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Francia Márquez 1981

Environmental activist and leader of the African-Colombian communities

Francia Márquez

Francia Márquez Inaki Makazaga

Francia Elena Márquez Mina was born in 1981 in Suárez, in the northern part of the Cauca department of Colombia. She was 15 years old when she decided to join the protests against the government of Colombia, which planned to deviate the river Ovejas toward the Salvajina dam. The huge project would impact the ancestral land of the African-Colombian communities very negatively, eliminating their ethnic and cultural identity.

In 2009 Francia started a process of struggle and resistance to prevent 6,000 people of her communities from being expelled from the land, which the government had handed into a transnational enterprise for mining purposes. Márquez thus filed a lawsuit against it “for the violation of basic rights”, documenting that the earliest presence of the community dated back to 1636, and the Constitution recognized the right of the indigenous people, farmers and descendants of the African people to reside in their own land. After one year she won the lawsuit and therefore the government was ordered to comply with the land property rights, block the resettlements and hold a preliminary consultation to assign the mining rights. Nonetheless, the illegal extraction started to block the region. In 2010 the first excavators arrived, carrying the first illnesses due to the increase in the level of mercury in water. In the following years, over 2,000 machines perforated the riverbed in search for gold. After consulting with the international organizations, Márquez decided to act. In 2014, together with other 18 women, she started the “mobilization of the black women for the protection of life and ancestral lands”, that would be later recalled as “The march of turbans”. They walked from their territory to the capital, visiting along the road other communities on their road to extinction. In 10 days they walked for 350 kilometres, reaching Bogota with the complete support of 150 women. The institutions welcomed them, but nobody showed an actual commitment to changing the situation. So they decided to camp in a “permanent assembly” in front of the Ministry of the Internal Affairs and the State’s President’s office. The government accused them of “threatening the national security”. But no one dares touch them. The domestic and international media follow the progress of Francia’s protests. Thus, the government is compelled to find a deal and publicly ordered to destroy all machinery that has perforated the region.

Marquez in 2015 received the Colombia National Prize and she was invited to take part in the peace process in La Havana. Nonetheless, ever since her name has appeared along with the signatures of the protesters against the government in 2010, Francia has not ceased to receive threats. Therefore she had to flee and continue to fight far from her country of origin. Thus she undertook a tour throughout Europe as an international reference point. In April 2018 in Paris, she received the Goldman Environmental Prize, for defying the illegal extraction and the construction of dams in her countries. “Europe’s privileges rely on the plunder of other countries,” said Francia “we ask you to put your development into the service of the life of our communities. They are killing us, it is a genocide”.

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