What Colombia’s First Black VP Really Wants from the United States

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 re-routed 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.

Rodríguez: Amid all those fights, you decided to go to law school and to become a lawyer, a profession guided by rules and norms. Now, you’re in a position working within the trappings of the state. What is your relationship to activism now that you’re working within the government and not organizing outside of its structure?

Márquez: I became a lawyer to wield the legal system’s tools. As a community, we didn’t speak the language of the institutions. They would tell us of a “right to petition” and we didn’t know how to access it. They would speak of “administrative review,” which in fact were eviction orders against our community, because the state had given the land away to multinational companies, choosing to protect corporations over communities. So I said, “I’m going to study the law to understand, to fight and to struggle.” And I have fought and struggled to defend my community to the point where my life and those who surround me have been at risk, because we have confronted power.

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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 president. 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.

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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.

Rodríguez: Now as a vice president, do you continue facing those racist attacks? Just two days ago, your security team foiled an assassination attempt. How are you processing that, and do you feel like that has to do with your race and gender?

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