Colombian voters elect the country’s first black vice president

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BOGOTA, Colombia – As Colombian voters put aside long-standing antipathy to the left and elected one as the new president, they also worked on another stage – the country’s election as the first black vice president.

When former left-wing rebel Gustavo Petro takes over as president in Aug. At 7, a key player in his administration will be France Marquez, his candidate in Sunday’s run-off.

Marquez is an environmental activist from La Toma, a remote village surrounded by mountains, where she first campaigned against a hydroelectric project and then challenged wild gold miners to invade collectively owned Afro-Colombian lands.

The politician faces numerous death threats for his work in the field of the environment and is emerging as a powerful spokesman for black Colombians and other marginalized communities.

“She is completely different from any other person who has ever had a vice president in Colombia,” said Jimena Sanchez, director of the Andes at the Washington Office for Latin America, a human rights group.

“She comes from a rural area, she comes from the perspective of a Campezino woman and from the perspective of areas of Colombia that have been affected by armed conflict for many years. “Most politicians in Colombia who have been president have not lived the way she lives,” Sanchez said.

She said Marquez was likely to be given a mandate to work on gender issues as well as policies affecting the nation’s Afro-Colombian population.

In several interviews. Petro discussed the creation of a Marquez-led Ministry of Equality to work in several sectors of the economy on issues such as reducing gender inequality and tackling ethnic minority disparities.

Marquez said Sunday that part of her mission as vice president would be to reduce inequality.

“This will be a government for those with calluses on their hands. “We are here to promote social justice and help women eradicate patriarchy,” she said on stage as she celebrated election results with thousands of supporters at a popular concert venue.

Marquez grew up in a small home built by her family and had a daughter, when she was 16, who she raised on her own. To support his daughter, Marquez cleans homes in the nearby town of Cali and also works in a restaurant while studying for a law degree.

She was awarded the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize for her successful efforts to remove gold diggers from the collectively owned Afro-Colombian lands around her village.

Marquez entered the presidential race last year as a candidate for the Democratic Pole party, although he lost in an inter-party consultation in March to Gustavo Petro. But she received national recognition in the primary election and received 700,000 votes, surpassing most veteran politicians.

In speeches calling on Colombia to tackle racism and gender inequality and ensure the fundamental rights of the poor, Marquez gave energy to rural voters affected by the country’s long-running armed conflict, as well as to young people and women in urban areas. areas.

“All of us who work with her now believe in the power of women,” said Vivian Thibac, a Bogota community leader who is working on Marquez’s campaign. “We believe that we can also defend our rights, just as France has defended its rights.

Political analysts say Marquez contributed to Petro’s campaign by appealing to voters who feel excluded from the political system but do not trust the left-wing parties, of which Petro, a former member of a rebel group, is was a part for most of his career.

They said her presence on Petro’s ticket also motivated African-Colombian voters on the Pacific coast, where Petro won by a wide margin on Sunday, although he barely won the competition by three percentage points.

“I don’t think Petro could have won the presidency without her. said Sanchez. “There is a lot of mistrust and suspicion of the left in Colombia, partly because much of the left was armed at the time.

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