Shirlene Green Newball
This past June, presidential election was held in Colombia, a South American country. It marks a milestone in Colombia because it is the first time the leftist party is in power, and the first time a black woman became the vice-president. Her name is Francia Márquez Mina.
Francia Márques is from the Cauca region, which is in the southwestern part of Colombia. She is 40 years old and comes from a humble background. Márques was a maid, lawyer, environmental activist and Afro-rights activist. Márques stressed on many occasions that she was running for the presidential office “because our governments have turned their backs on the people, and on justice and on peace” (New York Times, 21.06.2022).
Before becoming the vice president of Colombia, Márquez was as aforementioned, an energetic environmental activist in her region. In 2014, her community was jeopardized by illegal mining and the construction of a dam in the Cauca region over the primary river named Las Ovejas, thus she was the leader to inspire and mobilize 80 women from La Toma to march to Bogota to protest in front of Congress over both projects. In the end, the government was forced to meet with the community and later agreed on abolishing illegal mining. Marquéz and the group of women’s action ignited awareness among the population in other regions of the country where illegal mining was also an issue.
In 2018, she was awarded the Golmad Environmental Prize 2018 for her work in the community and the environment. This same prize was received by Berta Cáseres 2015, who was a Honduran environmental activist, a year after she was murdered.
Even though Colombia has a large percentage of Afro population, the news output has shown that not everyone is happy with Márques being in position. During her presidential campaign, she was exposed to racism and classicism, however, these issues were not a barrier for her, because she went ahead and won. Historically, Colombia has been governed by elites and white individuals, but now there is a change of representation in the government with a black woman who comes from a poor family.
While Francia was campaigning in Colombia, not far away Epsy Campbell Barr, vice-president of Costa Rica, Central America was leaving her position. She was the first black female to assume this position in Costa Rica and in the Latin American region. She was the vice president of this country from May, 2018 to May, 2022.
Moreover, Campbell is one of the co-founders of the Costa Rica Citizen Action Party (PAC). Before becoming vice president Campbell was a congresswoman for two terms, and an advocate for African descent people, and woman rights at the local and regional levels.
I met Campbell before she became vice president, while I was working at the Afro Caribbean, Afro-Latin, and the Diaspora Women Network. At a conference, I heard her speak for the first time, and it was clear that she had the talent to be a leader and a good speaker. Years, after she became the vice president of Costa Rica. During those years she fights against racism and relentlessly advocates for the Afrocostarican population.
On the 25th of June, 2022 Campbell tweeted a photo of her and Francia Márquez, saying they will work together.
Both Márquez and Campbell as leaders, being black, and female, play a pivotal role for women’s empowerment in the Latin American region and further abroad. They have done and are still doing their part. We can join them from our community, workplace, and organizations.
This is not the beginning, it’s the continuation of what our ancestors had given to us, thanks to many powerful black women we are at this standing point today. Thanks, Harriet Tubmam, Matilde Lindo and others.
Name a powerful black woman you know!
Data about Colombia and Costa Rica
- 10.5 % of the Colombian population is black.
- 7,11 % of Costa Rica’s population is black.
Source: Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadísticas (DANE) and a report from the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECAC). The percentages are based on the 2010-2011 census.
The New York Times
Goldman Enrivonmental Prize