice President
Marquez’s election is the first time in Colombia that racial discrimination has ever reached the Presidential Palace.
Francia Marquez was born in the village of Yolombo in the municipality of Suarez in the Kaka Department. It is a region in the southwest of the country, inhabited mainly by Afro-descendants and tribal communities.
Her mother was a midwife, a tradition she had learned from her grandmothers and, according to Marquez, taught her as a child to see her territory as a place of life. The connection that the Afro communities have with their land is that when a baby is born, they bury their belly button and it takes root and grows with the strength of that place.
Therefore, the new vice president often uses the word Ubuntu, which means “we are because I am” and this is part of the African philosophy.
That is the tradition that Marquez developed. Her childhood and adolescence were similar to the majority of black women in North Gaga. She attended elementary school nearby and helped out at home from an early age.
At age 16, she gave birth to her first child and became a mother. To find a livelihood, he worked as an artisan miner.
Like her, many with flashlights and chandeliers in hand went into the mines on the banks of the Ovajas River in search of a little gold to sell at a high price.
“When I met Francia, I was a young miner with a very strong temperament and she had no filter,” Elizabeth Garcia, a lawyer and Arhuaca tribesman, recalled in an interview with BBC Mundo.
And Marquez agrees: Being a poor black woman creates character because there is no other way to progress.
The question now is whether the role that led him to the post of Vice President will be sufficient to bridge the gap between all that he represents and protects, especially women and those living in ethnic and rural areas.
“She is OK. I think he’s suffering from the Obama syndrome, and if he were a black president, he would think that the problems of discrimination would end, but that would not change, “explains Sandra Porta, a political analyst and professor of political science at the University of Los Angeles.
But while it is not possible for him to live up to expectations, Porta believes that Marquez has in his hands “at least a tremendous force to change the course of racial and gender inequality issues in the country”.
2. Vice President of the Environment Front
In Marquez’s community, as he describes it, people see the Ovajas River as their livelihood. At the same time as a father and mother, he is highly respected and cared for.
That is why, in 2009, when the plan to divert the course of the river to a nearby dam appeared, he began his operation.
“Women could not continue to work, that was their livelihood. So life itself brought France into a leading role, I don’t think it was planned; I took her there because she was a very young single mother who experienced firsthand the problem of discrimination, ”says Garcia.
With the diversion, mining titles were given to multinational companies that were going to evict people to start businesses.
It was 2009 and then Marquez decided to file a Tudola action, which was twice denied until the Supreme Court reconsidered it. The Supreme Court agreed with the community: the company had not consulted before or followed the appropriate procedure, so the mining titles were discontinued.
That first achievement established her as a local leader. This was his first political blow.
But after a while the situation did not improve as illegal mining came to the area. Communities began to see machines polluting the river with mercury.
In the midst of frustration, Marquez proposed mobilizing women. He said many were scared, but when he said he would do it alone, they were sympathetic.
Fifteen women from Suarez marched to Bogot with turbans. They walked 600 kilometers, which was joined by more people.
More than 100 came to Bogot. They were in the Ministry of Justice for several weeks until they were asked.
Thanks to this administration, Marquez won the 2015 National Human Rights Award. His name appeared in the local press in 2016, when he publicly confronted President Juan Manuel Santos for failing to live up to his promises to ethnic communities.
But when he was awarded the Goldman Prize in 2018, the Nobel Prize for Environment, he withdrew altogether.
According to its website, the award recognizes people around the world for their sustained and significant efforts to protect and improve the natural environment, even at personal risk.
As in the case of Marquez, who was threatened and attacked, she was forced to flee her territory. His two sons have been deported and his family has not been publicly exposed for security reasons.
Colombia is one of the countries where more social and environmental leaders are assassinated each year.
Goldman therefore split the life of the new vice president into two. As he said, he was on the public agenda and began to position himself as the standard of environmental leadership, but with the money he received he was able to buy a home for his family.
3. Vice President who was a housemaid
Marquez had to interrupt his study several times. Sometimes there was nothing to pay for the semester, or he could not stop devoting himself to the course and working. It took many years to realize her dream of becoming a lawyer.
Along the way, he did everything. She also worked as a housemaid in family homes in Galle, and avoided displacement and threats due to her leadership in the community.
By 2020, at the age of 38, he was able to graduate as a lawyer at the University of Santiago de Galle.
He came into politics only two years ago. In 2018, after defeating Goldman, he was a candidate for Congress’ House of Representatives for Afro-Descendant Communities, but did not win a seat.
Two years later, with a law degree, he announced his candidacy for the presidency in 2022 within the Alliance of Historic Pact. He was unable to collect enough signatures to run his own, so the Polo Democratic political party agreed to pursue him.
In March of this year, he confronted Gustavo Pedro and three other candidates in a pre-coalition consultation. He came in second with 780,000 votes, while Pedro came in first with more than four million votes and became the presidential candidate.
Weeks later, the historic deal announced that Marquez would be its vice-presidential formula. After months of controversial and tough campaigning, France became the first Afro woman to become Colombia’s Vice President.
“France’s vice presidency is a historic milestone for women fighting in Colombia. He represents the visible face and the collective work of the Afro-Colombian communities, he was not elected and received the third highest number of votes in the consultation, “said Sher Herrera, an Afro-feminist and Afro-Colombian research student at the University of Xavier.
The challenge from now on
Marquez’s achievement did not end when he came to power. Now he must implement his plan to close the inequality gap.
“Although she has good news for women, it does not mean that the issue of gender was at the center of Gustavo Pedro’s campaign.
“What we are going to see is, of course, a great effort to open the gaps to equality and to eliminate forms of formal discrimination,” Porta explains.
He said his primary proposal was to create an equality ministry and would focus on his work in the next four years of government.
For some, it’s an ambitious bet to ignore existing companies and projects before spending resources to create a new portfolio.
But Borda, on the other hand, believes that “raising the profile of companies dedicated to the issue is crucial because what has happened is management around the issue of equality from the point of view of gender and from the point of view of the race, it is a fragmented, fragmented administration, and therefore not sufficiently coordinated to become effective and effective.”
Marquez has the legitimacy and support of groups and communities that have tried for years to put their problems on the public agenda.
“This is not the first time a black or tribal woman has tried to reach a position of power. The voice of many others is the voice of France.
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