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Colombia’s First Black Vice President Brings Green Focus

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·3 min read
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(Bloomberg) -- Environmental activist Francia Marquez will become Colombia’s first Black vice president in a government that was elected on a platform of radical change.

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Afro-Colombian Marquez ran on a ticket with President-elect Gustavo Petro that will see him installed as the country’s first leftist leader. They were voted in Sunday after campaigning on a program that includes plans to move the economy away from oil and coal production and reduce inequalities that burgeoned during the pandemic.

Marquez, 40 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 licenses that have investors worried.

“This is the government of the people with calloused hands,” Marquez said in her acceptance speech in Bogota, 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, Marquez organized a 350 kilometer (220 mile) march of 80 women to Bogota 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, Marquez was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, dubbed the Green Nobel, for her work in fighting illegal mining projects.

By choosing Marquez as his vice, Petro added weight to his campaign focus on wealth redistribution and a green economy. It also helped his chances of victory just as the race seemed to be turning against him.

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

In a Tweet Monday, Marquez said her 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 marginalized territories, guarantee rights to Afro-descendant and indigenous populations,” she wrote.

(Adds plans for a new ministry in 10th paragraph. An earlier version corrected the name of Marquez’s birth town.)

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