By Benjamin Norton – May 17, 2022
The top vice presidential candidate for Colombia’s May elections, Francia Márquez, called out the US government for meddling in the electoral process. The left-wing activist criticized the war on drugs, militarization, and “free trade,” calling for land reform and reparations.
The vice presidential candidate for the leading ticket in Colombia’s May elections has accused the US government of meddling in her country’s internal politics to hurt the left wing.
Francia Márquez is an activist from the grassroots social movements of the Afro-Colombian community. She is the vice presidential candidate for the left-wing Pacto Histórico (“Historic Pact”) coalition, whose presidential candidate Gustavo Petro is leading by double digits in major polls in the weeks before the May 29 vote.
Márquez criticized the US ambassador to Colombia for publicly claiming that Russia, Venezuela, and Cuba are trying to sabotage her country’s election.
“Although [the US ambassador] did not mention the Pacto Histórico, although he did not mention Gustavo Petro, it is obvious that he was referring to our candidacy and our political campaign,” Márquez said.
“This is a direct intervention by the government of the United States through the ambassador in the elections,” she stressed.
She also called out the US government’s double standards, noting that Washington maintained “absolute silence” when the top general in Colombia’s military violated his country’s constitution and meddled in its electoral process by openly attacking the leading presidential candidate, Petro.
“I think they keep silent on certain things, but they speak out and publish statements on others, and I think that is not an impartial attitude. I think that that is a very negative message for Colombian democracy,” Márquez said.
She called for the US government to show “respect” and “neutrality” to Colombia.
Márquez made these comments in the heart of Washington, DC itself, at an event organized by the United States Institute of Peace, an influential US government-affiliated think tank.
The institute’s May 13 forum featured vice-presidential candidates for Colombia’s May elections, and was livestreamed on the organization’s YouTube channel.
The event also featured prominent figures from the Woodrow Wilson Center and Atlantic Council, two highly influential US government-funded think tanks in Washington.
Leading Colombian vice-presidential candidate criticizes US free-trade deal, militarization, drug war
Because Francia Márquez was speaking in the heart of Washington, she made sure to reassure the audience many times that a Colombian government under her leadership would seek to maintain close relations with the United States.
But despite her diplomatic reassurances, Márquez was strikingly blunt about her vision for a much more progressive Colombia.
She proposed a political model directly opposed to what she called the “ultra-right-wing” Uribista movement, which has dominated Colombian politics for two decades, since the rise to power of former president Álvaro Uribe, who is deeply involved in drug trafficking and paramilitary groups.
Márquez even called out Washington’s double standards toward her country.
She criticized the free trade agreement signed between the US and Colombia, noting it has weakened the South American nation’s economic sovereignty, hurt domestic agriculture, and made it reliant on food imports.
“I think there is a need to do a bilateral review of the deal, and an evaluation of the impact in these 10 years since the signing of the free-trade agreement between Colombia and the United States,” she proposed.
Márquez pledged her government would prioritize strengthening Colombia’s sovereignty, especially its food sovereignty by boosting internal agricultural production.
Warning about the horrific rates of violence in Colombia, especially targeting grassroots activists, Márquez likewise denounced the militarization of her country via Plan Colombia.
The US-sponsored war on drugs has been a failure, she emphasized, that “has served in Colombia to leave dead people in our lands and economic resources in the banks of the financial system.”
She argued that organized crime and the drug trade must be treated as social problems, with roots in poverty and a lack of opportunities.
Márquez said the country should move toward the legalization and commercialization of drugs, to remove this key generator of violence, while also strengthening the economy and providing jobs for people in the countryside.
Colombia needs much more “social investment,” Márquez stressed. She promised to spend more money on public education, healthcare, and programs to combat climate change.
In her remarks, Márquez called for “distributive justice” and “historical reparations” for marginalized communities in the country, such as Afro-Colombians and Indigenous peoples.
The vice-presidential candidate pushed back against the idea that “polarization” is the problem in Colombia, arguing that this narrative was created by the people who have governed for decades. The real issue, she said, is that Colombians have been oppressed by the wealthy economic and political elites.
She even announced that Colombia would re-establish formal diplomatic relations with Venezuela, if the Pacto Histórico wins the election.
Her running mate, presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, has been extremely critical of Venezuela in his public statements and speeches. But Márquez made it clear that Colombia would still have formal diplomatic relations with its neighbor, stressing that this is necessary to stabilize the region and strengthen the economy.
