Francia Márquez, the first Afro-Colombian vice-president

On 19th June 2022, after a second round of voting, the Colombian people elected their first ever left-wing government, led by Gustavo Petro, with Francia Márquez as vice-president, the first ever Afro-Colombian and only the second woman to hold the position. In this post, we will focus on this trailblazing woman, who studied Law specifically to be prepared to defend the rights of her people, and on the context that led her and her country to this new chapter in their history.

Francia Elena Márquez Mina was born in 1981 in Yolombó, in the Cauca Department on the West coast of Colombia, one of the areas of the country where enslaved populations from Africa have lived since the 17th century. Traditionally in this region, Black slaves were forced to work in gold mining, sugarcane plantations and cattle ranches. To this day, the impact of exploitatative and extractivist practices on peoples, territories and resources in the region are still painfully relevant and have been part of Francia Márquez’s life experience since her earliest formative years, which would lead her to become a committed activist from the age of 17 years old. This life experience remains the basis of her politics, as she makes the move from activism to mainstream politics.

The Library holds many publications on issues affecting Afro-Colombians and on the subsequent stream of local activist initiatives ; below are a list of selected titles in Spanish and some in English:

Since 1997, Francia Márquez has been an active member of the Organización Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), a national conglomeration of around 140 local organisations, assemblies and community councils that work together for Afro-Colombian people’s rights. The PCN is the focus of the book Territorios de diferencia: lugar, movimientos, vida, redes, by Arturo Escobar and published by Editorial Universidad del Cauca (2018). The PCN also features in an article in La política en movimiento : identidades y experiencias de organización en América Latina (CLACSO, 2008).

She was also president of the Asociación de Mujeres Afrodescendientes de Yolombó (Yolombó’s Afrodescendant Women Association) for 3 years from 2010. The status and multiple struggles of Black women in Colombia feature in our collections too:

It was with the Asociación de Mujeres Afrodescendientes de Yolombó that in 2014 Márquez participated in the organisation of a Black women’s march from Suárez in north Cauca to the capital city of Bogotá (547 km or 340 miles in 10 days), demanding an end to illegal mining in the Ovejas river region, fulfilling the Constitutional Court’s recognition of Afro-Colombians’ ancestral rights over these territories. The landmark march, named “Movilización de Mujeres Negras por el Cuidado de la Vida y los Territorios ancestrales” or, most commonly, “Marcha de los turbantes”, due to the marching women’s traditional headwear, led to Colombia’s first government taskforce on illegal mining, as well as full legal recognition, reparations and land restitution for 27 North Cauca communities.

Francia Márquez has been the recipient of several prizes for her work, including the Premio Nacional a los defensa de los Derechos humanos en Colombia, and the Goldman Environmental Prize, but her own words say more than these awards can convey:

“Soy parte de un proceso, de una historia de lucha y resistencia que empezó con mis ancestros traídos en condición de esclavitud. Soy parte de la lucha contra el racismo estructural, soy parte de que luchan por seguir pariendo la libertad y justicia. De quiénes conservan la esperanza por un mejor vivir, de aquellas mujeres que usan el amor maternal para cuidar su territorio como espacio de vida, de quién alzan la voz para parar la destrucción de los ríos, de los bosques, de los páramos”

“I am part of a process, a history of struggle and resistance that began with my ancestors brought here as slaves. I am part of the struggle against structural racism, I am part of the fight to continue to give birth to freedom and justice; of those who keep the hope alive for a better existence, of those women who use maternal love to look after their territories as a space for life, of those who raise their voices to stop the destruction of the rivers, the forests and the plains.”

Clara Panozzo

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