By Isabel Morales
Colombia’s presidential elections are approaching, and the months leading up have been turning points for the country. Contrary to many Latin American countries, Colombia has never had a left-wing president. This is partially due to Colombia’s brutal history with guerilla warfare and conservative views—factors that are deeply ingrained in the nation’s past (Osborn, 2022). Now, Gustavo Petro, a current left-wing senator and former mayor of Bogotá, is the front-runner in the elections. He recently secured the left-wing Pacto Histórico (Historical Pact) coalition’s nomination and won about 80 percent of the votes for presidential candidate within his coalition. This shift in political attitude might not be very surprising, but it is a drastic change considering the country’s right-leaning political past. This switch is attributed to many factors present in Colombia such as economic inequality, the COVID-19 pandemic, increased violence, Venezuelan migration, and violent protests (Londoño et al., 2022).
Besides Petro’s lead in the election polls, a bigger turning point is the recognition and support for Afro-Colombian figures, such as Francia Márquez. Recently, Petro chose Márquez to serve as vice-president if he were to win. Francia Márquez is an Afro-Colombian activist and the winner of the 2018 Goldman Environment Prize (Valencia, 2022). She has devoted her life to protecting her people’s ancestral lands and advocating for the rights of Afro-Colombians and Indigenous communities. After being nominated for vice-president, she said, “How could I not cry, if I represent the Black women of this country?” (Daniels, 2022). This is a historic act that challenges Colombian politics which has traditionally been influenced by upper class white men. However, what is most emblematic about her nomination is that she has been receiving a significant amount of support from younger populations. This is reflected in the number of votes she received during the voting primaries, in which she surpassed important presidential candidates such as Sergio Fajardo (ElTiempo, 2022).
In a country where racism and colorism are the norm, the support Márquez has gotten is a sign of hope for a more inclusive future. Colombia has one of the largest Afro-Colombian populations in Latin America and has the third highest Black population outside of Africa (Carrillo, 2022). Though the Colombian government estimates that Afro-Colombians make up around 10.6 percent of the population, the U.N. estimates they make up around 25 percent, and the Colombian Department of Planning estimates that the percentage is between 19 and 26 (Bratspies, 2020). This uncertainty in the true percentage is a result of a lack of research, which is simultaneously reflective of the lack of attention and recognition Afro-Colombians receive on the daily. However, many Colombians continue to argue that racism does not exist or is not a problem in the country. In a debate with Márquez, general José Luis Esparza, the vice-presidential candidate of Ingrid Betancourt, stated that as a soldier he spent time with many Afro-Colombians and never felt that there was an issue of racism. Márquez responded to this statement saying, “part of denying racism is not recognizing it, those who feel racism are the ones who are affected by it” (Semana, 2022). The mentality that racism does not exist in Latin America is part of the idea of mestizaje. Believing that racial mixture is the main national identity and that therefore everyone is equal, is used as a mechanism to overlook the inequalities and racism that Afro-Latinos. The fact that most Latin Americans do not recognize that racism exists in Latin America is reflective of the deep-rooted discrimination in the region. Several Colombian politicians and citizens heavily doubt whether Márquez is fit to help lead the country. For many, this is due to racist and conservative beliefs like the one mentioned before (Nieto, 2022). Whether Márquez is truly fit to be vice-president, what is certain is that she brings a crucial mindset of inclusion, anti-racism, environmental value, and social justice that is breaking barriers in Colombia. Therefore, it is important to recognize the positive changes she is fostering in Colombia and the visibility she brings to most of the country whom she calls the “nobodies.”
Márquez has received criticism for using inclusive language or for saying “los nadies” (nobodies), with people claiming her use of the Spanish language is incorrect. However, besides having to explain the importance of inclusive language, she also purposely says “the nobodies” to convey an important social issue. The term “los nadies” is taken from a poem by Eduardo Galeano, a famous Uruguayan writer and journalist, called Los Nadies (The Nobodies). The poem is about the people who are “nobody” or invisible to society such as Afro-descendants, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, and those living in poverty (Ángel, 2022). Galeano’s poem reflects the reality that many marginalized Colombians face, and it is them who Francia Márquez wants to bring visibility to.
Los Nadies (The Nobodies) by Eduardo Galeano
Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog, and nobodies dream
of escaping poverty: that one magical day good luck will
suddenly rain down on them- will rain down in buckets. But
good luck doesn't even fall in a fine drizzle, no matter
how hard the nobodies summon it, even if their left hand is
tickling, or if they begin the new day with their right foot, or
start the new year with a change of brooms.
The nobodies: nobody's children, owners of nothing. The
nobodies: the no ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits,
dying through life, screwed every which way.
Who don't speak languages, but dialects.
Who don't have religions, but superstitions.
Who don't create art, but handicrafts.
Who don't have culture, but folklore.
Who are not human beings, but human resources.
Who do not have names, but numbers.
Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the
police blotter of the local paper.
The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them
Ángel, R. (2022, March 29). Colombia: «Mayoras» and «los nadies», the expressions for which they attack Francia Márquez on social networks. El Ciudadano. https://www.elciudadano.com/en/colombia-mayoras-and-los-nadies-the-expressions-for-which-they-attack-francia-marquez-on-social-networks/03/29/
Bratspies, R. (2020). ‘Territory is Everything’: Afro-Colombian Communities, Human Rights and Illegal Land Grabs – Columbia Human Rights Law Review. Columbia Human Rights Law Review. http://hrlr.law.columbia.edu/hrlr-online/territory-is-everything-afro-colombian-communities-human-rights-and-illegal-land-grabs/
Carrillo, K. J. (2022, March 31). Francia Márquez—campaigning for Colombia’s vice-presidency. New York Amsterdam News. https://amsterdamnews.com/news/2022/03/31/francia-marquez-campaigning-for-colombias-vice-presidency-and-to-change-a-nation/
Daniels, J. P. (2022, March 23). Colombia could elect first female vice-president as poll leader names pick. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/23/colombia-francia-marquez-first-black-female-vice-president-candidate
ElTiempo. (2022, March 14). Francia Márquez: el fenómeno político de estas elecciones. El Tiempo. https://www.eltiempo.com/elecciones-2022/presidencia/francia-marquez-como-logro-una-votacion-tan-alta-en-elecciones-658092
Londoño, E., Turkewitz, J., & Milhorance, F. (2022, January 5). Leftists Are Ascendant in Latin America as Key Elections Loom. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/04/world/americas/leftists-elections-latin-america.html
Nieto, M. A. (2022, March 26). Todas, todos, todes. Revista Semana. https://www.semana.com/opinion/articulo/todas-todos-todes/202200/
Osborn, C. (2022, March 18). Colombia Elections 2022: Could Gustavo Petro Become the Country’s First Leftist President? Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/03/18/colombia-legislative-elections-presidential-primaries-gustavo-petro/
Rico, D. (2011, December 9). “Los Nadies”/” The Nobodies” by Eduardo Galeano. Holy Waters. https://holywaters.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/los-nadiesthe-nobodies-by-eduardo-galeano/
Semana. (2022, March 30). Francia Márquez: El racismo en Colombia existe y es estructurado por el Estadoâ, durante debate vicepresidencial. Semana: Noticias de Colombia y el Mundo. https://www.semana.com/semana-tv/semana-el-debate/articulo/francia-marqu...
Valencia, R. (2022, January 31). Francia Márquez, Renowned Afro-Colombian Activist: What Environmental Racism Means To Me. Earthjustice. https://earthjustice.org/blog/2019-august/francia-m-rquez-renowned-afro-colombian-activist-what-environmental-racism-means-to-me