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“Becoming an environmentalist wasn’t a personal choice for me. Society Itself must become environmentalistic if we hope to survive” — a conversation with Francia Márquez
Meet the activists who wants to challenge the status-quo and build a new sustainable society
We had the honor of speaking with renowned environmental activist and vice presidential candidate Francia Márquez about the dangers of being a land defender in Colombia, what the future holds for environmental challenges in Colombia, and what she would do if she attains the second highest political office in the country in elections Sunday.
The following correspondence was obtained as part of a journalistic investigation for Sierra magazine. We believe the communication deserves publication in its entirety.
Pirate Wire Services: Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world to be a land defender. As a social leader who has faced attacks and threats against your life, how do you think the government can implement programs to reduce these risks?
Márquez: Everything is linked. Without justice there is no peace: without peace there is no tranquility or respect. They say that when two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers, and this is true. If war stalks us and our natures, we are like the grass, we get trampled and the elephants don't even realize it is happening. Therefore, stopping the war is fundamental. And afterwards we need to look at how the economic fruits of the nation can be better distributed, how we attend to the social demands of the nation, and how we can satisfy the essential needs of the population. Eradicate hunger. Eradicate illiteracy and unemployment. Eradicate preventable diseases and will be left with a healthier and wiser society. These are the challenges. This is how we diminish our weaknesses and avoid foolish risks. And only in this manner can we be prepared as a society to face the incredible global challenges posed by the climate crisis and the destruction of our biodiversity. In order for defenders of nature to face fewer risks, society itself must become a defender of nature.
PWS: Why did you decide to become an environmentalist?
Márquez: The defense of the environment is not a personal decision, it is an inherent to the the culture and survival strategies of all people. My African ancestors brought much of their wisdom to America; It wasn’t merely enslaved bodies that arrived here, but also free and creative spirits; the women arrived with their seeds tangled in their hair; men and women came with their mining, agricultural, medical and spiritual skills.
Surviving under the conditions of slavery, surviving in new worlds of oppression, surviving in strange new geographies, required a lot of imagination and creativity and knowing how to construct livelihoods— caring for nature, seeds, waters, herbal medicine, ritual and musical sounds, food and preparation methods: also wisdom in caring for the environment and the community.
Our environmentalism is not only about caring for nature, it is about nurturing the community and the stewardship of culture. Society is beginning to recognize what being a defender of the environment means and this is a result of society seeing what we have done as a culture. Ancestral peoples constitute (make up?) today's responses to environmental challenges. The change belongs to society and to the values that society recognizes. I did not become an environmentalist. Society is becoming environmentalistic. Young people and women are becoming environmentalists, even companies are becoming environmentalists. I pray change will be quick, because these problems [we face] will not wait..
PWS: As vice president, what would you do to continue this fight?
Márquez: What I would do is encourage a change in values, encourage an ethic of caring for life to spread throughout all of society. Encourage society to learn and live beautifully. For that to happen we need more seeds, better agricultural practices, more caretaking for forests and for the people that inhabit them. [We need] better caretaking for the waters and the life they harbor. And for all of that, we need more social justice, more environmental justice, more racial justice, and more gender justice.
All of this is possible if we assert ourselves in a profound process of peacebuilding. Making amends is the first and most important challenge. Because what if we win the elections and the actors of war do not allow us to govern?. In that case, everything would slip away from us into mere illusions. Peace must be made first. That is our first commitment and then we must fulfill the agreements of the peace accord, so that these amends finally become a reality.