Argentina Opens its Arms with Solidarity for Francia Márquez

By Bill Hackwell on July 31, 2022, from Buenos Aires

Francia Márquez, photo: Bill Hackwell

Last night in the packed national auditorium of the Kirchner Cultural Center, in the heart of Buenos Aires, 2000 people had the good fortune to hear the words of the Vice President-elect of Colombia Francia Márquez who represents a dramatic change in the geopolitical landscape of her country, that in over 200 years has never seen any administration even remotely progressive until now.

The audience came from the Afro Argentine community, the LGTBQ community, the feminist movement that was instrumental in getting the right to abortions for Argentine women in 2020, Colombians living and working in Argentina who voted by an 80% margin for Gustavo Petro for president and Francia Márquez for vice president in the June election and it was attended predominately by young people with the majority being women.

After a wait the cultural center erupted when Francia Márquez walked on stage with her arm linked with the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner for Human Rights Adolfo Pérez Esquivel who embraced her and introduced her by saying, “We have to open our minds and hearts to look at each other and be in solidarity with the brotherly and sisterly people of Colombia.” He then asked for the lights to be turned on in the auditorium so they could see the faces of the audience.

Márquez’s journey to being elected as the new vice president of Colombia is one of remarkable courage and determination that began in extreme poverty and slave like conditions. The 40 year old Afro Colombian was born in Yolombo in the poor department of Cauca in southwest Colombia where mining exploitation is the primary economic activity. She worked as a gold miner and a domestic worker, had her first child at 16 and struggled to become a lawyer to help defend her community against racism and governmental neglect. Every thought and remark from Francia makes reference and respect to her community and her ancestors, her mother and grandmother especially, as being the force that drives her forward.

In 1994, in a struggle reminiscent of Berta Caceres fight to save the river that runs through her community in Honduras, Francia Márquez, together with her community, defended the Ovejas River against the advance of mining including a march from that river to Bogota to demand justice. The effort resulted in Márquez being recognized as a socio-environmental reference point internationally. She received the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018 and recently reflected, “We did many mobilizations to stop the mining that was poisoning with mercury our territory where there is no drinking water and we have girls and boys with mercury in their blood. That is part of environmental racism because not everywhere is poisoned.”

The arrival of Marquez on Colombia’s political stage comes from the will of the people to break from the oligarchy and neo liberal model and from the corruption and reign of terror of the Uribe – Duque regimes that culminated with the National Strike in Colombia carried out in 2021. When asked by the event’s moderator, author Verónica Gago, what role the uprising had in making her decide to run for office Márquez responded that this uprising was fundamentally different than other protests. . “It was not young university students or student movements that took to the streets. They were young people who had never set foot in the doors of a university”, many of whom were killed and injured by the police.

“It is thanks to all of them that I am here. They put themselves in the front line in the strike and I am going to put myself in the front line in the government to defend them” remarked the vice-president.

One of the first things that she is already working on is assembling a team of lawyers to go after all instances of police brutality during the uprising. Petro has also named Francia to head the new Ministry of Equality dedicated to bringing about gender, race and regional equality. The new administration is also committed to fully implementing the peace accords the government signed and then ignored with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016 in Havana, including the first article that calls for land reform. They also want to begin peace talks with the Army of National Liberation (ELN).

Francia Márquez understands all of this is ambitious and nothing will materialize without the re distribution of wealth in Colombia. “All of this is just talk without a new fiscal policy with tax reform making the rich pay for something that is their responsibility to do to be in solidarity with the rest of society.”

Latin America Tour

Tonight’s event was the key point of Francia’s visit to Argentina and is part of what could be described as a diplomatic regional tour by the new Colombia administration to set a different tone in relations with especially the progressive nations of Latin America. The week long tour began in Brazil with a meeting with Lula Da Silva followed by a meeting with Chile’s new President Gabriel Boric who thanked her for their focus on bringing about peace in Colombia, gender justice and climate change.

Márquez will end her South American tour in Bolivia. This Sunday she has agreed to meet with the Bolivian Vice-President, David Choquehuanca, in La Paz. The vice-president will return to her country on Monday after meeting with Bolivian indigenous and peasant women’s social organizations

Marquez ended the emotional evening with these words; “We have advanced in Colombia with a very important step: after 214 years we achieved a government of the people, a people’s government. The government of the people of the calloused hands, the government of the ordinary people, the government of the nobodies and the nobodies of Colombia. Let’s go, brothers and sisters, to reconcile this nation, let’s go for peace in a determined way, without fear, with love and joy, let’s go for dignity, for social justice. Let’s go women to eradicate patriarchy in our country, let’s go for the rights of the diverse LGBTI community. Let’s go for the rights of our mother earth, of the big house, to take care of our big house, to take care of biodiversity. Let’s go together to eradicate racism.”

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – English