Francia Márquez, the Afro-Colombian Leader Who Is Changing History

Francia Márquez BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Francia Márquez’s campaign/Darwin Torres.

“I am because we are” is the political philosophy of Francia Marquez, Afro-Latina vice presidential candidate in Colombia and community leader who is changing the face of politics in Latin America.

After receiving the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work protesting illegal mining in her community, Marquez has become a voice for the millions of displaced Latinos and Latinas of color and indigenous people across the continent.

A link emerges

“Our grandmothers taught us that territory is joy and sadness; that territory is life and life has no price, that territory is dignity and dignity has no price.” These are the words with which Francia Marquez presented herself as a candidate for the presidency of Colombia in 2021.

Born in 1981 in the municipality of Suárez in the department of Cauca, this young Afro-Latina leader’s roots in the territory and nature are ancestral heritage. Her grandparents taught her the importance of caring for and working the land.

Márquez first became an activist at the age of 13, when the construction of a dam threatened her community.

Since then, her social, political, and community activism and advocacy have focused on the defense of the territory, the Casa Grande, as a living space and the recognition of ethnic, Afro-descendant, Raizal, Palanquero, and indigenous peoples in the construction of the country. Accompanied by the peoples who have historically struggled, she has been strengthened as a Black woman, Afro-descendant with invaluable values, principles, and ancestral knowledge.

“I am a link in the chain, and the chain does not break here,” she said at a feminist convention in 2021.

Education as a tool

Francia Márquez combined ancestral wisdom and love for the land with her education as an agricultural technician at Colombia’s National Apprenticeship Service.

However, her most important learning came from her community.

Márquez organized the women of the village of La Toma in the Cauca mountains to stop illegal gold mining on their ancestral lands in 2014. Marquez led 80 women on a 10-day, 350-mile march to the Colombian capital. As a result of this campaign, all illegal miners and their equipment left the territory.

Thus, after receiving the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018, Marquez was considered one of the 100 most influential women in the world, according to the BBC.

In 2020, the Afro-Colombian leader obtained her degree as a lawyer from the University Santiago de Cali and joined the project Construction for Prevention and Self-Care of the Association of Community Councils of Northern Cauca, supported by the USAID Human Rights program.

She is currently pursuing her specialization in creative writing at the ICESI University. She was president of the National Peace, Reconciliation and Coexistence Committee of the National Peace Council; in this space, she supported the promotion of the peace agreements established between the National Government and the FARC EP.

Francia Márquez throws her hat in the ring

Francia Márquez announced her candidacy for the 2022 presidential elections in April 2021, during the National Feminist Convention. The Estamos Listas movement and primary candidate Angelá María Robledo offered their support to Márquez’s campaign, which thus concentrated the support of the feminist bloc in the country.

In December 2021, after her campaign failed to collect the necessary signatures to become an independent candidate, the Polo Democrático Alternativo party endorsed her campaign, achieving a historic result of 783,160 votes in the primaries. This result placed her in second place, after Gustavo Petro, with the third-highest vote of all primary candidates.

Márquez presented herself as a Black lawyer, mother, head of household, and community leader in her campaign.

On March 23, 2022, she accepted the vice-presidential candidacy for the Pacto Histórico, together with Gustavo Petro, for the May 29, 2022, presidential elections. Marquez promised that, if elected, she would move the vice presidency from Bogota to Medellin. Petro announced that should she win, Marquez’s role as vice president would include strengthening equality for ethnic groups and regions suffering exclusion.

As Global Voices explained, for many Colombians, Marquez, an Afro-Colombian woman, and presidential pre-candidate, has already written a new chapter in Colombia’s history. This woman, whose life has been threatened because of her activism and who has seen comrades lost for defending life, has become a reference not only for Black women and girls like her but for all Afro-Colombian people to know that it is possible to write a different future.

Marquez thus became the first black woman to run for vice president in the history of Colombia.

“Tell Colombia that after 200 years, the granddaughter of the women who were burned alive for giving birth to freedom and dignity for this country is putting all her efforts, all her love, all her commitment to make this Colombia a better place, so that our sons and daughters can live in dignity,” Márquez said during her campaign. “I am [doing this] because we exist, and as a people, we do not give up, dammit!”