Environmental activist Francia Márquez has been named a candidate for the vice presidency of Colombia. In an elaborately staged March 23 press conference in the capital of Bogotá, recorded on Facebook, Gustavo Petro—the presidential candidate of the Historic Pact coalition—announced that he was choosing Márquez to serve with him should he win the upcoming presidential elections.

“It is not one and two, but one and one—a team,” is how Petro explained his partnering with Márquez to the crowd of reporters in attendance: “A team that will be filled with men and women to be the next government of Colombia. That team will have as the vice-president of Colombia: Francia Márquez—perhaps the best overall candidate we have had in recent times in Colombia!

“Hold on to your seats because we are going to take off and we will have some very intense days,” Petro assured Márquez while onstage, “undoubtedly very, very, very intense. But I am very happy in my heart that you are joining us on this journey that we are going to start today, and which ends in the Casa de Nariño [the presidential residence].”

Francia Márquez, who only last July launched a campaign to become president of Colombia, won an astounding 783,000 votes toward that goal during the March 13 election primaries. She did not win the presidential nod—that role was awarded to Gustavo Petro. But her obviously wide approval rating among the electorate led Petro to ask Márquez to join his efforts to form the next administration to lead the South American nation.

“We are writing a new story for Colombia,” Márquez announced on her Twitter page. “From the vice presidency we will join our President @petrogustavo in the task of achieving a government for life, peace, justice and social equality.”

Márquez depicted as leftist threat

Márquez is a nationally recognized activist and member of the Proceso de Comunidades Negras en Colombia (Black Communities Process of Colombia). Internationally she is well-known for having received the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize because of her organizing to stop illegal gold and resource mining in southwest Colombia’s Cauca region.

Her presidential campaign gained a large following among Afro Colombians, Indigenous peoples, farmers, feminists, the LGBTQI community and youth groups by promising to govern with an ear for the concerns of the traditionally marginalized. “We are breaking with centralism which is one of the challenges this country faces,” she said. “We want to govern from the territories, from the peripheries, from the regions where people live collectively. This implies decentralizing the state apparatus. This implies that if I have to go to Medellín and govern from there, we will do it. This implies that if I have to go to one of the most excluded regions, where historically the state has not been present, then this is the government of the people and since this is the government of the people, it is from the regions—from the historically excluded territories—that we will make this possible.”

That’s why Francia Márquez is now also receiving death threats.

As soon as she was named a vice presidential candidate, race-based attacks began decrying her colloquial use of language and claims were made that she is a Venezuela-aligned leftist—in the vein of that nation’s former president, Hugo Chávez. Colombia’s former right-wing president, Alvaro Uribe, posted a fake tweet of Márquez which showed her promising to do away with capitalism. Gustavo Petro commented that Uribe’s ‘Fake News’ campaign was pure slander. Yet the far right-paramilitary group, the Águilas Negras, are using the image of Márquez as a left-leaning reformer as fodder for their claims of a need to do away with her: “All those who intervene in our struggle and interfere with our fight for a free country will be eradicated from the map,” the paramilitaries wrote in a death threat sent to Márquez, which she posted on Twitter: “There will be no presidential campaigns in the southwest of Colombia, that kind of proselytism and money distribution will have to end.”

Afro Colombian and Indigenous activists are regularly threatened and murdered in Colombia—a total of 145 community activists were killed in the nation in 2021.

Afro Colombians creating a political presence

Gustavo Petro’s naming of Francia Márquez as his vice-presidential candidate is in line with an unprecedented trend in this year’s Colombian elections. Afro Colombians—the third highest population of Black people outside of Africa (with the United States and Brazil taking the first two spots)—have been prominent in national elections this year. All five white presidential candidates have named a person of African descent to serve as their vice president. The other vice-presidential candidates this year are Luis Gilberto Murillo, Sandra de las Lajas Torres, Ceferino Mosquera, and Marelen Castillo. Some observers claim that the white presidential candidates are including Blacks on their presidential cards as a way of merely pandering to the electorate, but there is a growing sense of pride among Colombia’s Black community as they see their issues finally being recognized.

“This is actually a really a big deal,” U.S. Naval Academy Professor of History, Sharika D. Crawford, told the Amsterdam News: “It has in part to do with the fact that emerging from 2015 there’s just been an unending wave of violence targeted towards Afro Colombians, particularly the youth and social activists. That, coupled with the fact that Afro Colombians are increasingly living in areas that are under more intense violence—particularly in the Pacific region where you see gold and other rich natural resources being mined. A lot of people have been displaced and I think they are people who are just tired. They’re tired and they’ve been able to mobilize, and they see an opportunity to perhaps change the direction of Colombia with their votes.”

The latest polls suggest that Gustavo Petro has a wide lead over the other presidential candidates. The first round of Colombia’s presidential elections takes place May 29; if there is no outright winner, a second round will take place on June 19.

If Petro and Márquez are elected to govern Colombia, Márquez would join Costa Rica’s Epsy Campbell Barr and the United States’ Kamala Harris as one of a growing list of Black female vice presidents in the Americas.

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