In an exclusive broadcast interview, we speak with leading Afro-Colombian environmental activist Francia Márquez Mina, who has just been picked by Colombian presidential front-runner Gustavo Petro to be his running mate. Petro has promised to ban all new fossil fuel exploration if they win in May’s election, and Márquez would become Colombia’s first Black female vice president, in a country where Afro-Colombians make up nearly 10% of the population. Márquez says Colombians have a chance in this election to empower communities who have been left out of decision-making in the past, including Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ and other historically marginalized people. “Today we need to put forward the nobodies, the people who’ve never had a voice, to step into the state so that we can write our own history,” says Márquez. If elected, Petro and Márquez would form Colombia’s first leftist government.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
We end today’s show with an exclusive broadcast interview with the Afro-Colombian environmental activist Francia Márquez Mina, who has just been picked by the Colombian presidential front-runner, Gustavo Petro, to be his running mate. If they win in May’s election, Márquez would become Colombia’s first Black female vice president. Márquez is a prominent land and water defender. It was her opposition to illegal gold-mining that led to death threats forcing her to flee her home. In 2018, she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.
I spoke to her in February while she was in New York. At the time, she was running for president, but lost in the primary to Petro. I asked her why she was running for office.
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] Well, I think that more than making history, we are giving impetus to the idea that in Colombia a new form of government is possible, governance that is built up from the Black, Indigenous and peasant peoples from the very different sectors of the community, LGBTIQ+, from the youth, from the women, from the small farmers of Colombia, those who have been no one — that is to say, who have never had a voice in the government, who have never had a voice in order to put forward our grievances as a people. And today we need to put forward the nobodies, the people who’ve never had a voice, to step into the state so that we can write our own history, a history that will make it possible to live with dignity, with justice, with equity, with equality, that would enable each and every one of us to turn the page of violence of the armed conflict and to pursue agenda of social justice.
AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about what that social justice agenda would look like in Colombia?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] Well, I think the first thing is that this government has destroyed the possibility of living in peace. And today the most impoverished people, those who don’t have drinking water, basic sanitation, education, internet connectivity, are the people who once again are suffering the brunt of the violence and the armed conflict. It’s the social leaders who continue to be assassinated. The Constitutional Court has just recognized the unconstitutional state of affairs in terms of the failure of this government to implement the peace accords. So, this situation of armed conflict and abandonment in terms of no social investment, that needs to be brought to a halt. It’s not going to be brought to a halt by the privileged elites of white men who have historically governed our country. It’s the people who need to step forward to press their grievances.
And so it’s necessary to work in depth to achieve peace. This means a dialogue with all of the armed actors who continue putting our lives at risk, including those who are part of the Colombian state, the military forces, who continue to violate human rights. That means taking on the challenge we have as humankind today to bring a halt to the environmental crisis. And for that, we propose a transition from an extractive industries-based investment policy to sustainable energy and to having a system of economic production that puts life at the center. That is why I have been proposing a program of agroecological productive projects and with the idea of food sovereignty being the top issue. There’s more than 21 million people in Colombia who don’t eat enough, who go to bed hungry every night.
AMY GOODMAN: Francia Márquez Mina, when you announced your intention to run for president, you had just spent days consoling the mothers of five young Black men who had been targeted by paramilitaries and killed. Who were they? You tweeted at the time, “I want to be president of this country. I want our people to be free and dignified. I want our people to be able to freely exist in their cultural diversity, for our territories to become spaces of life and for our children to live without fear of being murdered.” Talk about what happened.
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] I am a mother. I have two children. I had just bid farewell to my son, who is living in Boston. I had to get him out of Colombia in order to be able to go forward in this political path. And as a mother, I have felt the pain and the sadness of our country having to bury nephews and nieces of mine. I lost an 8-year-old niece, who was assassinated in a poor neighborhood of Cali. That is a history that is repeated day after day. Mothers go to work in the homes of other families, and they come home to bury their children. That is the history of our country. And in order to lighten the pain of these mothers who are burying their children in the poor neighborhoods every day, in the small villages, in the communities, is part of the challenge that we’re facing. And that means social justice. That means taking on the demilitarization of our society, the demilitarization of the country, because every day there are more people being killed in the streets. But that means we need to think about forms of economy that help improve the living conditions of people. That means lifting up life, and therefore we need to talk about distributing land and to women.
