The 23-year-old fashion designer who dressed Colombia’s first black female vice president.Columbia

Esteban Sinistera Paz, a 23-year-old fashion designer from a poor, conflict-ridden Pacific region in Colombia, was in the early days of his career when he received a call from a history-making client.

Francia Marquez, a well-known environmental activist and Colombia’s first black woman vice president-elect, answered the phone and asked me to make two costumes.

“It was amazing when she called me. Sinisterra said. “This is a story written by all those who were excluded and ignored, but who one day stood up and said, ‘We want change for our community.'”

Designer Esteban Sinistera Paz at his studio in Cali, Colombia
Designer Esteban Sinisterra Paz: “We and people like Francia weren’t taken into consideration, but now we know we can achieve a lot.” Photo: Washington Post/Getty Images

Sinisterra and millions of other voters announced on the night of June 16 that Gustavo Petro, 62, a former guerrilla and former mayor of the capital Bogota, had launched a long and intense campaign to seize power from the country. Later, when he was elected president, he got his wish. political elite. Today, when Petro becomes president, it will be the first time a conservative South American country has been ruled by a leftist party.

His campaign has been strengthened by the addition of Marquez, 40, to the ticket. Marquez made headlines around the world when he became Petro’s running mate in March. Like Petro, who was a member of the now-defunct M-19 rebel group in his youth, Marquez is seen as an agitator outsider. Much of her support often stems from not being a typical politician, being fair-skinned, and having wealthy political and business stocks.

“Their victory made me really believe in democracy,” Sinisterra said. “We and people like Francia weren’t considered, but now we know we can achieve a lot if we work together.”

A single mother and former domestic worker, Marquez received the prestigious Goldman Award in 2018. Recognized for his work against gold mining in the village, he led 80 women on a 350-mile march to Bogota.

Like Marquez, Sinisterra was ousted by Colombia’s conflict with leftist rebel groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc). Farc has ravaged the countryside for decades, killing over 260,000 people and displacing 7 million people from their homes. Other insurgent groups, including the still active National Liberation Army (ELN), state-aligned militias and Colombian security forces, have also committed atrocities.

A peace deal signed with Farc in 2016 was supposed to spearhead the development of rural areas, but instead other armed groups – ideologically left and right but united by their involvement in the drug trade – have moved. and are currently fighting over territory.

Sinisterra was forced to flee his home in the southwestern Colombian state of Nariño as a boy when fighting between rival groups became too intense. “There were so many armed men around me that I didn’t even know which one was which, but my family knew we had to leave,” said the designer. was one of the few young Colombians who managed to escape the war.”

According to the designer, Marquez’s outfits are brightly colored and patterned, reflecting her Afro-Colombian heritage. “Red is what I use when I want to create an impact of feminine strength from the Pacific,” she says. “Francia was so focused on her struggle that she never really had an aesthetic of her own. She worked with her to create her aesthetic without losing her essence.” It was wonderful to be able to do it.”

Despite marginalized communities and a surge of support for Marquez and Petro in many cities, the pair will face an enviable array of challenges in the office.

Inflation is rising along with the national debt, cocaine production is at an all-time high, neighboring Venezuela continues to be plagued by an economic crisis, and refugees flee to Colombia every day.

Known for his towering ego and intimidating style, Petro will also have to manage a vice president.

“Marquez is an activist who is used to demanding the often impossible,” said Sergio Guzman, director and co-founder of local consultancy Columbia Risk Analysis. “The question is how much patience will she have with Petro to deliver on his promises of rural reform, economic justice and renegotiating the free trade deal with the United States?”

But for Marquez’s supporters, she represents a unique opportunity to advance the rights of Colombia’s poorest.

Yasira Bond, a young Afro-Colombian activist, said, “Francia has long decided to keep people like her out of sight, becoming the country’s first black deputy to pay attention only to white men.” President,” he said. “Now the panorama is wide open.”

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