An exclusive with Colombia’s first Black VP

An exclusive with Colombia’s first Black VP

With help from Jesse Naranjo, Rishika Dugyala, Nirmal Mulaikal, Brakkton Booker, Ella Creamer and Teresa Wiltz

A photo illustration shows a box reading

POLITICO illustration/Photo by Sarah Blesener for POLITICO

For this edition of The Recast, we’re going to try something new. How’s your Spanish?

A la nueva vicepresidenta de Colombia, Francia Márquez Mina, no siempre le gustó la política. Es más, nos confiesa que la rechazaba. En Colombia la política que ella conoció era una “basada en la corrupción, basada en la violencia, basada en el despojo.”

How’d you do?

Colombia’s new vice president, Francia Márquez Mina, wasn’t always enamored with politics. In fact, she confesses that she rejected it outright. The politics she knew in Colombia, she says, was “a politics based on corruption, based on violence, based on dispossession.”

Márquez is the very first Black woman to win the vice presidency in Colombia after narrowly beating a construction magnate on a ticket with the former rebel fighter and senator Gustavo Petro, who’s now the South American nation’s first leftist president.

She sat down with your Recast anchor last week in Midtown East, Manhattan, for an exclusive print interview that’s out today, in both English and Spanish, in POLITICO Magazine.

Her origin story: Born and raised in a rural town in El Cauca, she tells me she grew up with the oral histories of her ancestors who were brought to the continent from Africa under the yoke of slavery to mine and farm for wealthy property owners. Each generation in her community “has been in a constant struggle — for survival, for freedom, for the land,” she says.

Francia Marquez is pictured during a ceremony holding her hands forward while a man speaking into a microphone puts his hand on her shoulder.

Francia Márquez attends a ceremony celebrating her as Colombia’s first Black woman vice president, organized by residents of her home municipality in Suarez, Colombia, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. | Andres Quintero/AP Photo

“No somos descendientes de esclavos.”

We’re not the descendants of slaves.

“Nosotros somos descendientes de gente libre que fue esclavizada.”

We’re descendants of free people. Who were enslaved.

Márquez was in New York for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council that centered around reauthorizing a U.N. mission to verify the implementation of part of the country’s 2016 peace accord.

While there, she met with the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who reiterated Washington’s commitment to “a lasting peace that centers justice and equality for Afro-Colombian and Indigenous people,” according to a readout.

Racial justice and gender equality have been two of the most important components of Márquez’s political platform.

A crowd of supporters holds up a painting of Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez during the presidential inauguration.

Supporters of President Gustavo Petro and Vice President Francia Márquez of Colombia hold a painting depicting the two during the presidential inauguration at Plaza Bolivar, Aug. 7, 2022, in Bogota. | Guillermo Legaria/Getty Images

In a country where 77 percent of Black Colombians live in extreme poverty or are at risk for it, Márquez has quickly become the most prominent voice articulating the struggles of Afro Colombians, Indigenous people and farmworkers — including racism, disproportionate police violence and economic marginalization.

Back in 2021, when she was still an activist, she wrote U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris a letter to discuss the murder of George Floyd and how the two countries could collaborate on issues such as police brutality and the armed conflict in Colombia. (She never heard back.)

Two years later, and now as a vice president herself, she’s also taken her message around the world, notably calling on the U.N. and global superpowers to pay reparations to atone for the aftereffects of colonialism and slavery. And she thinks the United States should forgive the foreign debts of nations that have been hit the hardest by climate change.

After the jump, she discusses her unconventional path to politics, her proposal to achieve climate justice, and the 7 kilos of explosives recently found near her family home — which she calls an assassination attempt.

You can listen along to some of the highlights in the embedded audio clips.


This interview has been translated from Spanish and edited for length and clarity.

THE RECAST: You grew up in El Cauca, a rural region close to Colombia’s Pacific coast, in a strongly Afro Colombian community. How has that influenced the way you think about politics?

MÁRQUEZ: I grew up in an ancestral land. When I say “ancestral,” I mean that we have occupied that territory as Afro-descendants since the 17th century. My ancestors were brought as slaves to work as miners and farmers, and ever since then, my forebears have fought to free themselves from slavery.

We grew up with that history, with my grandparents telling us: “This is the land of your ancestors, of ‘the ancient ones,’ and they passed it down to us.” My grandmother didn’t know how to read or write, nor did my grandfather, but they were really wise and they carried with them this history, which they also inherited from their forebears.

My ancestors kept on mining even after the abolition of slavery because they had no other choice. The slavers were compensated for freeing their slaves, but those who were enslaved, who toiled for years and years, were never paid. They were just freed and told to make a way out of no way.

That’s the history I come from — from that rebellious people who never accepted slavery.

We’re not descendants of slaves. We’re descendants of free people who were enslaved.

Those memories have been passed down from generation to generation. Each generation has had to fight for the land, for natural resources, for our biodiversity, for the riches that our territory holds.

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My grandmother also had to fight against development projects that were being imposed on the land in the ’80s, such as the Salvajina dam.

So, the forebears of my grandmother had to fight to wrest free from slavery; my grandmother had to fight against the development of the dam, which was going to impact their land; my mother had to fight so that the Ovejas River wasn’t rerouted toward the dam; and I had to fight to keep illegal large-scale mining out of the land, so they wouldn’t exploit our resources.

Each generation of my community has been in a constant struggle — for survival, for freedom, for the land. I’m not here today as the vice president of Colombia because of something that started three years ago. It’s because of a lifelong fight. My community and my family have fought for all their lives to live in peace, to live within their rights, to live with dignity.

Arms wearing bracelets of beads and seashells are crossed over a vibrantly patterned dress.

