- Francia Márquezleading Afro-Colombian activist who is the 2018 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America.
Francia Márquez, a leading Afro-Colombian activist who is the 2018 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America, visited Democracy Now! in May 2018. In this wide-ranging interview with Amy Goodman, Márquez describes how she organized her community of La Toma, in Colombia’s Pacific southwest region, to stop illegal gold mining by multinational corporations on their ancestral land. In 2014, Márquez led a 10-day, 350-kilometer march of 80 women to Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, that led to the removal of all illegal miners and equipment from La Toma. Despite threats from multinational corporations and paramilitaries, she continues to fight back, although she has been forced to leave her home.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re joined now by a leading Afro-Colombian community activist who’s the 2018 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America. Francia Márquez helped organize the women of the community of La Toma, Colombia’s Pacific southwest region, in Cauca, to stop illegal gold mining by multinational corporations and other illegal miners on their ancestral land.
This is a clip from the documentary called La Toma that’s directed by Paola Mendoza, featuring Márquez speaking about her community.
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] La Toma got its name because this is where our ancestors gathered water to work the mines when they were brought to this continent as slaves. They made containers to collect rainwater, which they used to mine when they were slaves.
Once slavery was abolished, they continued mining. Once freed, they were left like newborns to fend for themselves. They had to use the skills they developed as miners to build a future for their families. This was one of the first liberated black settlements in northern Cauca.
AMY GOODMAN: In 2014, Francia Márquez led a 10-day, 350-[kilometer] march of 80 women to Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, that led to the removal of all illegal miners and equipment from La Toma. Despite threats from multinational corporations and paramilitaries, she continues to fight back, although she’s been forced to leave her home.
Francia Márquez, welcome to Democracy Now! It is an honor to have you with us, as you’ve just come from San Francisco. Five of six winners of the Goldman Prize were women. You are one of them, singular in Colombia. Talk about your struggle there, what you want people in the United States and other places around the world to understand what’s happening in La Toma.
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] Well, thank you very much. As you know, for the past few years, I have been working with my community, an Afro-descendant community, in a struggle, a collective struggle, to ensure that our community can remain on their territories. And in the last years, the government has been giving our territory in concession to large transnational companies, like AngloGold Ashanti, Cosigo Resources, Pan American Limited, but also to outsiders, who, in 2009, requested a mining license, and an eviction order ensued for our community, who has been in the territory since 1636. And so we have been in a collective struggle as an Afro-descendant people in order for our territory to be recognized as ancestral territory of an Afro-descendant people and so that norms such as ILO 169 can be applied, which gives us the right to prior informed consent.
So, this struggle, which has been a legal struggle, but also an organizational struggle, which has been articulated with black movements and Afro-descendant communities, such as the process of black communities and grounds, proceso de comunidades negras, and many community actions, it has been a struggle, a hard struggle, collective struggle, that is not only on my shoulders, but of many people, of many community members, of a lot of women, activists, in order to guarantee that we can remain in our territory and to protect our rivers, our water, our territory, as a place for life. That has been our struggle.
And for that struggle, we have also become military targets of various armed actors who defend the interests of large transnational companies, but also illegal mining, small-scale. Through the giving of mining titles, mining concessions, they have been poisoning our rivers with mercury and cyanide. Because there are a lot of people who illegally go to these mining sites, a lot of people have died. A lot of people are seeking a way to make a living and to support their families.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about gold mining? What does it do to the land?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] Yes, it’s mostly gold mining. This is a long history. I grew up doing ancestral mining. My ancestors, who were brought as enslaved people from Africa to the Americas, arrived in 1636 to the area to do gold mining in these slave labor mines, but also in the farms of the northern Cauca. And so, for years we have done small-scale handcraft mining. But the mining that is coming now, which is large-scale, is destroying the territory because of its scale. And that is a large threat, because it brings environmental threats to our community, but also for humanity at large.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can talk about La Toma, in Cauca, this, oh, ancestral land of Afro-Colombians, as you said, your ancestors forcibly brought from Africa and enslaved?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] Yes. In fact, in Colombia, there are approximately 10 million Afro-descendants, and all of us are descendants of human beings who were enslaved and brought from Africa, basically to undertake two types of activities: to do farming in the haciendas and gold mining. And that’s the history that we come from, the Afro-descendant community in Colombia, but it’s also the particular story of my community.
