BOGOTA: As Gustavo Petro became the first leftist elected president of Colombia on Sunday, his running mate Francia Marquez likewise made history: she will be the first Black Colombian and second woman to ascend to the vice presidency.
It was a momentous occasion not just for a woman who has had to deal with racism, classism and even an assassination attempt, but also for an entire community that has been politically marginalized in Colombia.
“We’ve taken a very important step, after 214 years we’ve achieved a government of the people ... of those with calloused hands, of those on foot, of the nobodies,” said Marquez, 40, during Sunday night’s victory speech alongside Petro.
Racism is rife in Colombia and during the campaign, both celebrities and social media users attacked Marquez over her racial background and lower-class roots.
Since April, she has received more than 1,000 racist comments and messages in the media and social media, according to the Racial Discrimination Observatory at Los Andes University.
Surrounded by her family and dressed in a brightly colored dress with an African design, Marquez said on Sunday: “Together we will defeat structural racism in Colombia.”
Despite making up 10 percent of Colombia’s 50 million people, the Afro-descendant population is hugely under-represented in politics.
But Marquez is giving the community renewed hope.
And she is not waiting until assuming office on August 7. On Monday she announced the new government would create an equality ministry.
“I come from a region that has been historically abandoned,” Marquez wrote on Twitter.
“My task is to guarantee the rights of these excluded and marginalized territories, to guarantee rights for Afro-descendant and Indigenous populations.”
She also vowed to bring equality for women.
“Today, most Colombians still do not have dignified conditions,” she added.
Marquez was born into a poor family in the southwestern department of Cauca - a region ravaged by violence linked to armed groups battling over drug trafficking and illegal mining resources.
A single mother at just 16, she fled her native region following threats and went to work as a maid while studying law.
But she returned home to take part in local politics and can often be seen frequenting public squares in her African print clothing, promoting the rights of the marginalized.
But she has also made enemies.
In 2019, she survived an attack by gunmen who tried to kill her over her work defending the region’s water resources against mining companies.
The year before that, she was awarded the prestigious Goldman environmental prize.
“Us nobodies, those whose humanity is not recognized, those whose rights are not recognized in this country, we’re standing up to change history, to occupy politics,” Marquez told AFP in March.
In the left-wing primaries earlier this year, Marquez finished second behind Petro, who duly named her his running mate.
Marquez made headlines on the campaign trail with her feminist, environmentalist and leftist speeches and for her “tasty living” proposal, an idea that is popular amongst the black community struggling for peace and a life in harmony with nature.
“We women are going to eradicate the patriarchy in our country, let’s be for the rights of the diverse LGBTIQ+ community, let’s be for the rights of our Mother Earth,” she said on Sunday.
She also vowed to work for reconciliation with the armed groups responsible for a spike in violence this year, reversing a decline that followed the 2016 peace deal between the state and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
“Let’s reconcile this nation, let’s make peace decisively, without fear, with love and happiness. Let’s be for dignity, for social justice,” she said.