On January 22, Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient and renowned Afro-Colombian activist Francia Márquez published a statement to the newly sworn-in Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris. In powerful words echoing Afro-Colombian and Indigenous commitment to an inclusive peace in Colombia, the letter underscored how peace has yet to reach ethnic territories and “Afro-Colombian and Indigenous people are tired of being in the midst of violent confrontations”. Márquez expressed profound concerns about structural racism, the ongoing assassinations of community social leaders and former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the operations of illegal armed groups, environmental exploitation, militarized counternarcotic policies, police brutality, and an “indolent government” that has failed to respond to the countless recommendations it has received from ethnic communities.
Márquez requested direct communication with Vice President Harris to help ensure the United States’ continued commitment to an inclusive peace in Colombia. Support from the United States can help manifest the collective rights of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous peoples who have acutely suffered the lasting effects of armed conflict.
Below is the full English translation of the letter.
The original Spanish-language letter is here.
Santiago de Cali, January 22, 2021
Mrs. Kamala Devi Harris
Vice President of the United States
I would like to begin by congratulating you on the historic step you just took. Becoming the first African-American woman Vice President of the United States is an achievement that brings hope to many women and people around the world. We recognize that this great moment is in part due to the historic efforts initiated by anti-racist social movements, and in particular, by women like Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and many others who paved the way for a more just, anti-racist, and anti-patriarchal society. I wish you and President Joe Biden every success in your administration, hoping that you will implement policies focused on the quality and care of life that guarantee human dignity and world peace.
My name is Francia Elena Márquez Mina. I am an Afro-Colombian woman and grew up in the Cauca department, in an ancestral territory located in the Pacific region of Colombia. Sadly, the region is stricken by armed conflict, structural racism, and lethal policies imposed by political leadership that has governed with its back to the most vulnerable communities in the country. The elite that rules and governs this State has obtained its wealth from the death, corruption, misery, and fear it has sown into Colombian society, maintaining us in the shameful status as the most unequal country in the region. Inspired by the struggle of my ancestors to fight for freedom, to recover their “stolen dignity”, and to protect and preserve their territory as a living space, I became an environmental activist and human rights defender, alongside the Black Communities Process of Colombia (PCN) and the elders of the communities who have taught me that “dignity has no price” and that “to resist is not to endure”.
Currently, I am President of the National Council for Peace, Reconciliation and Coexistence, a platform for ongoing dialogue and civil society participation. The platform serves as an advisory and consulting body to the National Government on these serious matters, as well as safeguards human rights protections. We have made countless recommendations to President Iván Duque Márquez to protect the lives of social and environmental leaders and former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who have been systematically murdered in Colombia. Likewise, we have recommended that he provide collective protection assurances for rural and ethnic communities, seek negotiated solutions to the armed conflict with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group, and advance the dismantlement of paramilitarism and all armed groups that continue to put the lives of our people at risk.
I am convinced of the need to make proactive and well-needed efforts to protect our lives, human rights, peace, and our country’s environment. Today, I dare to write you this letter, in the hope that it will be read by you, in order to establish a conversation that will allow us to coordinate the necessary actions to take care of life from a place rooted in maternal love and a common instinct of empathy.
For decades, the United States has invested in Colombia’s anti-drug policy with programs such as Plan Colombia, which have visibly resulted in increased human rights violations. Policies of forced eradication have been failures, as they have only served to worsen the humanitarian conflict in the country, primarily, in the territories of Afro-Colombians, Indigenous and impoverished peoples. We have the hope that during your administration, the economic resources that the United States allocates for anti-drug policies in Colombia can be used more effectively to support productive initiatives for sustainable livelihoods and of good living, voluntary illicit crop substitution programs, and autonomous communities who courageously decided not to plant coca in their territories despite pressure from armed groups.
Afro-Colombian and Indigenous people are tired of being in the midst of violent confrontations, and of seeing our rivers and lands become cemeteries and mass graves. We do not want to live confined or banished from the territories where we were born. Even in the midst of the pandemic that affects humanity today, the “stay-at-home” orders have not been an option for hundreds of families who have had to flee due to armed conflict in their communities.
As a social leader, it hurts to witness the daily assassinations of leaders, who like me, have raised their voice against the state of affairs. Through the work carried out by the Truth Commission (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento), it has been painful to witness the testimonies of Black Indigenous women who were not only sexually violated by armed men but also branded as was done in the time of slavery. It has been painful listening to mothers sing praises and write poetry to ease the pain of losing their children to the armed conflict. It is painful to know that economic conglomerates partner with illegal armed groups to banish and eliminate us.
I am sure that the majority of the people who voted for you and for President Biden did so in hope of taking the knee off of the necks of African Americans in your country. Police brutality is prevalent in our countries and needs to be eradicated with decisive actions that can be enforced under our leadership. As Afro-Colombians and Indigenous peoples, we suffer the same situation; those who have imposed armed conflict, lethal politics, gender-based violence, structural racism––they keep their knees on our necks. They do not let us breathe. They murder us every day.
We face an indolent government that promises not only to shatter the dream of allowing those of us who suffered the consequences of war to live in peace, but that also refuses to hear the desperate cries of children like the son of social leader María del Pilar Hurtado, who was murdered in front of him in 2019. We consider 8 million victims enough to turn the page of violence and achieve a complete, stable and lasting peace with social justice. Our children and grandchildren deserve a Colombia in peace.
“Restoring the moral leadership of the United States around the world”, as you put it, implies a U.S. commitment to guaranteeing peace, the protection of social leaders, the eradication of racism and patriarchy, and the protection of the environment in Colombia and the world. We are aware of the support under the vice presidency of today’s President Joe Biden to the peace accord during its negotiations in Havana, Cuba. This U.S. support was realized through the Colombia Peace Plan and defined the Ethnic Chapter of the accord. However, given the State’s omission to peace accord implementation, we request that this be a priority for you, in order to manifest the collective rights of the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous peoples who have historically suffered the lasting effects of armed conflict.
I kindly request to establish permanent communication and conversation with you, on behalf of civil society organizations in Colombia, in order to contribute to the unification of peace in Colombia.
I am because we are (“Soy porque Somos”)
Francia Elena Márquez Mina
National Award as Human Rights Defender 2015
January 25, 2021