So, once slavery was abolished, we were never compensated. The slave owners were compensated. And so, our lands, where we have built our communities today, where we have preserved our culture, what we have had to do because of state neglect is to undertake small-scale mining, farming, in order to support our families, because the government has not fulfilled its responsibilities, because Afro-descendant communities have the lowest levels of basic rights and services. We don’t have access to water, to health. These were territories that were forgotten.
But these territories have become a commercial economic interest. So, we see our territories as spaces of life. But others see it as spaces for profit. And that has endangered our permanence, our [inaudible] to remain in our territory, and also because of the armed conflict in Colombia. And this situation has also affected disproportionately our people. The armed conflict follows the economic model, as well, which excludes, which exploits, which racializes people.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the struggle pre- and post-peace process in Colombia. What was it like before? And we’ll talk about your march and everything. But what was happening then? Who were the illegal miners then? And who they are today?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] So, according to the state, violence began 60 years ago. But for us, as an Afro-descendant people, and for indigenous communities, as well, violence has existed for 400 years in Colombia and has not ceased for a day in our territories. There has not been a single day in which our people have not suffered violence. And so, there have been landmark moments in which the violence has skyrocketed. So let’s say that for the last 15 years—that for 15 years the armed conflict heightened, in part because of acts of the guerrillas, but also the presence of paramilitary communities, which murdered and forcefully displaced community members from their territories. And in my territory, in the department or state of Cauca, has been one of the areas that has been strongly hit by the armed conflict. We know that the conflict, it’s not happening because people want to die. It follows an economic model of inequality that is imposed on people, and that it has violated the rights of people.
Today, now there has been a peace process, that has lasted for the last five or six years, which, for me, doesn’t constitute peace, in reality, because peace involves social justice. Peace involves structural transformation for the people. But, unfortunately, today, in my country, there are indigenous children starving to death. There are 8 million victims of the war who have not received reparations. That is the official number, but, of course, the unofficial numbers are much larger. So, until there has been a correct reparation process and a redistribution of conditions, of appropriate life conditions for people, we cannot really attain peace. However, we cannot overlook that there has been some advances in the armed conflict, in stopping that. And that is a first step toward peace.
So, two of the actors who have been in combat historically—the FARC and the government—where there have been—where they have taken, seized territory, where they have bombarded both the state and the guerrilla, a transformation is necessary for peace. However, as I was saying, this is a long road that we have to follow. And, unfortunately, there were also a lot of economic actors that profited from the war, and a lot of communities impoverished by the war. Our cousins, our nephews and nieces, our brothers and sisters went to the war, an absurd war that was not ours, because the children of the powerful are not the ones in the military ranks. It was our people, the poor people. So today we have a very large challenge, which is to attain peace.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me turn to a resident of La Toma responding to news that the Colombian government wants to evict them. This is from the documentary La Toma.
SHIRLEY VERGARA: [translated] Right now, they’re harassing us. We don’t have peace of mind, because we’re afraid they’ll come at any time, maybe kill someone or something like that. It scares me. It petrifies me. I don’t want that to happen. What will happen to my nephews, my children? Where will they end up? I lived in the city and came back. I love this land. I have no interest in the city. It’s foreign to me. I want to live out in the country, breathe fresh air, live in peace with these people.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Shirley Vergara. Can you explain further what she is so concerned about, so distressed about?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] Shirley Vergara is a compañera in struggle. We grew up together. And together we have mined together. But also, we have defended our territory together. So, basically, it is the sadness of what it means to be displaced from our territory, from one minute to the next, to have to leave the territory, where we carry on our life, our community’s life, where we can farm what we need to eat, where we can go to the river to fish and feed our families from there, and then to become displaced people into the city, where life, it’s not like our life, to make a different life, to live in circumstances of further violence. So this is what she’s expressing. Territory for us is life. Ane when I say “life,” I mean because this is where we reproduce and recreate our culture, but also our food, to support our families, etc., things that are not possible in the city, where if you don’t have money, you can’t eat.
AMY GOODMAN: And when did the Colombian government make this threat?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] ’09. That was their first attempt to evict the community. They were arguing—their arguments, I think, are related to structural racism. They were saying that we were not an Afro-descendant community, that we did not have the right to prior informed consent, and saying that mining was in the national interest, and so, therefore, our rights could be trampled on, saying that mining, we need it for national development.
