By Andres Kogan Valderrama*
HAVANA TIMES – Less than a month remains before Colombia holds its Parliamentary elections. They will also serve as a sort of primary elections for president. A number of presidential hopefuls will be on the ballot on March 13, grouped in three different political alliances: the Pacto Historico, Coalicion Centro Esperanza and Equipo por Colombia. The presidential election is set for May 29, with a runoff on June 19 if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote.
In the case of the Historic Pact coalition, Gustavo Petro continues to lead the polls for that sector. However, Francia Marquez has a growing and ever-stronger presence. If she should be victorious, it could cause the greatest rupture ever seen in the traditional politics of Colombia.
I say this because Francia Marquez’ history of struggle against racism, patriarchy and the politics of large-scale extraction of natural resources has made her a symbol for millions of Colombians. These citizens have suffered looting, violence, and the politics of death, in this country which rose up so powerfully during the popular rebellion of 2021.
Born in the Cauca department, in the north of Colombia, Francia Marquez is a single mother, an Afro-Colombian leader and a lawyer. She has literally devoted her life to activism on behalf of human rights and nature, in a country with a 60-year history of armed conflict that has left more than 200,000 dead and 8 million displaced.
Her struggle against illegal mining and her defense of Cauca’s rivers and mountains have transformed her into a socio-environmental reference, not only in Colombia but across the region and the world. In 2018, her struggle was recognized with the Goldman Environmental Prize.
She also stands out for her enormous struggle for the rights of women, the indigenous, and the Afro-Colombian communities. The collective and intertwined construction of gender, environmental and economic justice has always been her North Star.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Francia Marquez places her bets on an uncolonized view of life in a pluriverse, as the Colombian teacher Arturo Escobar has taught us, looking to other philosophies such as Ubuntu, for example. She asserts this view through the phrase: “I am because we are.
As a result, if she’s chosen as the Historic Pact candidate, they’d have a candidate who comes from the communities, territories, and social movements, rather than from the Colombian elites who, through actions or omissions, have hindered a historic agreement for peace. This would be unprecedented in Colombia, which is in serious danger of becoming a failed state.
Unfortunately, the war in Colombia hasn’t ended. Quite the opposite, as is evidenced by the data disclosed by the Institute for Peace and Development Studies INDEPAZ, documenting 19 massacres with 82 victims in 2022 alone.
Along these same lines, Colombia continues being the country with the greatest number of murders of environmental defenders in the world, ahead of countries such as Mexico and the Philippines, as the reports from Global Witness show year after year.
Francia Marquez’ candidacy is a voice of hope amidst so much fear and death, in a country and a democracy being held hostage by the guerrilla, the paramilitary, narcotrafficking, the army and the fanatical ultra-right led by Alvaro Uribe, whose leadership has only brought more death to Colombia.
In the face of this, Marquez advocates for the need to end the war on drugs and against terrorism. A war that was brutally inflicted on the country by the United States, through the Plan Colombia initiative in 1999. This “war” has only increased the bloodshed in the outer territories, with the women, the indigenous population, the Afro-Colombians and the rural residents the ones who’ve suffered the greater part of the displacement and killings.
Similarly, she proposes to end hunger in the countryside in a sustainable way, by strengthening agroecology and promoting food sovereignty, accompanied by an eradication of the racist and patriarchal structures. The latter, in the words of Francia Marquez, have negated the possibility of “allowing Colombia to live a good life, in peace, at ease, with joy, with love.”
Finally, it’s important to note that Colombia is a hugely important country for the future of the planet in the context of the current climate crisis. It’s the most biodiverse place on the planet, so that supporting something as essential for life as the candidacy of Francia Marquez in the upcoming presidential consultation is more than an option – it’s a necessity.