‘This is a direct intervention by the US government through its ambassador in the elections’
Given the environment, at a US government-sponsored think tank in Washington, surrounded by US government operatives, Francia Márquez was careful to emphasize that her administration would maintain good relations with the United States. But she was also willing to criticize Washington.
“We know about lobbies created by the ultra-right-wing here in the United States to, first of all, disinform,” she said.
Márquez noted that this ultra-right-wing has spread numerous false claims about her, Gustavo Petro, and the Pacto Histórico.
Among them, she explained, is “the story of ‘Castrochavismo,’ and making the United States believe that Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez coming to power is a threat for Colombia.”
“I think that the real threat is Uribismo, which has kept us subjugated for 20 years to an insecurity that has only resulted in deaths, that has only fueled the armed conflict,” Márquez argued.
“It was not Gustavo Petro, or Francia Márquez, or the Pacto Histórico that opposed peace in Colombia. It was not our movement that was opposed to peace in Colombia. Those who decided to tear peace to shreds in Colombia is this government.”
That government, led by current right-wing President Iván Duque, “comes here and speaks kindly in the United States. It comes here to push its politics,” she said.
But “the reality is that every day we are dealing with death in Colombia,” she contrasted. “The reality is that every day social leaders are buried. The reality is that every day youth are killed in Colombia. The reality is that femicide does not stop.”
Márquez continued: “And that is what has us worried, because that narrative has been echoed here. And we saw a statement by the ambassador of the United States government, of President Biden, say that they had information about possible funding and meddling by the governments of Russia and Venezuela in the elections in Colombia.”
The US ambassador, Philip Goldberg, warned in an interview on May 12 of potential “interference by Russians, Venezuelans, or Cubans in the elections.”
Márquez condemned these comments, stating, “Although [the US ambassador] did not mention the Pacto Histórico, although he did not mention Gustavo Petro, it is obvious that he was referring to our candidacy and our political campaign.”
“This is a direct intervention by the government of the United States through the ambassador in the elections,” she emphasized.
Márquez also criticized the US government’s double standards in its public comments on Colombian politics.
In April, the top general of Colombia’s military, Eduardo Zapateiro, who is closely affiliated with the right-wing, violated the neutrality that the armed forces are supposed to maintain by openly on Twitter attacking left-wing presidential candidate Gustavo Petro.
Márquez pointed out that the US embassy was silent about this flagrant military attack on the integrity of the elections.
I have “a worry about the US government’s silence about the armed forces in terms of the message sent by General Zapateiro, in the sense that that message violated the political constitution, in that military officers cannot participate in politics in Colombia,” she said.
“And there is absolute silence, no? I think they keep silent on certain things, but they speak out and publish statements on others, and I think that is not an impartial attitude. I think that that is a very negative message for Colombian democracy,” Márquez warned.
She then called for Washington to show more “respect” and “neutrality” in regard to Colombia.
“What are the values that I think should be strengthened in the relationship? First,” Márquez said, “is the value of respect, the value of recognition, the value of being able to build in the middle of difference.”
“For years in our country, difference was a reason to exterminate the other. Those who thought differently were killed. Those who raise their voice, in terms of difference as in opposition, are stigmatized, are threatened, are killed. That cannot be the logic of a democratic government,” she explained.
“I think that, on the contrary, democracy implies a discussion of difference and building with difference. And that I think is a value that must be rescued, that must be strengthened, in a relationship with the US government. I think it’s respect, no? And neutrality is important as well, in the sense of, if we don’t like views, well we have to build with diversity, with difference.”
All the war on drugs did is ‘leave dead people in our lands and economic resources in the banks of the financial system’
Francia Márquez harshly criticized Colombia’s so-called war on drugs, which was sponsored by the United States.
“For years the relation” between the United States and Colombia “has been based more in terms of the war on drugs. And that I think has been a failed policy,” she said.
Márquez summarized the failure of this policy: “Drug trafficking, as we say colloquially, has served in Colombia to leave dead people in our lands and economic resources in the banks of the financial system.”
“I think a great challenge is first to recognize that the anti-drug policy has failed in Colombia,” she explained. “And strengthening that relation implies setting out another approach on how to deal with the problem of drugs in Colombia.”
“We have said, the approach is the path toward legalization, which involves changing the use of the coca leaf and marijuana in terms of industrial and pharmaceutical production, in food industry production, in textile industry production derived from the hemp of coca and marijuana.”
“And there is also the approach of racial justice, understanding that the profiling of the anti-drug policy, here in the United States, has been done from a racial perspective. It is black Americans who are put in prison here for consuming drugs. And in Colombia it is indigenous and black people, too, who are hurt by the anti-drug policy.”