But we ask, “Whose development?” If we don’t have running water, we don’t have health, we don’t have education, what development are we talking about? Whose development?We live with the most miserable basic conditions. We have a lot of unfulfilled basic needs, where people are impoverished. And in the name of development, we have been impoverished, and our rights have been violated. And in the name of development, my ancestors were enslaved.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Lisifrey Aratat describing threats that you and he received when trying to save the community of La Toma. Again, this is from the documentary La Toma.
LISIFREY ARATAT: [translated] The first threat came via fax. The next one came via text. Suffice to say, this is now systematic, because they killed an indigenous governor. If you ask me to prove it, I can’t. But, for us, it’s a logical conclusion. The multinational corporations, along with the paramilitaries, have done their job of cleansing the area.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Lisifrey Aratat. He was describing death threats against you and him. What do you face as you take on the illegal mining of your community?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] Since 2009, we have been getting death threats. And for us, it’s an interesting coincidence, because it was right when the titles, the mining concessions, were given out and when the eviction order was given, and we refused to leave as a forcefully displaced community, that was when the death threats began. And they haven’t stopped. And so we get text messages saying that “We declare you a military target, because you are opposed to the entry of these multinationals, because you are stalling development.” So, we can’t really say where they are coming from, the threats. But I would say that there is a link between the economic interests on our territories and these threats. So, we have denounced—made official denunciations of this, but there is no investigation currently underway so that we can know who is declaring us a military target, and so that justice can be done.
In 2014, I was displaced from my community. I had to leave my community, because somebody came to my house, not only because I was opposing the large-scale mining, but also the illegal mining that is taking place in our community. This is a situation that we face in La Toma. But in Colombia and the country at large, there are a lot of Afro-descendant, indigenous, peasant, farm communities that are living the same situation, the same threats of being forcefully displaced. But today, even though there is a peace process, hundreds of leaders, of activists are being prosecuted, but also murdered. Every day, there are leaders that are being killed, and nothing is being done to stop that violence. That is the circumstance in La Toma, but also of many other people across the country, of social leaders, of very many different organizations, of ethnic communities.
AMY GOODMAN: When you received the Goldman Prize just recently, you invoked the name of Berta Cáceres, the remarkable Honduran environmentalist who was gunned down in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras, as she took on the large dams that was being built in her community. I want to turn to a clip of Berta when she received the Goldman Environmental Prize. Again, Berta Cáceres, in accepting the award, vowed to continue standing up for the rights of Mother Earth and indigenous communities.
BERTA CÁCERES: [translated] In our worldviews, we are beings who come from the earth, from the water and from corn. The Lenca people are ancestral guardians of the rivers, in turn protected by the spirits of young girls, who teach us that giving our lives in various ways for the protection of the rivers is giving our lives for the well-being of humanity and of this planet. COPINH, walking alongside people struggling for their emancipation, validates this commitment to continue protecting our waters, the rivers, our shared resources and nature in general, as well as our rights as a people.
Let us wake up! Let us wake up, humankind! We’re out of time. We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction. The Gualcarque River has called upon us, as have other gravely threatened rivers. We must answer their call. Our Mother Earth, militarized, fenced-in, poisoned, a place where basic rights are systematically violated, demands that we take action. Let us build societies that are able to coexist in a dignified way, in a way that protects life. Let us come together and remain hopeful as we defend and care for the blood of this Earth and of its spirits.
I dedicate this award to all the rebels out there, to my mother, to the Lenca people, to Río Blanco and to the martyrs who gave their lives in the struggle to defend our natural resources. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: So that was Berta Cáceres in 2015, winning the Goldman Environmental Prize. It would not be another year before she was gunned down, as she took on the large dam that was being built in her community in Honduras. Actually, Francia Márquez, if you could talk about her inspiration in your life, since you cited her in your Goldman Prize acceptance speech?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] I began the struggle when I was 15 years old. And it began by working with the community so that the Ovejas River, where I grew up, where I would fish, where I would swim, where I would mine, for many years, and where also my elders also grew up, its course was going to be altered into a dam that’s called the Salvajina Dam, that was built in the 1980s, which also violated the rights of the community and the region. Salvajina Dam contributed to people being taken their lands away and never—there were never studies that were made of the impact that this was going to have on the community members. But on the flat end of the valley of the Cauca River, this helped for large-scale sugar cane plantations, but taken away from the people who farmed for subsistence. So, this has been a dual struggle to defend the river, the Ovejas River, to protect ourselves against mining, which is ultimately the struggle to defend the territory.
