Francia Márquez is the name of the Black Colombian woman who drastically changed the history and political face of Colombia. On June 19, 2022, Márquez became the first Afro-Colombian woman to be elected vice-President of the country, sparking many celebrations in South America. The 40-year-old political leader and her presidential running mate Gustavo Petro garnered nearly 50 percent of the popular vote. They were the first leftist political leaders to win a presidential election in Colombia’s history.
Human rights and environmental activist, Marquez was born in an impoverished family in the city of Suarez, located in the Cauca department in the west region of Colombia. Before graduating from Universidade Santiago de Cali Law School and becoming a successful political leader, this single mother of two children worked as a maid (to pay for her studies) and as a gold miner in an area controlled by multinational mining companies. It was as a miner that Marquez started her political activism, fighting against the misleading activities of mining companies in her town.
Those companies have always had a very complicated relationship with the local people. Their actions displaced thousands of its residents and poisoned the town’s only water source with mercury. Also, countless poor, Afro-descendant women in La Toma were sexually abused by multinational workers, illegal miners, paramilitaries, and state militaries.
In 2014, as the president of the Afrodescedant Women Association of Yolombó, Marquez boosted political engagement in the region of Cauca, she organized and led the Marcha de los Turbantes (Turban March). During 10 days, 80 women wearing turbants walked the 350 miles from La Toma to the headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior in Bogotá. As a result, the Colombian government decided to halt mining activities in the area.
Her activism made her win the Goldman Prize in 2018. Known as the Green Nobel Prize, the Goldman Prize honors environmental activists from each of the six continental regions. Winning the award made Marquez known worldwide.
During the electoral race, she promised to support and expand the human rights of Afro-Colombians, Indigenous groups, peasants and the LGBTQIA+ movement in Colombia.
Marquez called the attention of Colombia when she was the third most voted candidate in the primaries of all the coalitions that are running for election, attracting nearly 800,000 votes. The result forced Gustavo Petro to make her his number two. It’s no secret that those weren’t his plans, according to the local media.
The first Afro-Colombian woman to be elected vice-president in Colombia and her cabinet will face a country where Afro-Colombians experience persistent structural and historical discrimination which results in high levels of poverty and social exclusion when compared to the rest of the population. Lack of proper education, unemployment and violence are the main issues concerning Black Colombians. The precarious situation of Afro-Colombians was highlighted during the protests that riddled the country in 2021.
“For me, being a stateswoman is not the end of the journey. Its end is to dignify life. It is to take care of people. It is living in a better and fairer society for all. It is to decrease the mortality of Black people. To achieve the office as vice-president is a means to keep this fight that we want as people and humans,” the first Afro-Colombian woman to be elected Vice-president in the country said on her Twitter account.