Francia Márquez, The Activist Against Mining Companies Favorite For Vice President Of Colombia

Francia Márquez, the activist against mining companies favorite for vice president of Colombia

The point of Colombian geography where Francia Márquez was born 40 years ago is a crossroads between the exuberance of nature and the bitter rumor of violence. The department receives the name of Valle del Cauca and extends between the Andén Pacífico and a knot of Andes mountain ranges. An extensive corridor, where battles have been waged for decades between the army and criminal gangs, guerrillas and paramilitaries who seek to gain control of the exit routes for drug trafficking.

His native village is called Yolombó, a municipality in a rural area through which the Ovejas River flows. Territories that could well fit within what sociologists have called “agrarian frontiers” and whose main source of subsistence for black communities has been the artisanal extraction of gold. For this reason, the heavy machinery of the mining multinationals has become a threat to the lives of the communities where, precisely, Francia Elena Márquez Mina was trained as a social leader.

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There he learned the trade of “ancestral mining” from his parents and grandparents, and since he was 16 years old he has been part of whatever community council has been formed in the area to denounce environmental destruction, mercury and cyanide contamination of the river and the violation of the human rights to which their neighbors have been subjected. A few years ago, in an interview with this reporter, she recalled his participation in the actions against the diversion of the Ovejas River due to the displacement of people and loss of biodiversity.

Among his history of struggles is also the victory against the harassment of the native inhabitants in 2010. The Constitutional Court ordered the suspension of certain mining titles that threatened the “ethnic, cultural, social and economic integrity of the Afro-descendant community.”

A way of life that has cost him threats from criminal gangs with names like the Black Eagles or Los Rastrojos. Actors of a new generation of bloodthirsty squads that, among other sources of financing, are often allied with criminals for hire in search of the illegal exploitation of wood or gold.

At the age of 16, alone and with two children, she had to leave her place of origin. She studied Law at the Santiago de Cali University and in 2015 she received the national award as Human Rights Defender of the Year. She also continued to oppose energy giants such as the Canadian AngloGold Ashanti or the Spanish Unión Fenosa, two multinationals interested in exploiting the water resources of a region colonized by black and indigenous populations since 1636.

For those who have followed his career closely, it was not entirely surprising that he won the 2018 Goldman Prize, perhaps the most prestigious recognition in the world for those activists who are dedicated to fighting for the environment. Then came the front pages of newspapers, visibility in activist circles, and finally his manifest desire to enter politics.

Márquez used to be a tight-lipped, short-sentence activist, but now she has flown off the stage in front of massive rallies this campaign. She was also surprised by the 800,000 votes she obtained in the primaries of the progressive coalition Partido Histórico. A vote that has projected it as the great surprise of the March elections and that led the winner of that consultation, the leader in voting intention, Gustavo Petro, to respect the agreement according to which the second in the contest had to accompany the winner. as a vice presidential candidate.

The enthusiasm and reception of Márquez has in turn attracted ethnic and feminist groups that had serious differences with Petro. Points in favor for the first left-wing candidacy with options to come to power in history. However, and in the midst of enthusiasm, along the way he has also come across a country that, despite its diversity and the multiculturalism that its Constitution recognizes, continues to function with racist and sexist traits.

Memes that traced similarities with King Kong or statements such as that of a radio announcer who came to underestimate her wardrobe – “Any woman would look very nice, very cute and very classy next to France,” she said – are among the offenses against the 40-year-old environmentalist. Her answers have always called for reconciliation and make constant reference to healing.

His critics point to his lack of experience in the political field or his little knowledge of economic issues. A fact that was latent a few days ago when he said, in the middle of a speech in favor of recovering food security, that “now the eggs come from Germany and at a very high cost.” The issue became a trend and a new focus of ridicule that the candidate tried to mitigate with a post on Twitter that read: “#HaveEggs who with their policies have led Colombia to lose its food sovereignty. Neoliberal Ministers of Agriculture who manage the importation of more than 30% of the food we consume (…)”.

Daughter of a midwife and an absent father during her childhood, Márquez’s emergence represents the visibility of sectors of Colombian society traditionally silenced. That is why she has repeated in a vindictive tone that what bothers the Colombian elites “is that a woman who was working in a family home today is going to govern them.”

One of the most iconic photos of last Sunday’s campaign closure, when by law the candidates have to stop their tours, is that of Francia Márquez entrenched behind bulletproof shields that protected her from the silent threat of a green laser beam, typical from soccer stadiums, chasing her from a building in downtown Bogotá. Already almost without a voice, the only thing that was heard after the formation of shields in the style of the Roman legion was: “Eight days for a Government that is built from the periphery.”

And he finished: “They will not pass!”

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