I met Berta. I can’t remember when it was, but I went to Peru with a Garifuna compañera whose name is Miriam Miranda, who’s also Honduran, and Berta Cáceres. I believe it was at the end of 2014. And we were talking about the right to prior and informed consent. After that, I saw that she received the prize. She was very happy. She’s a woman who inspires me profoundly. And then I felt—I knew that she was brutally assassinated to defend life in her territory, to defend her people—the same injustices that we face in Colombia. And that really marked me very deeply. I cried. It was very painful.
But I think we need to remember people who have pushed that struggle. And we must do it with love, because what is at stake here are not just the rights of the black community and the indigenous community. It’s humanity. There’s global warming, which is not only going to destroy us, it’s going to destroy all of humanity, all of the planet. And so, we must all be conscious of this, that we cannot continue to abuse Mother Earth, that we cannot continue destroying our common home, that we must make the necessary transformations, that we must change that deadly economic model in order to think of an economic model about life for our future generations, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about your bravery. I mean, you’re now 36 years old. You’re a single mother of two children. You went on to law school. And yet, in 2014, you led a march of more than 200 miles, from La Toma to Bogotá. Talk about your decision to lead scores of women on this march and what you were demanding at that time, in the face of death threats and so much more. This was a year before Berta would win the Goldman Prize, two years before she would be assassinated.
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] Actually, I started studying law because I wanted to have the legal tools in order to help my community. I felt very vulnerable when I saw that state officials would come and they would speak in a language, a technical and legal language, that we don’t understand. And there were lawyers that were coming all the way from Bogotá, and it was very exhausting. So I decided, even though I didn’t have the money to study, I went and I started in Cali. I began law school. I said, “I don’t have money, but I’ll see how I make do.” It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. And so, it was a lot of difficulties, but I have made a lot of progress.
So, when I was studying, I got a call, my compañeras from the community. I had already been displaced, and they said, “Francia, we are going to go to stop this mining. We’re going to make them take their bulldozers away that are destroying the river. We just can’t stand this any longer. These bulldozers are dredging day and night. We can’t sleep because of the noise, but also the sadness of how our river is being destroyed.” And so, I didn’t go to university that day. I went back to my community. And when I arrived, the women were already there with some youth, telling those men that they had to leave, that they had no right to do mining there. And they tried to be aggressive with us and said that—he said that, “Just because you are a group, you think that you’re threatening.” And so, the compañeras also started to get threats, messages that were threatening. They would say that they would know—they already knew where their children went to school.
And so, when I saw that, I started to write to state officials, to make denunciations to the ombudsman. And the state officials at the ombudsman’s office would say, “We can’t do anything. We have already communicated about this, but nobody has done anything.” So, I had seen a man called Moncayo in Colombia who had mobilized by himself because his son had been kidnapped by an armed actor. And I followed his lead. He managed to mobilize the entire country. And I thought to myself, “If Moncayo could do it, I can do it, too.” So, I decided to go into the community and hold a meeting, and I told the women that I was going to move, that I was going to walk, that I was going to go across the entire country with my sons to visibilize what was happening in our community, so that the government would finally stop illegal mining.
And so, they were afraid. They were very scared. They had never been in a protest or mobilization like that. They had never been to Bogotá, the capital. And they had never left their children alone behind them. And I said, “Whether you’re coming or not, I am going, by myself.” And so, when they saw my resolve, the 15 women, initially, said, “We’ll come with you.” And then the other women, who couldn’t go, they said, “We’ll take care of your children.”
And so we started walking. And in every small town, we would talk about the problem in La Toma, and we started to bring people to consciousness. And then, in Norte del Cauca, our region, more women joined us. So there were women from Guachené, Santander de Quilichao, Buenos Aires, Caloto. And us, we were coming from Suárez to Bogotá. And when we made it there, there were 80 of us, and many young men and women, who were also guardians, Cimarrones, Maroon guardians. It was a beautiful process.
We arrived in Bogotá, but we didn’t get a state response, a proper state response. They didn’t want to listen to us. And so we took over the Ministry of Interior. We went into the—right next to the presidential home. And we became a threat to national security. And we just said, “No, we’re not a threat. We are not here to murder anybody. We are only here to demand that you protect us and our homes, where our homes are being destroyed and our territories and our river. We are being poisoned with mercury, and you are doing nothing. So we’re going to stay here until you stop the 2,000 bulldozers that are destroying the department of Cauca.” And so we stayed for four days. It was very difficult.
