For the first time in Colombia’s history, a black woman stands close to the top of the executive branch.
Francia Márquez, an environmentalist from the mountainous department of Cauca in southwestern Colombia, has become a national phenomenon, mobilizing decades of voter frustration and on Sunday became the country’s first black vice president, running mate of Gustavo Petro. .
According to preliminary results, the Petro-Márquez ticket won Sunday’s second round. mr. Petro, a former rebel and former lawmaker, becomes the country’s first left-wing president.
The rise of Ms Márquez is important not only because she is black in a country where Afro-Colombians are regularly victims of racism and structural barriers, but also because she comes out of poverty in a country where economic class so often determines a person’s place in society. The most recent former presidents have been educated abroad and are associated with the country’s powerful families and kingmakers.
Despite economic gains in recent decades, Colombia remains wildly uneven, a trend that has worsened during the pandemic, with black, indigenous and rural communities falling furthest behind. Forty percent of the country lives in poverty.
Ms Márquez, 40, chose to run, she said, “because our governments have turned their backs on the people, and justice and peace.”
She grew up sleeping on a dirty floor in a region ravaged by violence related to the country’s longstanding internal conflict. She became pregnant when she was 16, went to work in the local gold mines to support her child, and eventually sought work as a live-in maid.
For some of the Colombians begging for change and for a more diverse representation, Ms. Márquez is their champion. The question is whether the rest of the country is ready for her.
Some critics called her divisive, saying she is part of a left-wing coalition that wants to tear apart the norms of the past rather than build on them.
She has also never held political office, and Sergio Guzmán, director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a consultancy, said that “there are many questions about whether Francia could become commander-in-chief, if she managed economic policy. , or foreign policy, in a way that would provide continuity to the country.”
Her more extreme opponents directly attacked her with racist tropes, criticizing her class and political legitimacy.
But during the campaign, Ms Márquez’s persistent, candid and caustic analysis of Colombia’s social inequalities broke up a discussion of race and class in a way rarely heard in the country’s most public and powerful political circles.
Those themes, “many in our society either deny them or treat them as minor,” said Santiago Arboleda, a professor of Afro-Andean history at Simón Bolívar Andes University. “Today they are on the front page.”