We are engaged in a struggle for dignity and justice for our people. –ACHO
Editor’s note: On May 29, presidential elections will be held in Colombia in an intensely polarized political context. In this interview, held on May 27, vice-presidential candidate for the Historic Pact (Pacto Historico), Francia Márquez, shares her motivation and vision for advancing the struggle of several generations of the Colombian people for dignity and justice.
Alina Duarte, Irma Gallo and Heriberto Paredes
Question: Francia Márquez, what is the first change you plan to implement as a black woman if you become vice president?
Answer: I’m not just a black woman, I’m a woman of African descent who already carries a story of struggle and resistance that didn’t start with me. It started with my grandfathers and grandmothers many years ago when we were brought here to this continent as slaves. Since then, my people have been fighting for freedom and dignity. And our struggle today to hold political office, to wield state power, is a continuation of that historic struggle. It is the struggle of the peoples of Colombia, of the social movements that have historically wanted change in this country, but who have been killed for it, who have been murdered for it, who have been treated violently, who have been banished and even expelled from this country.
We embody the struggle of a people who have suffered for a long time, the people of Colombia, who have suffered enormously from racism, exclusion and the imposition of an economic model that was sold to us as development, but which has actually led down an impossible path for our society, which has led Colombians to murder Colombians in a war that is still raging. So we represent the voices of grandmothers who wanted change for this country. Many died waiting for this change. Others now say, “I thought I was going to die and not live to see change. We are therefore engaged in a struggle for dignity and justice for our people, men and women who have historically fought for equality, for peace, for social justice, for human dignity and justice for our people. . We struggled to take care of our earth as the living space, the big house, the biggest womb.
That’s what I represent today, but it’s not a sole proprietorship. It’s not that Francia Márquez popped up a year ago to say she wanted to be president; no, these are long-standing requests. In a way, my presence in politics today is also an act of racial justice for a people who have been denied and erased from politics, who have never been allowed to participate in politics.
This is also part of the fight for gender justice in our country, since we are predominantly women. In Colombia, we women represent 52% of the population, yet femicide does not stop. Everyday sexual and gender-based violence does not stop. Girls and boys are murdered every day in this country. But the worst thing is that many mothers like me, heads of families, have to bury their children because they are dying of hunger and malnutrition in the country which has the second highest level of biodiversity on the planet.
We have everything we need to live well and with dignity, but there is greed and corruption. Ours is also one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and access to our biodiversity, and therefore to the potential of our people, is unequal. Our people are fighters. When you fall, you get up, head held high to keep going. This is who we are.
The fact that I am here today is very important. I traveled this path hand in hand with Alexander López, the national senator who knew me from a very young age, and Carlos Rosero, who taught me to see myself as a black woman and to be proud of my blackness and to be proud of our black people. Do not be ashamed of the burden of slavery and colonization.
We are people who want to change this country, and we hope that change will come in the first round in two days. At this stage, I have a lot of tingling in my stomach, because I also take up the challenge of doing things well and with transparency. Thank you, international media and Latin America United for a Just Social Cause for being here to cover this election. We hope that it will take place in a serene atmosphere, with a lot of love, with a lot of joy, and that it will be a celebration of democracy.
Question: Could you tell us a bit more about the question of territory? How to transform the relationship to land or territories when so many interests are at stake, such as mining companies? What will this nationwide model shift look like?
Answer: We will transform the development model that has enslaved my people. The blacks who were brought to Latin America (especially Colombia), were made to work as slaves on the plantations and in the mines. The extractivist economic model enslaved my grandfathers and grandmothers.
Transforming this pattern is the path to freedom. Today, this model of development exhausts life on earth, it extinguishes everyday life. Humanity believed we owned the planet, but the pandemic has made us realize we don’t own anything. We are simply one more link in the chain of life.
From an early age, my grandparents taught me that our land, our territory, is a living space. In northern Cauca, they taught me that freedom is not possible without territory. Freedom and autonomy are exercised on its territory. Cultural and ethnic identity is not possible without territory.
We must have a territory to express ourselves as ethnic, indigenous and Afro-descendant people, Raizal and Palenquero people. Peasants are nothing without their land. We need our land to produce food and to produce seeds. Our territories are also the birthplace of water, without which human life is not possible, without which no life is possible.
Thus, when we talk about caring for the earth as a living space, it is because hegemonic, patriarchal and neoliberal policies perceive the earth as a space for the accumulation of wealth – wealth accumulated from the extractivist model. This led us to the huge inequalities that we see today, not only in Colombia, but all over the world.
The environmental crisis that the planet is experiencing today, in which we have a responsibility towards our children and all those who follow us, is the responsibility to repair or mitigate the effects of the environmental crisis. We have 30 years to ensure that our sons and daughters do not have to experience a disaster worse than we have experienced in many parts of the planet. In Colombia we have droughts in some places and famines in others; flooding in some places, and that’s proof of the change here. For example, Bogotá used to be a cold place. Now, you come here and you don’t know when it’s going to be cold and when it’s going to be hot. You do not know. The climate has changed and these climatic variations affect ecosystems, they affect maritime life and human life.
I didn’t understand it before, but my grandparents taught me from a very young age. My grandparents could neither read nor write, but they taught me the relationship we should have with our land, what our relationship should be with our crops and how we should cultivate. This popular wisdom was there. But others said, “those ignorant people, they are attached to the old ways and don’t want any progress or development.” But my grandparents were right and today the UN and many scientists agree and say this is the challenge facing humanity now.
Question: Outside of Colombia, people are not really aware of the meaning of “Living Sabroso(living the good life).
Answer: Well, we tried Living Sabroso here. It was part of the vernacular used in our community, it was an everyday expression that we brought into the political realm. The elites tried to pervert it into something else. They say that “live sabrosomeans that we are going to be lazy and want everything to be given to us without working for it. It’s not that. For our people, Living Sabroso means living in community, living in a collective construction of seeing each other as an extended family. It means living with nature and recognizing that we are part of it and live in harmony with it if we, as a people, establish rules for our relationship with nature. Living Sabroso means the end of the war in this country. It means living without fear, that we women can walk down the street without fear of being raped or killed. That young people will not have their eyes closed because they demand education in this country.
To live without fear is to live with rights, to live in peace, to live with joy; to be able to express themselves through art, culture and sport. It’s being able to take advantage of the rich biodiversity that we have in this country. That’s what Living Sabroso means. And we enjoyed that in the Pacific coast region of Colombia when we play the marimba, when we go to drink”bichi” and start talking about us.
When we prepare a plate of food with products from our territory, when we can cast a net to catch a fish… that means we don’t need money to be able to eat. It means living with the door open, that you don’t feel like you have to be locked inside all the time. It means living in freedom, and that freedom, well, the political and social leaders of this country have lost the ability to live freely. They always have to move around with armed guards because our country has become dangerous, not only for us, but for all Colombians. No one enjoys security in this country today.
Photo credit: Alina Duarte
Translated and edited by Jill Clark-Gollub, COHA’s Writing/translation assistant
This interview was made possible by Global Exchange, which sponsors an international team of journalists, working with its partners at Peninsula 360 Press in Redwood City, California to provide intensive coverage of both rounds of the election (if more than one) – in Spanish and English. Alina Duarte, senior researcher for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), is part of this international team of journalists.
For the complete video of the interview in original Spanish, see “Entrevistamos a Francia Márquez, candidate a vicepresidencia de Colombia por el Pacto Histórico”.