Reaction to Afro-Colombian VP candidates exposes enduring racism

By Jorge Gil Angel

Bogota, Apr 5 (EFE).- Five of the eight people standing for vice president in Colombia’s May 29 election are of African descent, but that milestone for Afro-Colombian inclusion has also brought the issue of racism to the fore.

The main target of racist attacks has been Francia Marquez, an internationally recognized environmental activist running on the ticket of the leftist coalition Pacto Historico.

In a tweet late last month, singer and television personality Marbelle likened Marquez to “King Kong,” which led to an acrimonious online exchange with the candidate and generated an avalanche of positive and negative responses.

Marquez, 40, reminded the 42-year-old Marbelle that they had met years ago when the future vice presidential hopeful was a contestant and the singer was a judge on the Colombian version of “X Factor.”

Honored in 2018 with the Goldman Environmental Prize, Marquez’s first campaign was against a plan to alter the course of the Ovejas River in a way that threatened the interest of her native Suarez, a town in the southwestern province of Cauca.

As the second-place finisher in Pacto Historico’s internal primary on March 13, Marquez automatically became the running mate of presidential nominee Sen. Gustavo Petro, who garnered nearly 4.5 million of the more than 5.2 million votes cast.

Racism was a topic of last week’s debate among the eight vice-presidential candidates.

Marquez and another Afro-Colombian, Luis Gilberto Murillo, responded vigorously to assertions from retired army Col. Jose Luis Esparza – who is white – that racism is not a problem in the Andean nation.

“In my personal experience, great friends who shared military life with me, I never felt this perspective,” the running mate of Ingrid Betancourt said.

“The existence of racism implies not recognizing that it exists,” Marquez responded, adding that Esparza, “as a person who has never been racialized, can’t simply say that (racism) doesn’t exist.”

Murillo, a former environment minister and the running mate of Sergio Fajardo, spoke of Colombian “regions and populations that have been invisible and we are advancing to build a more inclusive country.”

“Sometimes it’s comprehensible, but it’s not acceptable, that we still have difficulties overcoming the barriers of racism,” he said.

Of the five Afro-Colombians who will be on the ballot May 29, Marquez has the best chance of becoming Colombia’s first black vice president, as polls show Petro and rightist Federico “Fico” Gutierrez are likely to face each other in a runoff.

Mabel Lara, an Afro-Colombian journalist who ran unsuccessfully for a Senate seat in last month’s congressional election, said that racially tinged remarks about Marquez are evidence of deep-seated prejudice.

“Francia Marquez has brought people to concentrate on the concern they have that a woman of African descent, who in daily life is considered to be of lesser value, comes to the center of the direction of national life,” Lara said.

Anxiety about Marquez represents a confluence of “racism, male chauvinism, and fear of poor people,” the journalist said. EFE


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