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LATIN AMERICA | 23-06-2022 16:58

Colombia's first black vice-president brings green focus

Francia Márquez will become Colombia’s first black vice-president in a government that was elected on a platform of radical change. 

Environmental activist Francia Márquez will become Colombia’s first black vice president in a government that was elected on a platform of radical change. 

Márquez, 40 and Afro-Colombian, is likely to play a prominent role in the Petro administration’s efforts to shift away from fossil fuels, including proposals to end the awarding of oil exploration licences that have investors worried.    

“This is the government of the people with calloused hands,” Márquez said in her acceptance speech in Bogotá, as thousands cheered. “We women are going to eradicate this country’s patriarchy. We’re going to fight for the rights of our Mother Earth.”

Originally from the small settlement of Yolombo in the Cauca Mountains of southwest Colombia, she became an activist at the age of 13 when the construction of a dam threatened her community. She got pregnant at 16 and was forced to leave school to raise her son, working in small-scale artisanal gold mining and later as a housekeeper while a single mother. She went on to finish school and earn a degree as a lawyer.

 

Gang threats

Afro-Colombians were originally brought to the region as slaves from Africa to work in colonial-era mines. In 2014, Márquez organised a 350-kilometre (220 mile) march of 80 women to Bogotá to bring attention to the impact that illegal gold mining was having in those rural communities where rivers were being poisoned with mercury. 

Her action resulted in the removal of all illegal miners and equipment. However, it also brought the attention of the gangs who control the business, and led to threats which forced her to flee in 2015. Three years later, Márquez was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, dubbed ‘the Green Nobel,’ for her work in fighting illegal mining projects.

By choosing Márquez as his running-mate, Petro added weight to his campaign focus on wealth redistribution and a green economy. 

Some 1.2 million more Colombians came out to vote than in the first round, making Petro the highest vote winner in history. Márquez is credited with helping to mobilise the young who want to fight climate change, as well as attracting women and Black voters.  

In a Tweet Monday, she said the government will create a Ministry of Equality.

“I come from a historically forgotten town and region. My task is to guarantee rights to those excluded and marginalised territories, guarantee rights to Afro-descendant and indigenous populations,” she wrote. 

 

– TIMES/BLOOMBERG

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