Colombian activist Francia Márquez denounces the living conditions of black and indigenous communities and the plundering of their natural environment.
Francia Márquez continues to pay a very expensive toll to denounce the abuses suffered by the black, indigenous and peasant communities in Colombia. She is the target of those who want to silence her for coming out against the extremely poor conditions of these groups and against the plundering of their surroundings, with the consequent environmental impact that it entails. As the Goldman Prize winner, the ‘Green Nobel’, and observer in the peace talks with the FARC, she is one of the most authoritative voices to talk about the great challenges facing one of the countries with the highest socioeconomic inequality rate in the world. She spoke about it at the Casa Amèrica Catalunya, which recognized her with the Joan Alsina Human Rights Award.
Protests spread across Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador … What spark has ignited in South America?
What has Latin America in the street has to do with many kinds of violence: murders of social leaders, indigenous people, blacks and rural communities. It has to do with a classist, racist and patriarchal state that does not guarantee rights. With the injustices of the judicial system and with an economic model of development that has put the life of the planet at risk. It has to do with a young population that no longer believes the politicians and who are against the policies imposed by this economic model of development.
11 generations are required to get out of poverty in Colombia. Do you have faith that this revolt is the fuse that transforms the country?
We will not wait 11 generations to make the change or the planet will no longer exist. Change is now and the people are doing it. Young people and children are getting it. It begins with changing the conscience, recognizing the privileges of a few Colombian families that have profited in the name of the State, trampled on the dignity of the great majority and without respecting the territory. They see it as a simple object that can be exploited to accumulate capital.
“We will not wait for change or the planet will not exist. Young people and children are getting it.”
Feminism is rising strongly in South America and is exported throughout the world, with complaints that show discontent goes beyond the economic.
The future is also feminist, but it must be built from diversity. White feminism is thought from a logic that denies the existence and struggle of other women who are not necessarily white. Black and indigenous women, who do not have the privileged conditions of other women. They violate us all for being women, but violence does not occur in the same way. We must go to a community feminism, black and inclusive, that fights against patriarchy, against racism and capitalism. Where women do not go on one side and men on the other. A feminism of family, of men, children and women, and in which we transform the [. . .] violence with which we were educated.
You have suffered several attacks. And almost 500 social and environmental leaders have died since the agreement with the FARC, 2016. Who wants to silence them?
The economic system and politics. Colombia, sadly, is a country that has done its politics using violence. Physical and symbolic violence. The exclusion and dispossession of the earth and the humanity of the people. Who violates people is a state run by certain social sectors. They declare me a military target, not because I am Francia, but because I denounce together with communities and peoples the large-scale mining that is destroying our house, which poisons our territory. An economic model of development kills us because they use armed actors to get us shot or, simply, the State does not offer the necessary conditions for people to live with dignity.
“White feminism denies indigenous and black feminism. Violence is not the same for all”
How has the life of indigenous and peasant communities changed since the peace with the guerrillas was signed?
The indigenous community and the peasant community are always talked about but the existence of black people is denied. We are 10 million in Colombia, but the 2005 census, which was badly done, said we are 4 million. And now it says we are two million and something! It is a political intention to deny the existence of black people in Colombia so as not to invest in the community. It is part of structural racism.
Peace has not reached those communities. It has stayed in the bureaucracy. We continue to put the dead in the ground and demand a real peace. From the institutional perspective, the only peace it is interested in is arriving with its megaprojects and plundering resources.
Paradoxically, the withdrawal of the FARC seems the worst news for the preservation of precious natural sanctuaries.
Effectively. If peace is not thought of as a way to transform the economic model and transform the policy of death, it is a failed peace, because the war in Colombia began with inequality. A peace that does not resolve the structural situations that gave rise to the armed conflict will not be lasting. But the government thinks that peace is the abandonment of weapons by an armed sector and that’s it, but not peace as a way of transforming the conditions that gave rise to the armed conflict. In addition, peace must also be with the environment and the territory.
When the influence of climate change deniers such as Bolsonaro and Trump is added to economic power, how can activism stand up to that?
Unity is what will allow to these people to be confronted. They show themselves as monsters and giants, they have economic and military power, but in reality they are few. Society must rise against the tyranny of these presidents. Just as they globalize their economic model we must globalize resistance. If not, many leaders will surely continue to die, but the policy will not change. People make change with the vote. There are people who let their vote be bought, who are fooled by political speeches and the manipulation of the media.
“Tyrannical leaders globalize the economic model and we must globalize the resistance”
What do you think of the Greta Thunberg phenomenon?
I appreciate everyone’s struggle to take care of the planet and it is impressive when it comes from a girl like Greta. However, she is not the only girl in the world raising her voice and we must not forget the privilege she has. She does not raise her voice in the middle of an armed conflict, like many children in Colombia. Black and indigenous children facing multinationals on the land. They do not have the same possibility of being heard. The difference between Greta and those Colombian children is that she can be criticized, but they will not kill her, as they would in Colombia with the youth who dares to raise their voice like her.
You accuse patriarchy of the process of destruction of the planet. How does it strike power to see the one raising her voice against its interests is a woman and African American?
The destruction of the planet is the fault of patriarchy but also of racism and classism. And it is the fault of the culture of consumerism in which we were educated. It is not easy for me, a black woman, to tell President [Iván Duque] to his face that he is a liar. That ends in repression and stigmatization … Those who defend life end up being prosecuted, threatened or killed. Daring to say that is a threat and costs a lot for an Afro-descendant woman like me. But you have to dare to come out against what we consider unjust. And if that costs us our lives, then we came to this world for something.
Featured image: The Colombian human rights activist and defender France Márquez, this Monday, at Casa Amèrica Catalunya. / MANU MITRU
Translated by JRE/EF