Sarah Blesener for POLITICO

THE RECAST: How did you decide to go into the political system, instead of continuing to organize outside of it?

MÁRQUEZ: I grew frustrated that in spite of my advocacy and my efforts I couldn’t get answers for my community in terms of stopping femicides and preventing the persecution of our social leaders. I felt powerless to see how leaders who fought like me were being killed. I expected that someday, it would be my turn.

I thought about Martin Luther King’s dream. Even though I’ve read a lot of Malcolm X’s writings, I listened a lot to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. [On Aug. 11, 2020,] there was a massacre in Cali, where five children went to a sugarcane plantation to grab some sugarcane — surely to have fun or because they were hungry, or just because that’s part of our culture. (We’re raised to be able to go grab fruit from a neighbor’s farm. It’s something that’s passed down through the generations, and it’s part of our culture as Black people.)

But when those children went to practice the same customs that they were used to doing in their communities, they were murdered [by civilians]. I felt a lot of pain and a lot of powerlessness.

I have two children, and I worried that they would meet the same fate.

Amid all that impotence I thought, too, about King’s speech, and I said, “I have a dream that one day our children won’t be murdered for picking sugarcane.” And that’s when I made the decision to run for office. I didn’t give it too much thought.

I have to admit, I rejected politics because of everything that I had lived through, because my community has always had to defend itself from the state. Even though they say that we’re all one nation, Black people, Indigenous people and farmworkers have been the most excluded and marginalized.

I didn’t want anything to do with the state or politics because the politics I knew didn’t make me feel proud of my people, of my country. It’s a politics based on corruption, based on violence, based on dispossession.

Francia Marquez stands peering to the side out of a window with shades.

Sarah Blesener for POLITICO

Taking a risk that I might get trapped in all of that, I decided to participate in the system and change it. I made the decision, then, to run for the presidency. After many political attacks and rampant racism, I ended up as Gustavo Petro’s running mate and we were both elected.

Politics isn’t easy. It’s hard. It’s not like I have changed much, but we’re planting a seed to grow a politics that’s different from what I have known, from what my parents knew, from what my grandparents knew.

THE RECAST: Tell us about your proposal for global and climate reparations. Does the United States have a role to play in that?

MÁRQUEZ: There’s no doubt that the United States has a role to play. The United States should be the first country to acknowledge that its global politics have helped keep Black people around the world and in Africa in a state of subjugation.

Countries that have participated in slavery and colonialism are the ones that have their Black population living without the barest of necessities, in a state of precarity. Those countries most responsible for colonialism and slavery are today’s developed countries, the world superpowers, which paradoxically also emit the most greenhouse gases.

The consequences of climate change are disproportionately affecting those populations that have withstood this systemic violence — Black people, Indigenous peoples and women. It’s also African and Caribbean nations.

Therefore, foreign debt forgiveness could be a necessary [route] for these countries to free up resources and invest those resources to improve the living conditions of those historically marginalized and oppressed communities.

The United States should be at the forefront of that policy. I know there’s been some reckoning, some conversations about acknowledging that this country is responsible for slavery and racism and now also climate change. But now it’s necessary to translate that reckoning into concrete action.

Francia Marquez and Antony Blinken stand side by side posing with a signed agreement in their hands.

Colombia’s Vice President Francia Márquez and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hold an agreement during their visit to Fragmentos Museum, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Bogota. | Pool photo by Luisa Gonzalez

THE RECAST: You’re part of Colombia’s first leftist administration. Some critics worry that there will be a humanitarian crisis in Colombia similar to Venezuela’s. How are you approaching that relationship?

MÁRQUEZ: We’ve made our policy clear. Venezuela is not our enemy; it’s our brother. The elite that used to govern Colombia cast Venezuela as our enemy, but for us that’s not the case. We have to lend a hand to our neighbors, not step on them to help them sink.

Indeed, Venezuela is having some economic problems, just as Colombia has had them other times. There’s been times when a lot of Colombians immigrated to Venezuela, when Venezuela was at its peak.

We can’t do the opposite now that Venezuelans are leaving due to the political and economic situations that the country is going through and put our foot on their necks, as the previous administration did. That’s not our policy.

Read the full Q&A in English here. | La entrevista completa en español está disponible mediante este link.


Mi gente: If you’d like to see more Spanish-language content in our newsletter, you can let us know at [email protected]. In the meantime, here are some reading, listening, and watching recs para el fin de semana. ¡Gracias por acompañarnos en este experimento!

DeSantis Bans Black History — POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury reports on the decision by Florida’s Department of Education to eliminate an advanced placement high school course on African American studies. The state has the second-largest Black population in the nation.

Give Me Your Tired — Ordinary Americans will be able to directly sponsor refugees entering the United States through a new State Department program announced Thursday, my colleague Kelly Garrity reports.

Yiyun Li’s “Wednesday’s Child,” part of her forthcoming story collection, traces the conflicted inner monologue of protagonist Rosalie as she grapples with the death of her daughter.

Marcela Guerrero, the first Whitney curator to specialize in Latino art, is behind the new exhibition “no existe un mundo poshuracán: Puerto Rican Art in the Wake of Hurricane Maria.” Discover her story here.

A$AP Rocky puts out a new track, “Same Problems?” — reflecting on violence and loss in the hip-hop community — and a reworked video for “Angels,” incorporating unreleased footage.

Bomani Jones mixes sports, politics and smart comedy in his second season of “Game Theory,” premiering tonight at 11 on HBO.

TikTok of the Day: Cuteness


He feeling himself 😭❤️

♬ Sure Thing (sped up) – Miguel

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