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After electrifying Colombian voters, Francia Marquez makes history

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Colombian voters made history in June, electing the nation's first leftist president, Gustavo Petro. His running mate, Francia Marquez, also broke barriers by becoming Colombia's first Black vice president. From Bogota, Reporter Manuel Rueda brings us this profile of Marquez.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCIA MARQUEZ: (Non-English language spoken).

MANUEL RUEDA, BYLINE: Francia Marquez electrified voters throughout Columbia's campaign season with her frank and often poetic speeches. And on election night, she did it again in a packed arena in front of thousands of supporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARQUEZ: (Non-English language spoken).

RUEDA: This time, she was making history as Colombia's first Black vice president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARQUEZ: (Non-English language spoken).

RUEDA: "This is the government for people with calluses on their hands," she said, "the government for the nobodies of Colombia." The 40-year-old comes from La Toma, a tiny village in the west of Colombia surrounded by mountains. She was a single mother at the age of 16 and had to clean homes to support her daughter. From an early age, she was an outspoken environmental activist. But eventually, that activism meant she was forced to leave her village, like so many other victims of Colombia's armed conflict.

GIMENA SANCHEZ: She somebody who's coming from, I guess, the uneducated, the illiterate or people who - where education is just not an option for them.

RUEDA: Gimena Sanchez is the Andes director for the Washington Office on Latin America.

SANCHEZ: She also represents a Colombia that has been under threat and has had to live in the midst of armed conflict for years and survive within all of those complexities, which is a lot of areas within Colombia.

RUEDA: The vice president will most likely be heading a new government department called the Ministry of Equality, working to develop economic and social programs for women, indigenous people and Afro-Colombian groups. For Afro-Colombian activists, like Susan Carabali (ph), Marquez's election vindicates decades of struggles.

SUSAN CARABALI: (Non-English language spoken).

RUEDA: "For us, it's a great achievement to have her there," she says. "It's a big step towards making changes that will enable us to live better, like having access to clean water, to quality education, securing our rights to our lands." Marquez's path to the vice presidency was hard-fought. Last year, with almost no funding, she launched an independent presidential campaign but lost to Petro in a primary.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT GUSTAVO PETRO: (Non-English language spoken).

(CHEERING)

RUEDA: But the politician was impressed and picked her as his running mate. Political analyst Sergio Guzman says this was a savvy campaign move. It helped Petro to increase his voting tally among women and in Afro-Colombian regions.

SERGIO GUZMAN: By picking her, he also forced the other campaigns to think, really, about not only the diversity aspect, but the inclusion aspect, because the ticket with Francia Marquez became a much more representative ticket of what the country is, of how the country looks.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Francia.

RUEDA: On Election Day, these groups voted for Petro and Marquez in large margins. Less than a week later, at a more somber event, her place in history is being officially recognized at a ceremony to certify the results.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

RUEDA: Expectations will be high for both Marquez and Petro, who have promised to reduce social inequalities. To do that, they'll have to raise taxes on the middle class, a move that will be met with resistance that will likely spill out on the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RUEDA: For now, the celebrations continue. But soon, the real test of both Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez's leadership begins.

For NPR News, I'm Manuel Rueda in Bogota.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOTO LA MOMPOSINA Y SUS TAMBORES SONG, "CHI CHI MANI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Manuel Rueda