From Maid To Presidency: Francia Marquez’s Story of Becoming Colombia’s First Black Vice President

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The single mother  didn’t become widely known until 2014. At that time, she was targeting the illegal miners who had set up operations along the river, digging for gold and, above all, abundantly using mercury – an element that separates gold from water but also contaminates water and destroys biodiversity.


Francia Marquez is 40 years old and a single mother who has worked as a maid before challenging international mining interests as a fiery environmentalist.

Her victory at the polls as the Colombia’s first black vice president marks a turning point in a country plagued by social inequalities and historically governed by conservative elites.

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Marquez’s journey, from young, black single mother to the country’s vice presidency is an extraordinary story of grit against the odds.

As an activist for Afro-Colombian rights, there is nothing in Marquez’s past to suggest that she would embark on a political career.

Born in 1981 in a small village in the Southwestern Cauca region of Colombia, she grew up alone with her mother. Pregnant at 16 with her first child, she was first forced to work in a gold mine a few kilometres from home to support her family and then hired as a maid.

Colombians elected their first ever leftist president when Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla, defeated a real estate millionaire in a runoff victory that marked a seismic shift in the South American country long governed by conservatives or moderates.

Marquez – with her brightly printed fabrics and the assertion of her Afro-Colombian roots – has also thrust the Europeanised elitism of Colombia under the spotlight, opening a discussion on racism in a country that overwhelmingly identifies as racially mixed, or Mestizo, sweeping racism under the table.

Colombian voters elect country's first Black vice president – KXAN Austin

The single mother  didn’t become widely known until 2014. At that time, she was targeting the illegal miners who had set up operations along the river, digging for gold and, above all, abundantly using mercury – an element that separates gold from water but also contaminates water and destroys biodiversity.

In protest, Marquez organised a “turban march”, which saw a protest march of 80 women walking from Cauca to Bogota, a 10-day, 500-kilometre journey. The group demonstrated in front of the interior ministry for almost 20 days. In the end, the activists won, as the government pledged to destroy all the illegal farms around the Ovejas.

Marquez has since earned a law degree and has held numerous forums, lectured in universities and delivered speeches before political figures and NGOs. She was awarded the Goldman Prize, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for the environment, in 2018 for her efforts. The following year, she appeared on the BBC’s list of the 100 most influential women in the world.

“I am someone who raises my voice to stop the destruction of rivers, forests and moors. I am someone who dreams that one day human beings will change the economic model of death, to make way for building a model that guarantees life,” she declared on her website.

Marquez finally decided to enter politics in 2020 and made no effort to hide her ambition: “I want to be a candidate for this country. I want the population to be free and dignified. I want our territories to be places of life,” she tweeted. That same year, she launched her movement “Soy porque somos” (“I am because we are”).

In March 2022, she ran in the presidential primaries of the left-wing “Historic Pact” coalition. Marquez surprised everyone by coming in third, prompting Petro to choose her as his running mate.

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Marquez’s biggest contribution, according to Gonzalez, has been her ability to address overlooked issues. “But above all, she is a woman, Black, Afro-Colombian, and she brings with her issues that until now have been totally forgotten, like the relationship to colonialism, sexism, racism,” she noted.

 

Colombian election catapults Black VP candidate to prominence - CSMonitor.com

Marquez was not the only Afro-Colombian candidate in this presidential election – Caterine Ibarguen and Zenaida Martinez also stood for office in the 2022 race. Together, they said they wanted to fight against the double discrimination faced by women who are Black. This discrimination is reflected in Colombia’s political life: There was only one Black woman in the outgoing government and only two in parliament.

Petro’s victory in the 2022 presidential election has catapulted Marquez from a symbolic vice-presidential hopeful to the top echelons of actual political power. Her biggest challenges are likely still to come.

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