But we managed for the government to agree to stop illegal mining. And we also demanded that they review the mining titles and concessions that had been given, which, in our opinion, were given unconstitutionally, violating our fundamental rights and international treaties on human rights, such as ILO 169 convention. And so, we managed to get an agreement from the government. We demanded that they conduct a study of the environmental and economic and social impact of mining in the region.
But it’s very exhausting to try to follow up on the implementation of the agreements, which they have not followed up on. So we are hoping today that with this award we can get more support from universities and other institutions that can help carry out those studies, so that we can visibilize the levels of pollution, of the environmental impacts that mining has had in Cauca and other regions.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to professor and former Black Panther Angela Davis, who sent a solidarity message to the people of La Toma. She said, “What I call the prison-industrial complex allows us to see clearly how racism is used to generate profit. In fact, the relationship is evident here in this mining region, where the commercial mining interests promote a kind of racism that will produce huge profits.” This is Angela Davis speaking in an online appeal for solidarity for the people of La Toma back in 2015.
ANGELA DAVIS: Given the current crisis in Colombia, in the Cauca Valley, it is our responsibility to stand in solidarity with the people of La Toma and with the courageous struggles of Francia Márquez and the black women’s movement in defense of life and ancestral territories. They say that black lives, indigenous lives and campesino lives do indeed matter.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Angela Davis speaking in solidarity with your work. What kind of difference does that solidarity message make to you?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] I met Angela Davis here when I came to the U.S. for the first time in 2010 in San Francisco. For me, she’s an Afro-descendant woman who has inspired me. I have also known of anti-racist struggles here for many years, and I know that she has been key in that struggle. And so, when I arrived in the U.S., we came looking for solidarity. We wanted a strong voice that would support to halt the forced displacement that we were facing in Colombia.
And so, when I spoke to her, I remember that she said, “I cannot refuse to be in solidarity, because 40 years ago I was put in prison, and it was international solidarity that saved my life. And so, now I have to be in solidarity reciprocally to other communities who are also suffering violence and injustice.” So this was an inspiration. She wrote letters to congresspeople in the U.S. and for the U.S. government to also act to prevent the displacement of our communities, but also the Washington Office on Latin America, WOLA, also helped lobby and have an impact here in the U.S.
And so, we understand that our problem is a global problem, that there are responsibilities of transnational companies, that foreign capital has a responsibility in the violence that we face, that multinational companies are part of this country, that have capital from these countries, and they must halt their activities in our country. They cannot continue to exploit these resources, violating people’s rights. And so, this transnational solidarity is very important in order for consciousness to be raised here about their role in that development view that is causing suffering around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: As we begin to wrap up, Francia, explain again the corporations that are moving into your community, what these multinational corporations are, where they’re from, what countries. And also, is the Colombian government facilitating—this, in the midst of the peace process now—these corporations moving into your ancestral lands, your communities?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] In my municipality, not just in La Toma, but in broader, in northern Cauca, where there’s mostly indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, there are companies such as AngloGold Ashanti, which is the third-largest mining, gold mining, company in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: In South Africa? From South Africa?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] Yes, South African. It is South African, but it has capital from various countries—Russia, the U.S. Cosigo Resources, a Canadian company, which I believe also has capital from many countries. There’s a company called Pan American Limited, which I believe is affiliated to AngloGold Ashanti.
But there are also outsiders, Colombians, third parties, who request a title, and then they look to sell it to the multinational corporations. In this case, there were two people who had done this in La Toma: Héctor Sarria and his brother, whose name is Jesús Amado Sarria, who is imprisoned for links to drug traffic. Another person, Raúl Fernando Ruiz, who’s also Colombian, and both of them had requested titles, mining concessions, so that they could sell them to the companies. So, this is a game.
We have not done a close study to see where the money from each of the multinationals is coming, but we know that there is responsibility from many parts, from many states, who need to halt, to stop their companies to develop their profit on the backs of people by violating their rights, human rights. And that’s what we have been doing, and that’s why we’ve become military targets, targets of violence. And it was because Berta Cáceres denounces, that she was assassinated. So, part of what we have to show is to say this openly, and why people become targets of violence, not only because of armed actors, but today we feel that we must defend ourselves from the Colombian government.
AMY GOODMAN: “Last year, the first full year of peace in Colombia”—I’m reading from The Guardian newspaper—”after half a century of conflict, was the deadliest on record for human rights defenders, with 121 [people] killed, compared with 60 [people killed] in 2016.” The number of assassinations of human rights defenders doubled in Colombia. What makes you so brave?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] This is, in fact, a situation that worries us very deeply, because a lot of us thought that the peace process was going to mean tranquility, calm. But we recognize that the confrontation between armed actors has diminished the number of deaths, but not in terms of leaders and human rights defenders, who continue to be assassinated. And this is one of our preoccupations. This shows that the peace process is crumbling. It’s falling apart, because there is an economic elite and political elite that profits from violence. So this is the challenge that we face as Colombians today. How do we protect leaders and human rights defenders from being murdered, from being prosecuted?
Last week, I have two compañeras, Sara Liliana Quiñonez and her mother, Tulia Valencia, are being prosecuted for alleged linkages to a guerrilla, the ELN. And they have been defending their territories near Tumaco. They have been displaced from that territory because they have been defending their territories from the cultivation of illicit crops. And so, because of that, the government has accused them of being linked to the guerrilla. So this is a very large problem that Colombia still needs to solve in order for there to be peace.
But there’s two visions of peace. One is from us, who want peace in our territory, because we don’t want our territories to be battlefields. But there’s another vision from the state. And that’s in order—a peace that just guarantees to move forward with the economic model, so that there can be economic exploitation in places where they hadn’t been before because there was war and the armed actors were there. And so they say, “OK, let’s sign peace, so that then we can begin with the mining industry in these and to advance the extractivist model.” And so, this means that, as communities, we’re going to continue to struggle to defend our territories. And that will continue to be a situation of risk for our communities.
AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of this, a presidential election year in Colombia?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] This is a very good question. What is at stake is precisely that. We want—what kind of peace? A government that actually pursues this peace process, that is accompanied by social justice, permanent social justice? Or are we choosing a government who wants armed confrontation, who wants to advance the economic model that is based on extractivism and that is not thinking of another vision of development?
I, myself, I had never participated in electoral politics. But I was a candidate for Congress in representation of black communities. And today I’m supporting Gustavo Petro, the presidential candidate, because I see his program as having the best possibilities of offering guarantees to our people—Afro-descendant, indigenous, women, youth—to live in a different kind of Colombia, to make Colombia where we can look at each other and are not killing each other because we are different, where we can build a different kind of future, but also, mostly, a Colombia that rethinks this extractivist model and that we think about more sustainable and cleaner ways of pursuing development. And I think his program is the closest and that fulfills a lot of those ideals, for whom a lot of people have died.
AMY GOODMAN: You have come to the United States to receive the Goldman Prize. Your main work is in Colombia. So what can people in the United States do? Is the United States particularly important for your struggle in Colombia?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] I think that there are policies that are made in the U.S. toward Colombia. And I can tell you that Plan Colombia was one such policy that contributed to violating the rights of our communities. Plan Colombia contributed to—for instance, the forced eradication of illicit crops did not work. And you can’t just bring airplanes for fumigation to poison our territories where illicit crops actors arrived. And we couldn’t stop them, because the state was not present to keep them out. And it was very easy for community members to take on illicit crops, because they didn’t have the life conditions to support their families.
But, for instance, we know that most of the consumption happens in the United States. And who’s profiting, as well? Who’s profiting from arms sales and trade to undertake war in Colombia and other parts of the world? This is one of the challenges. And we need consciousness of the people here in the U.S. of that, that people chose a president here—I’m not going to say if he’s the best or the worst; you can judge yourselves what that decision entails—that a lot of those decisions harm our country and many other countries across the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you see U.S. weapons in Colombia? For example, the Colombian military?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] Yes, of course. The armed conflict in Colombia has been supported by the United States financially.
AMY GOODMAN: Francia Márquez, thank you so much for joining us. Francia Márquez is an Afro-Colombian community activist, the recipient of the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America, has helped to organize the women of her community, La Toma, and beyond to stop illegal gold mining on their ancestral land. One of the actions she has engaged in is a, oh, 10-day, more than 200-mile march of 80 women to the nation’s capital, Bogotá, that led to the removal of illegal miners and equipment from her community. That was then. This is now, as she continues to struggle today.
This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Thank you so much.