Well, in Colombia, the majority of the population is women. We are 52% of the population. Nonetheless, women are also experiencing femicide. Women are being assassinated in Colombia. Mothers who are leaders, well, when their children are subject to assassination and violence, well, it’s a way to hush them up so that they no longer demand their rights. Therefore, I think that this is a path of unity, embracing life, lifting up life, because we are tired of putting in more dead. We’re tired of having to bury our family members and seeing women, mothers, burying their children. That is not just. We deserve a more dignified nation, a nation in peace, a nation with social justice, and an antiracist nation.
Right now I’m here in the United States. And I know that the Black people here are assassinated, especially Black youth, in the same way as Black, impoverished Black youth, racialized impoverished Black youth, are assassinated in Colombia. Because of the color of our skin, they see us as criminals. But we are human beings. Our dignity must be respected and recognized. We are feminizing politics. We are deepening democracy in our country, because that’s not — then we’re giving more content to democracy. And when I announced that I wanted to be president of Colombia, people said, “Francia, you’re crazy, because you think that” — they can’t imagine it. They think that’s reserved for white men who are privileged elites. But today, those of us who are nobody, those of us who haven’t had a voice, those who have been historically silenced and subjected to violence, are standing up to say that we are going to go forward from resistance to power until dignity becomes something that our country becomes accustomed to.
AMY GOODMAN: Francia Márquez Mina, you are from the village of Yolombo, you grew up in La Toma, both in the western region of Colombia, in Cauca. Can you talk about the central role of Cauca? Do you feel it’s a target of violence? And the role, in particular, of multinational corporations? You, yourself, an environmental leader who won the Goldman Prize for your fight against an international gold mining corporation.
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] Well, Cauca is a department that has experienced the armed conflict, but it’s also a diverse department inhabited by Black, Indigenous and peasant peoples. Also, the majority of the population in Cauca are women, in their diversity. And even though it is a department where the different armed actors have imposed violence, we have been there as a people resisting, resignifying life, bringing peace and pursuing peace based on our ancestral and cultural practices. And today Cauca is the land of many women and men who are standing up as leaders, who, amidst the war, abandonment, racism, patriarchy and machismo imposed on people’s lives, we have been able to move forward in terms of resisting and in terms of developing practices that allow us to live in peace and without fear.
And so, I am a daughter of the territory of the Cauca. And from there, we are going to continue giving impetus to peace, which has not yet reached the doors of our homes. We are going to continue pushing the need for Cauca — well, Cauca and all of Colombia to be a dignified territory with justice. There are so many communities in our department and throughout Colombia where people don’t have drinking water. Nonetheless, mining interests have done what they’ve wished with our territory. And we don’t oppose development. We oppose a vision of development that is based on profits that result from death, dispossession and expropriation of human lives of people.
Today the planet Earth faces a huge challenge. Life is being exhausted, is being depleted every day. And the great challenge is to get — is that many of these companies who have earned profits based on death and destruction, well, they should think about how to have an economy for life. And that means reformulating how they go without getting profit. That means thinking about distributional justice. That means thinking about ecological justice for all humankind, and, of course, to be able to help safeguard the big house, which is the planet for all of us.
AMY GOODMAN: Francia Márquez Mina, in 2019 you survived an assassination attempt and have had a number of death threats against you. Can you talk specifically about what happened? And what gives you the strength to now run for president, the bravery that you are exhibiting?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] Well, what happened, as you came to learn, is that like one more leader of my country, I was declared a military target. I receive death threats along with other leaders from the Department of Cauca. But that is not a reason to go silent. Quite to the contrary, it’s with more strength that we are standing up and that we are here, and it is with greater strength that we continue to raise our voices, because we don’t want what has happened to us to happen to any Colombian woman or man.
Nonetheless, what is lamentable and horrific is that every day we continue burying leaders who have been assassinated, especially environmental leaders. Colombia is the country in the world that has seen — more environmental defenders have been assassinated in Colombia than in any other country in the world. And this is a call to attention because it’s worrisome. It is worrisome that there’s been so much fracture created in our country around the value of life. Safeguarding the lives of people, particularly social leaders, is not a priority. And this government, this administration, has not been capable of allowing the communities who have suffered so much, such as Bojayá, to live in peace. To the contrary, even though communities such as Bojayá, in Chocó, which are a symbol of peace and a symbol of resistance, and who experience the barbarism of war and terror, they said, “Yes, we do want to live in peace,” but this government made that impossible. And today we often don’t know where the bullets are coming from. But our commitment is to continue raising our voices forcefully to the point that dignity and life become a custom for all of us.
