Francia Marquez and the Black Women’s Mobilization of La Toma #BlackLivesMatter

FRANCIA MARQUEZ MINAS Transcript | In Defense of Life and Ancestral Territories

I came here to UMASS to tell people about the struggles of Back women in Cauca and in Colombia. Which is a very sad situation because the majority of our ancestral lands are being destroyed.
On the one hand they are being handed to multinational corporations for mining, and on the other hand they are starting with large scale agriculture and infrastructure projects. In addition to the armed conflict that we have been living through we women are the ones who are bearing the largest brunt to displacement because of the war, and most of us are heads of households. And for us the future of our sons and our daughters is very uncertain.
And that’s why I came here to talk to professors, students, people more broadly to talk about the reality that we are living in Colombia that is often not known here.

Q. Talk a little bit about the walk from La Toma to Bogota

For us as black women this is the first time that we did a mobilization of this sort. It was very difficult to make the decision to start walking because women were afraid. They had never walked in protest before. And the men were also not very supportive of the women walking. There was only one professor who was encouraging the women to walk. So when the moment came and we had to make the decision very few of us wanted to do it. So I told them, “if you don’t want to come, I will just walk by myself with my two sons”. So then they started saying “I will join, I will join” and 15 of us joined at the beginning.
But I was also worried and afraid that there wasn’t more of us. When we arrived at […] The next day there were 50 of us. And there were a lot of men who constituted the Maroon Guard, who were protecting us along the way. Along the way some of them wanted to go back. And the young men said “don’t worry, we are here with you, we will protect you.” So then we thought of strategies so we wouldn’t feel sad or fearful and we could keep going.
Then different media outlets started showing up to talk to us but the women were afraid to talk to them. There was a very formative process along the way where people said they were very proud of the women and that encouraged the women and it empowered them to speak. In some places there were very small children, like three years old, who would come dance for us and sing for us. There were elderly people, crying and saying that they were very proud of what we were doing, and we were very brave, and that encouraged them even more. They felt more important.

By the time we got to Bogota there were 130 of us. I felt very happy. When we entered the presidential house there were 22 of us and the rest waited outside. A lot of people brought us food, some organizations brought us money, a lot of black youth from Bogota brought their drums – there was a lot of solidarity. And that supported us throughout the time we were there. Every day there was a different media outlet – spreading the news on the radio. On the t.v. even the mainstream media outlets which often twist around the news were transmitting the news of what we were doing. When we went into the government building and we didn’t have any blankets then some congress members arrived to tell the ministers that she should let the blankets pass, in. There was one other woman who was there, a presidential candidate, Clara, she helped get the blankets inside. And on an international level people started sending us messages. and they started to tell the government that they should not lay a finger on women.
And while we were inside we could see the messages that people were sending. And from there we also learned about the black lives matter movement in the U.S. And we saw their message, that black lives matter – it was a beautiful experience. The young men of the Maroon guard went through an educational experience. Because everywhere we went someone would offer a place to sleep, food, sometimes there were unions, sometimes women’s organizations, sometimes when we had arrived they had already made food for us, t shirts, it was amazing. Unfortunately we made some agreements with the government, and they committed to fulfilling those agreements so we would leave – this has only been one more promise. Because the mining companies are still in our territories destroying everything. And as soon as we returned several of the women, their lives were threatened.
The different armed groups identified the women as snitches and threatened their lives. So I myself had to leave my territory. And I am very frustrated.
I no longer know what the future holds for my community and the people of Northern Cauca. And when I come here I am doubtful of whether people are going to go and do something or whether they just came and heard and clapped and left and went will go on with their lives. Whenever I am speaking I am thinking about that. Wondering whether my message is as strong and loud and clear to move people’s hearts and to move them into action. Because the truth is we can’t do this alone, the enemy we are confronting is a monster. And we need the solidarity and the work of very many people in order to confront this situation.

The Black Lives Matter: La Toma solidarity committee is currently working to raise funds to support the community of La Toma in purchasing a truck so that they will be able to sell their food in the city of Cali and have more financial stability.

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