Francia Márquez plants a tree in Kenya with Wanjira Mathai, daughter of Wangari Maathai (Norma Jackson photo)

For the first time in the history of the Republic of Colombia, a woman of African origin—Francia Márquez Mina—was elected to serve as vice president. Millions of voters democratically supported her candidacy.

This is extraordinary: In one of the most racist countries of “Our America,” where the most retrograde, sexist, and racist bourgeoisie has traditionally governed, a Black woman reached the vice presidency by aligning herself with the Pacto Histórico political coalition, headed by Colombia’s current president, Gustavo Petro.

Francia’s second surname, Mina, indicates that she is a woman of African descent––an offspring of the African civilization in what is today the Republic of Togo. She is not an invention of the media or a ruling elite creation. She is the product of an ongoing struggle against the country’s extreme poverty, something that African descendants have been subjected to since they were kidnapped from their mother continent.

Márquez Mina was born on Dec. 1, 1981, when Colombia was in a prolonged armed conflict against guerrilla armies. She was born in the town of Suarez in the Cauca region. Despite extreme poverty, she was able to study at the University of Santiago de Cali and graduated with a law degree. At the beginning of her struggles against the environmental destruction caused by mining, as well as the effects of Plan Colombia, which was destroying her native region’s ecological balance, Márquez Mina joined the Afro Colombian organization Procesos de Comunidades Negras (PCN), which was led by the activist Carlos Rosero.

The PCN has been working since the 1990s at the continental level with an agenda focused on combating racism, including African descendants in public policies, reparations, the promotion of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015–2024), and more.

This writer met Francia Márquez Mina in 2018 at the University of Amherst, Massachusetts, at a forum organized by Agustin Lao, a professor and a board member of the Afro-descendants of Latin America and the Caribbean (ARAAC).

Márquez Mina, Wangari Maathai, Berta Cáceres

In 2015, Francia Márquez Mina received a national human rights award for her struggle in defense of the Earth and against the forced displacement of her community. In 2018, her struggle against ecological disasters led to her receiving the prestigious international 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize.

Márquez’s fight in defense of the Earth is reminiscent of the struggle by environmentalist Wangari Maathai (1943–2011) to create the Green Belt Movement (GBM) in Kenya. Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004—the first African woman to win the award. Márquez Mina’s struggle for the conservation of the environment is also reminiscent of another environmental justice woman, this time from Honduras: Berta Cáceres. Cáceres was assassinated on March 3, 2016, but had received a Goldman Prize in 2015. Last year, the government of Honduras acknowledged Cáceres as a national heroine.

Márquez Mina represents, to a large extent, the environmentalist struggles of Maathai and Cáceres. Like Cáceres, Márquez Mina has suffered verbal and physical attacks, as well as unending racial assaults, to which she has made forceful responses.

In November last year, she participated in the Climate Change Summit in Egypt, where she reaffirmed that “it is not possible to talk about climate change without talking about its effects on historically excluded populations.”

‘400 years ago, my ancestors left these shores enslaved. Today I return in freedom’

This past November, I participated with Márquez Mina in a workshop about historical reparations for the slave trade, which forced more than 30 million of Africa’s children into slavery in the Americas and the Caribbean. Márquez Mina demanded reparations for this crime against humanity. She called for a global summit on reparations that would link Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the entire diaspora.

She reaffirmed this position in Geneva at the U.N. Permanent Forum on People of African Descent in December of last year.

Her recent tour of three strategic African countries—South Africa, Kenya, and Ethiopia—reaffirms the dreams of her ancestors. She said her ancestors were enslaved and taken to Colombia, but today she has returned free and with messages of hope for fighting together for a better world. During her high-level visit to Africa, 17 cooperation agreements were signed: eight with South Africa, two in Ethiopia, and seven in Kenya. Similarly to the South-South approach of Mwulimu Julius Nyerere, former president of Tanzania, Márquez Mina believes there is hope in the South. Perhaps the approach of the Africa-South America Summit (ASA), initially proposed by President Lula da Silva (Brazil), Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria), and Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), will be vindicated.

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