Colombian voters elect the country’s first black vice president

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — As Colombian voters put aside a longstanding antipathy toward leftists and chose one as their new president, they also took another big step — electing the country’s first black vice president. country.

When former left-wing rebel Gustavo Petro takes office on August 7, a key player in his administration will be Francia Marquez, his running mate in Sunday’s runoff election.

Marquez is an environmental activist from La Toma, a remote village surrounded by mountains where she first organized campaigns against a hydroelectric project and then challenged the savage gold diggers invading Afro-Colombian community-owned land.

The politician has faced numerous death threats for her environmental work and has become a powerful spokesperson for black Colombians and other marginalized communities.

“She is completely different from anyone else who has ever had a vice presidency in Colombia,” said Gimena Sanchez, Andes director for the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group.

“She comes from a rural area, she comes from the point of view of a peasant woman and from the point of view of the regions of Colombia that have been affected by armed conflict for many years. Most Colombian politicians who have held the presidency have not lived like her,” Sanchez said.

She said Marquez will likely receive a mandate to work on gender issues as well as policies affecting the country’s Afro-Colombian population.

in several interviews. Petro discussed the creation of a Ministry of Equality, which would be led by Marquez and would work across multiple sectors of the economy on issues such as reducing gender inequality and tackling the disparities faced by ethnic minorities.

Marquez said Sunday that part of her mission as vice president will be to reduce inequality.

“It will be a government for those who have calluses on their hands. We are here to promote social justice and help women eradicate patriarchy,” she said on stage while celebrating the election results with thousands of supporters at a popular concert hall.

Marquez grew up in a small house built by her family and had a daughter when she was 16, whom she raised on her own. To support her daughter, Marquez cleaned houses in nearby Cali and also worked in a restaurant while studying for a law degree.

She was awarded the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize for her successful efforts to remove gold miners from Afro-Colombian community-owned land around her village.

Marquez entered the presidential race last year as a candidate for the Democratic Pole party, although she lost in an interparty consultation in March to Gustavo Petro. But she gained national recognition in the primaries and received 700,000 votes, surpassing most veteran politicians.

In speeches calling on Colombia to fight racism and gender inequality and guarantee the basic rights of the poor, Marquez energized rural voters who have suffered from the country’s long armed conflict as well as young people and women in areas urban.

“All of us who work with her now believe in the power of women,” said Vivian Tibaque, a community leader from Bogota who worked on Marquez’s campaign. “We believe we can also defend our rights as Francia defended hers.”

Political analysts said Marquez helped Petro’s campaign by reaching out to voters who felt excluded by the political system but did not trust the left-leaning parties that Petro, a former member of a rebel group, made party for much of his career.

They said his presence on Petro’s ticket also motivated Afro-Colombian voters along the Pacific coast, where Petro won by large margins on Sunday even though he barely won the contest by three points. percentage.

“I don’t think Petro could have won the presidency without her.” Sanchez said. “There is a lot of mistrust and suspicion towards the left in Colombia, partly because so much of the left was armed at one time.”

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