Colombia will soon have its first black female vice president. Will she be?

CALI, Colombia – At a hotel in Cali, a large city off the Pacific coast of Colombia, hundreds of people crowded a ballroom for the woman in the center of the stage.

With a hand on his heart and a small golden cross around his neck, Marelen Castillo, a vice president candidate who was almost unknown until recently, explained once again that she was running for the post to help “so many women in Colombia who don’t have the means.” ”

A few months ago, Dr. Castillo, 53, was the director general of a private Catholic university in Bogota, the capital. She is now a candidate partner of the anti-establishment politician and businessman, who unexpectedly won second place in the first round of the country’s most consistent election in decades.

On Sunday, Colombians will vote in the runoff, choosing between this candidate, Rodolfo Hernandezand Gustavo Petroa longtime senator trying to be the first left-wing president in the country’s history.

Whatever the outcome, the country is confident that its first African-Colombian wife will be vice president: or Dr. Castillo, educator and religious conservative, or France Marquezenvironmental and social justice activist.

The two women have radically different approaches to some of the country’s most pressing problems: inequality, unemployment and the quality of the public education system.

While Ms. Marquez made social justice and inclusion the core of her platform – speaking of race and class in a way rarely discussed in public circles – Dr. Castillo kept his message focused on improving public education and increasing economic opportunities, especially for women.

In an interview between the events of the campaign in Cali, Dr. Castillo describes growing up in a mixed-race family that blends harmoniously with relatives who gather for every birthday, holiday and first communion. Her father is white and her mother is black. But race, she said, has not been discussed.

“Maybe because we grew up in that, we weren’t too inclined to feel that way about race,” she said. – Because of the cohesion of the family.

The principles of Dr. Castillo’s platform includes raising teachers’ salaries in public schools, investing in sports and arts education and incorporating best practices from universities in other countries. Mr. Hernandez and Dr. Castillo said that if elected, she would become Minister of Education.

She also said she would set up a working group to review higher education laws in Colombia. She did not specify what changes she would make, but said any revision would be a participatory process.

Sandra Carascilla, 52, a Castillo supporter in Cali, recently began volunteering for Mr. Hernandez, after working on the campaign of right-wing Senator Maria Fernanda Cabal. She was attracted to the ticket largely by Dr. Castillo’s “spectacular” autobiography, warmth and message of unity.

“She is a woman who is dedicated to education and has a wonderful charisma,” she said. Karaskila, who works as a distributor of healthy foods. “That’s why Marelen attracted me.

Dr. Castillo grew up in Cali, the eldest of five daughters in a close-knit middle-class Catholic family.

Education was paramount in their household. Her father, a former teacher, used to walk the girls to school every day and teach them to read.

“My father used to say, ‘I’m training them because I don’t want them to depend on anyone later,'” said Marelen’s sister, Milen Castillo, a biochemist.

Dr. Castillo took this to heart by securing scholarships and winning four degrees, including a doctorate. in education. During this time she also worked as a teacher in a public high school and later as a vice chancellor of a Catholic university in Cali.

There, Dr. Castillo has earned a reputation as a skilled administrator and “extremely intelligent man,” he said. Santiago Arboleda, professor of Afro-Andean history at the Andean University of Simon Bolivar in Quito, Ecuador, has been teaching in Cali for years.

14 years ago, she moved to Bogotá to work at the Minute of God University Corporation, a Catholic university that serves low-income students in remote areas of the country with little access to higher education. She led the university’s virtual and distance learning program.

Education continues to carry Dr. Castillo, while at the center of Colombian politics.

As voters prepare to vote, the vastly different platforms for Dr. Castillo and Ms Marquez reflect the cultural division in Colombia of people who push for drastic social change on the one hand, and those who say these demands create division when the country needs unity.

The women are two of five Afro-Colombians who have been nominated as presidential candidates – a record in Colombia, where senior politicians are mostly white, often educated abroad and linked to the most influential families.

For many, seeing two black women so close to the government’s halls reworks “stories of what is the right place for an Afro-descendant woman,” said Aurora Vergara, director of the Center for Aphrodiaspor Research at Ichessi University in Cali.

But it also raised questions from candidates who have tried to show racially diverse representation while avoiding talking about racism in Colombia.

On the way to the campaign, ma’am. Marquez opened the national race race in a country where the subject remains largely taboo. She attracted thousands of loyal supporters with speeches calling on Colombians to tackle systemic racism and sexism.

In contrast, Dr. Castillo acknowledges the existence of racism and sexism in Colombia, but this is not a central part of her message, unlike her left-wing counterpart. Instead, she emphasizes the idea of ​​creating more opportunities for women.

“We have to admit that Colombia is a machinist country and who gives us the opportunity. Men, “Dr. Castillo told The New York Times. “Now we have to give opportunities to other women.”

One of the most common criticisms of Dr. Castillo has no experience in public office and will serve as second commander after one of the oldest presidents in Colombian history. If the 77-year-old is elected, Mr. Hernandez will serve a four-year term.

Along the way, he and Dr. Castillo cannot be different.

Mr. Hernandez is impudent, informal and unpredictable and has made so many insulting statements that a local newspaper recently gathered them in digital catalog with the caption “see how Rodolfo Hernandez has offended you.”

Dr. Castillo in comparison is measured in her speeches, rarely deviating from the party line. She defended Mr. Hernandez from accusations of misogyny after he told the interviewer “The ideal would be for women to dedicate themselves to raising children.”

But internally there were disagreements.

In an attempt to distance himself from the current Conservative government, which faces grim ratings of approval, Mr. Hernandez came out recently a series of progressive political positionsincluding saying that his government would support a woman’s right to abortion.

Bengel Becasino, Hernandez’s campaign adviser, said Hernandez and Dr. Castillo disagreed, but Dr. In the end, Castillo took the position that “every woman has the right to decide for herself.”

In the interview, Dr. Castillo said she was personally against abortions for up to 24 weeks, but clarified a previous statement in which she said she would like the country to reconsider a recent decision of the Supreme Court which decriminalizes the process for up to 24 weeks. “I would like to review it. I didn’t say I would review it, “she said. “My position is that I respect every woman’s decision.”

Visiting the neighborhood where she grew up earlier this month for a campaign event, at least one person recognized Dr. Castillo: her cousin Ivan Castillo, who happened to pass by the bakery. He said he was surprised to learn that she was involved in politics, and even more surprised when Mr. Hernandez advanced to the second round.

such as more than the city, which includes La Base, the 49-year-old civil engineer voted for Mr. Peter.

“Now with the family, I don’t know,” he said with a laugh for the next election round.

“She is very good at her job as a teacher, an administrator,” he said, shaking his head. “But it has nothing to do with politics.”

He added: “A man like my cousin to get into such a mess. My God! “

Julie Turkiewicz contributed to a report from Cali, Colombia.

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