15 Sep Vivir Sabroso: New Leadership in Colombia
In August 2022, the new administration President Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez was inaugurated in Colombia. Several members of our VIVX team, from Colombia, reflected on this momentous change for their country with the following reflections.
Colombia proclaims itself, according to Article 7 of the Political Constitution, as a multiethnic and multicultural country where the state recognizes and protects the diversity of the nation. However, this same state has historically excluded the mistakenly named “ethnic minorities” and has crudely shown the systemic racism in which it black communities has lived.
After years of defending the territory and the great social outburst that broke out in Colombia in 2019 and 2021, the most powerful upheaval in our country’s recent history, Francia Márquez decided to run for president. She ran as as a way to discomfort and unveil the status quo, as a means of “putting her finger on the sore spot,” the open wounds in the skin and on the soul of the Colombian people. She did this without imagining that she would garner many vote which, in turn, would draw the attention of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, to appoint her as his vice presidential candidate.
To understand this context, since Colombia was proclaimed as an independent democratic republic in 1810, the political left (with which Petro and Márquez identify politically) has never governed.
One of the points against the left, and that made it lose credibility with the people was its affiliation with the Patriotic Union (UP). The UP was created in the mid 1980’s, after an agreement of Belisario Betancur’s government with the FARC, and after decades, the UP was almost exterminated at the hands of paramilitaries and other state agents. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and the National Center of Historical Memory has called this historical fact as a “genocide”, which left more than 5,700 victims, including leftist candidates Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in 1948; Luis Carlos Galán in 1989, and former M-19 leader Carlos Pizarro in 1990.
On the day of the presidential election, before leaving to vote, my husband and I listened to Gaitan’s speech. I cried because of what was about to happen, I left with a lot of hope and conviction for change and I thought: “We should all should refresh our memory!”
“The nobodies” are, as our Vice President Francia Márquez says, those people who have been systematically left out of the government’s decisions and have had to survive on the margins of society. “The nobodies” are those smiles of the Afro-Colombian, Palenquero, Raizal, Indigenous and other minorities equally abandoned by the state, those same people who came out to vote for change.
Thus was the triumph of progressivism in the peripheries, those departments far from the centralism of Bogota, which have allowed the country to have its first leftist president, thus ending more than two centuries of conservative, racist, classist and opportunistic governments.
There’s a bolero that was shared on social networks, after the result of the past elections of June 19, 2022 in Colombia. “THAT 19TH”, by Rhadames Reyes and performed by Daniel Santos which goes:
“What I want to tell you
There are dates in life that we can never
My soul knows
Lights my being
The 19th will be
The memory that will live in me
And that 19th was and will continue to be a very significant day for the vast majority of people who voted for Francia Márquez and her presidential candidate, Gustavo Petro. They represented those of us who took to the streets expressing our discontent with the government of President Iván Duque in 2021. We demanded better living conditions for communities of color, protection for human rights and environmental defenders, and acceptance of sexual diversities, youth initiatives, and the Colombian peasantry, “the nobodies” that Francia mentioned in her speeches.
This new political moment gives us a way to change the narratives from our cries of anger, to shouting out for hope, peace and reconciliation. It reminds us of the responsibility we have as citizens to work hard collectively, so that this becomes the lived reality of our country.
“I want to keep defending lost causes”
– El necio (The Stubborn) by Silvio Rodríguez
My grandmother comes from a very atypical and contradictory context for her time. She studied together with her two sisters at university. In 1967 she graduated in Social Work, my great aunts graduated in Nursing and Bacteriology. My grandmother was also the first (and perhaps the only one) of her close circle to get divorced–which was a scandal at the time because “what God joined together, man cannot separate.”
For as long as I can remember, she has exercised her right and duty to vote and always dresses up for the occasion with an elegant suit and red lips. She never tells us who she is going to vote for nor does she ask us, but these past elections were the exception (well, and those of the plebiscite for peace).
One day when I went to visit her she told me that in the WhatsApp groups she has with her friends they were spreading false information about possible scenarios that would happen if Gustavo Petro won. “Mija, I get tired of telling them that he is not going to expropriate anything, I’ve been watching the same people stealing for years, they are expropriating us,” she told me, laughing.
My grandmother lived during the time of what in Colombia was called “La Violencia,” an accurate name for an accurate moment that defined the course of our country. In her town, Girardota, a priest would ask them if they were liberals or conservatives to know if he could confess them. My grandmother married my grandfather, they had six children, one after the other. My grandfather, as a good “paisa male”, was unfaithful and even had another family. My grandmother, in an act in my opinion revolutionary for its time, told him to go with his new family. One day she told me that what hurt her most was knowing that she married someone who never loved her.
This story may seem a bit scattered, but it was necessary for me to honor my grandmother and all that she has done. On May 29, 2022, when they announced that Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez would be the new president and vice president of Colombia, the first person I called, in tears, was my grandmother, who was also in tears.
Perhaps she does not know that with her actions–more than with her words–she has given me lessons in dignity, that same dignity that served as a mantra in speeches given repeatedly by Francia and Gustavo. Dignity, which we all hope will be put into practice and become a habit rather than just a theme in a campaign.
To my grandmother, thank you for giving me the possibility of imagining different worlds.