AMY GOODMAN: The presidential elections are in May, and this follows the massive uprising throughout Colombia of popular protest, with one of the centers of those protests where you come from, in Cauca. United Nations said security forces were involved in serious human rights violations during the crackdown, arbitrary detentions, sexual and gender-based violence, acts of discrimination. Were Black Colombians particularly targeted?
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] Well, the national strike or uprising began initially when the government was introducing a tax reform against the poorest of the poor and benefiting the richest Colombians, richest in monetary terms, the financial sector earning so much profit in the middle of a pandemic, whereas people had to eat at home, if they could. And so people had been locked in under the pandemic, limited opportunities to get income or employment, people trying to figure out how to pay their housing costs. So, amidst the desperation — and the pandemic isn’t the crisis; the pandemic revealed the crisis of a model of death, which was not able to go forward creating conditions of dignity for people. So, in the midst of all that, the government introduced that tax reform.
And people couldn’t take anymore, and they took to the streets, especially the young people. Many of these young people who are on the frontlines are from the poor neighborhoods, young people who have suffered from so-called social cleansing, which is to say assassinations by paramilitary groups in Colombia who say we need to “clean up” different areas — and “clean up” means killing people. The government, instead of fostering a forum for dialogue with the communities and with the youth of the country to seek solutions, instead it stigmatized social protest. It accused protesters of being vandals, terrorists and criminals. And the result was what happened, unfortunately. Forty-eight young people were assassinated, and the majority of them are Black youth, and the city of Cali accounted for the largest number of deaths. Very lamentable. These young people who had taken to the streets with hope to raise their voices, saying they wanted a country with dignity, sadly, were not able to go home because the state forces, with the bullets of the homeland, took their lives, bullets that are paid for by the tax payments made by us Colombians.
So, the fact of not listening, the fact of not fostering dialogue, and instead simply imposing repression on people, accusing them of being vandals and terrorists, of being criminals, and stigmatizing the regular people, who had nothing to lose because the Colombian government, Colombian state, had taken away so much of their hope, their dreams, the possibility of having a nice life, of being able to live in peace — so those people took to the streets and said, “Here we are. We are the generation that says we’re no longer going to put up with being trampled upon, with our human condition being expropriated.”
I hope that that social upheaval will now translate into a change at the polls, because this is not going to change unless there’s a change in the politics and policy of our country. Fifty billion pesos are lost every — or, 50 trillion pesos are lost every year due to corruption in our country, and that translates into boys and girls who are dying of malnutrition, of hunger, who are dying in our country without any opportunity to live. And it is painful to see that this is happening in our country. And it is painful to see that young people don’t have access to quality education, a free education, comprehensive education. And it’s painful to see that mothers and us women don’t have any guarantee of being able to get to a job, and older folks have no guarantees of a pension. Everything that the neoliberal model has done that’s been imposed by this Colombian elite, who have reaped their profits from death and hunger and exiling people and our expropriation from us of our human condition, it is very painful to experience all of that.
AMY GOODMAN: Afro-Colombian environmental activist Francia Márquez, speaking with us in February, when she was running for president. Earlier this week, Colombia’s presidential front-runner, Gustavo Petro, tapped her to be his running mate. If elected, Márquez would become the first Black woman to serve as Colombia’s vice president, in a country where Afro-Colombians make up nearly 10% of the population. Márquez is a prominent land and water defender. It was her opposition to illegal gold mining that led to death threats, an assassination attempt, forcing her to flee her home. She tweeted this week, quote, “We are writing a new history for Colombia. In the vice presidency, we will accompany President Gustavo Petro in the duty to create a government that respects life, peace, justice and social equity,” unquote. Gustavo Petro is running in part on a platform calling for a ban on new fossil fuel exploration. Fossil fuels make up more than half of Colombia’s exports, and the country has long been among the most dangerous countries in the world for environmentalists and activists, with at least 145 murdered last year alone. You can also see our interview with Francia Márquez in Spanish, as well as our daily headlines in Spanish, by going to democracynow.org, click on “Español,” or go to democracynow.org/es.
Oh, special thanks to Charlie Roberts. And a very happy early birthday to Nermeen Shaikh!
That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Camille Baker, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Mary Conlon and Juan Carlos Dávila. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude and Dennis McCormick. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.