For the first time in Colombian history, a black woman is close to the top of the executive branch.
Francia Marquez, an eco-activist in southwestern Colombia’s Cauca Mining Department, became a national phenomenon, sparking decades of voter frustration, and on Sunday became the country’s first black vice president as running mate Gustavo Petro.
Petro-Marquez’s ticket won Sunday’s second round of elections, according to preliminary results. Mr. Petro, a former rebel and longtime MP, will become the country’s first leftist president.
Ms. Marquez’s rise is important not only because she is black in a country where Afro-Colombians are regularly racist and forced to struggle with structural barriers, but also because she has emerged from poverty in a country where Economic class so often determines a person’s place in society. Most recent former presidents have been educated abroad and are connected to the country’s powerful families and kingmakers.
Despite economic gains in recent decades, Colombia remains highly unequal, a trend that has worsened during the pandemic, with black, indigenous and rural communities lagging behind the most. Forty percent of the country’s population lives in poverty.
Ms Marquez, 40, decided to run “because our governments have turned their backs on the people, justice and peace,” she said.
She grew up sleeping on dirty floors in a region ravaged by violence linked to the country’s long-running internal conflict. She became pregnant at 16, went to work in the local gold mines to support her child, and eventually sought work as a live-in maid.
For the segment of Colombians who demand change and more diverse representation, Ms. Marquez is their advocate. The question is whether the rest of the country is ready for it.
Some critics have called her divisive, saying she is part of a left-wing coalition that seeks to break rather than develop past norms.
She has also never held a political position, and Sergio Guzmán, director of the consulting firm Colombia Risk Analysis, said “there are many questions about whether Francia can be commander-in-chief if she manages economic policy.” or foreign policy in such a way as to ensure the continuity of the country.”
Her more radical opponents have directly targeted her with racist clichés and have criticized her class and political legitimacy.
But on the campaign trail, Ms. Marquez’s persistent, candid and blunt analysis of Colombia’s social inequalities sparked a debate about race and class rarely heard in the country’s most public and influential political circles.
These topics are “neglected or considered secondary by many in our society,” said Santiago Arboleda, a professor of Afro-Andean history at Simón Bolivar University of the Andes.
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“Today they are on the front page.”