“Having an approach of racial justice implies, in this path toward legalization, treating the problem of consumption as a public health problem, not as a problem of criminality. Because it is impoverished young people, who are racialized, who are stigmatized, who are targeted, who are persecuted for consumption, but it is not treated as a health problem.”
Part of the move toward legalization and formal commercialization of drugs would necessarily involve land reform, Márquez explained.
“We were talking about the need to move toward the legalization of drugs as a path to get rid of that incentive for violence, of drug trafficking as a motor that generates violence in Colombia, and creating economic conditions, strengthening the productivity of the Colombian countryside is a challenge.”
“That involves infrastructure. That involves recognizing the rights of the Colombian peasantry. That involves discussing the topic of land concentration.”
“I know there are sectors that don’t like that,” Márquez acknowledged. But she stressed that “the first point of the peace agreement about comprehensive agrarian reform, I think that will be a point that will help in terms of distributing the land for families to access it.”
“I think strengthening the productivity of the countryside, creating stabilization funds for the commercialization of products from the Colombian countryside, is going to contribute enormously to reducing the violence.”
“When there is more poverty and deprivation, there is more violence. People are not going to let themselves die; the people use what they have at hand. And sadly, the people who are more vulnerable end up in those dynamics of violence, as a form of survival in a country as unequal as ours.”
“So we need to deal with the structural situations that involve security, which is not simply an issue of a military perspective or police perspective.”
Colombia is ‘over-militarized’; the root causes of violence must be addressed
“For years the approach for how to deal with security in Colombia has been from a militarist perspective, from a policing perspective,” Francia Márquez explained. “So when they talk about insecurity, what they do is militarize the territories where that violence is generated.”
“And the experience has been that, with greater militarization there is greater violence, because of the corruption, because of the collusion between the armed elements of the state and organized crime,” she said.
“I think the main part of the question that we always ask is why, if there is such a militarized presence of the state, are these systematic and structural acts of violence committed all the time in those territories?”
What is needed is instead “an approach that understands calamities that generate the violence,” Márquez argued.
“For us, the violence cannot be stopped if hunger is not stopped. The violence cannot be stopped if there are not conditions of dignity for Colombians. And that involves strengthening production. That involves restoring national productivity, in both agriculture and nacional industry, the creation of jobs.”
“There are many youths who are being co-opted by armed groups, who first don’t have access to education, and second don’t have access to a dignified job in Colombia.”
Márquez named Colombian territories that she argued are “over-militarized,” where social movement leaders and youth are killed every day, such as Buenaventura and Cauca.
“We have major concerns about the security in our country, right now in the political struggle,” Márquez continued.
“Both Gustavo Petro and I have had our democratic rights limited in the campaign. At numerous times, we have had to stop the campaign, to not go to territories.”
The violence of paramilitary groups has affected “nearly all of the candidates,” she noted.
“Our country has suffered. We have enormous problems in our country. Our people are dying of hunger.”
She called for the Colombian government to abide by the peace agreement it signed with the former rebels of the revolutionary socialist group the FARC in 2016. The right-wing administration of current President Iván Duque has systematically violated the deal.
Márquez likewise said the government should have a peace dialogue with the ELN, another socialist guerrilla group.
She demanded an end to support for paramilitary groups, which have fueled the violence.
“Fear has silenced us in Colombia. It has not allowed us to express ourselves. It has not allowed us to participate,” Márquez said.
“We have had 213 years of a state that has served only the elites, who have governed us and excluded us, and not only excluded but have fueled a policy of violence against social leaders, against ethnic peoples, against the rights of women and youth.”
The first step toward transforming this political order “involves recognizing the historic structures of oppression and exclusion,” Márquez stressed.
“The moment has arrived for Colombia to be an autonomous people that can define itself.”
Featured image: Colombian vice-presidential candidate Francia Márquez, of the left-wing Pacto Histórico coalition.
Benjamin Norton is the founder and editor of the independent news website Multipolarista, where he does original reporting in both English and Spanish. Benjamin has reported from numerous countries, including Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Colombia, and more. His journalistic work has been published in dozens of media outlets, and he has done interviews on Sky News, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now, El Financiero Bloomberg, Al Mayadeen teleSUR, RT, TRT World, CGTN, Press TV, HispanTV, Sin Censura, and various TV channels in Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Benjamin writes a regular column for Al Mayadeen (in English and Spanish). He was formerly a reporter with the investigative journalism website The Grayzone, and previously produced the political podcast and video show Moderate Rebels. His personal website is BenNorton.com, and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton.