Francia Marquez, a single mother and former housekeeper, will be Colombia’s first Black woman vice president after a historic vote on Sunday saw the Andean country pick its first leftist president, Gustavo Petro.
The Environmental activist and feminist will serve alongside Ex-guerrilla Gustavo Petro who won the country’s presidential election on Sunday.
Marquez and Petro won 50.4% of the vote in Sunday’s election.
In front of a background emblazoned with the phrase “change is unstoppable,” Marquez thanked supporters from across Colombia for assisting her and Petro’s campaign in a speech broadcast from Bogota.
“After 214 years we have achieved a government of the people, a popular government, a government of people with calloused hands … the government of the nobodies of Colombia,” she said.
Colombia’s new vice president-elect hails from the municipality of Suarez, a rural area of Colombia’s Cauca province. Around 80% of Cauca’s population lives in some form of poverty.
Marquez is a celebrated environmental activist whose opposition to gold mining in her home municipality of Suarez saw her receive the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018 – as well as death threats from illegal armed groups.
As well as serving as Petro’s vice president, Marquez is slated to lead a new equality ministry to build on her core ideas of improving women’s rights and helping the poor access health and education.
Marquez actually came second to Petro in their coalition’s March primary election with 783,000 votes, when she tallied more ballots than the winner of the Colombia’s centrist primary.
Her political rise during the campaign follows broad demands for change and increasing concern about socio-environmental topics, Daniela Cuellar of FTI Consulting told Reuters.
“The political popularity of Francia Marquez was part of a trend in Colombia where the population is looking for a change and where socio-environmental issues are becoming more and more relevant,” she said.
Francia Marquez has never held elected office.
Local councillor Sandra Patricia Ibarra, 47, said she likes Marquez because she had risked her life to defend their home, despite dozens of killings of environmentalists each year in Colombia.
“Being a woman in Colombia is not the same (…) if you are indigenous or of Afro descent,” said Ana Cristina Gonzalez of Causa Justa, a coalition of more than 90 pro-choice groups.
Afro-Colombian women activists from Buenos Aires, erstwhile colleagues of Marquez, said her plans to support poor areas and defend Afro-Colombian rights will face many obstacles.
But her presence in the halls of power would mark a profound change.
“Our land has not been properly cared for by the Colombian state, by Colombian governments, because it seems all they care about is looting the resources it holds,” said Clemencia Carabali, 51, a member of Afro-Colombian women’s group ASOM.
Carabali – flanked by government bodyguards provided because of death threats over her activism – described Marquez, a friend of 25 years, as a sister.
“As a woman I feel very proud of the work that she has been doing.”
In the election, Petro made history too after being elected as the first-ever left-wing president of Colombia.
He defeated millionaire businessman Rodolfo Hernandez in a tense and unpredictable runoff election.
With all votes counted, Petro, the 62-year-old former mayor of Bogota, won with 50.4 per cent to Hernandez’s 47.3 percent.
“As of today, Colombia is changing, a real change that guides us to one of our aims – the politics of love, of understanding, and dialogue,” said Petro.
Hernandez, 77, in a Facebook live broadcast, accepted the result, in which he came up short by 700,000 votes.
“I hope that Mr. Gustavo Petro knows how to run the country and is faithful to his discourse against corruption,” said the construction magnate, who had made fighting graft his main campaign pledge.
Petro would succeed the deeply unpopular conservative, Ivan Duque, who was barred by Colombia’s constitution from standing for reelection, in a country saddled with widespread poverty, a surge in violence and other woes.
Speaking to delirious supporters at his party headquarters in Bogota, Petro held out an olive branch to his opponents, Petro said, “This is not a change to deepen sectarianism in Colombia. The change consists precisely of leaving hatred behind, leaving sectarianism behind.”
He added, “We want a Colombia that through its diversity is one Colombia.”
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