By Laia Mataix Gomez
Bogota, Jun 14 (EFE).- As a young girl, Francia Marquez never heard anyone say she could aspire one day to be Colombia’s vice president.
It was simply unimaginable for an Afro-Colombian woman from a conflict-ravaged region like the southwestern department of Cauca to pursue university studies, let alone be the No. 2 elected official in a country of 50 million people.
But that impossible dream could become a reality in Sunday’s presidential runoff, when Colombians go to the polls to choose between the ticket of leftist Sen. Gustavo Petro and Marquez and another consisting of populist entrepreneur and anti-corruption crusader Rodolfo Hernandez and Marelen Castillo.
Marquez’s life has been one of constant struggle – to study, to survive in one of Colombia’s most conflict-racked regions, to raise a family after becoming pregnant as a teenager and to defend the land where she was born in 1981 in the Cauca municipality of Suarez.
She was chosen as Petro’s running mate after finishing second in the leftist Historic Pact for Colombia coalition’s primary in March and now is poised to become that nation’s first Afro-Colombian vice president.
In the span of a few months, Marquez has become a political phenomenon and a symbol of communities that have been traditionally excluded from the halls of power. But her lack of experience in politics also has made her a target of criticism.
“Many say I don’t have the experience to accompany Gustavo Petro to govern this country, and I ask myself, ‘How come their experience didn’t allow us to live with dignity? How come their experience has had us subjected for so many years to violence that generated eight million victims? How come their experience didn’t ensure that all Colombians could live in peace?” she told a group of supporters on the campaign trail.
“I didn’t ask to be in politics, but politics forced its way into our lives. That patriarchal, hegemonic, racist and classist Colombia is the politics we want to transform.”
One of the milestones of Marquez’s long years of social activism was her being named one of the recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize – called the Green Nobel – in 2018.
Born in a region coveted by multinational corporations for its mineral wealth, she got her start as an environmental defender to protect the Ovejas River from the impact of mining activity.
As an outgrowth of that activism, she studied law at Santiago de Cali University and started bringing legal action against mining projects in her home region.
Those efforts led to death threats.
After a phone call in 2014 in which she was told it was time to “settle the score,” Marquez left her native Suarez immediately with her family.
“That night, I ran out of a meeting and went looking for my children. We called a taxi, they picked us up and we hurried to (the city of) Cali. On the road, I just asked that we be made invisible,” she says in telling the story at campaign events.
Marquez’s activism comprises various struggles at once – fighting for social justice and equal rights for women and advocating on behalf of historically marginalized peoples and the forgotten victims of Colombia’s decades-old armed conflict, whom she frequently refers to as the “nobodies.”
“My name is Francia Marquez. I want Gustavo Petro to be my president and I want to be his vice president. We’re going from resistance to power until dignity becomes the norm,” Marquez frequently says at the conclusion of political rallies.
She typically also caps off her speeches by promising that a new future is possible, one in which Colombians of all walks of life can finally “vivir sabroso (live richly and with dignity). EFE