23-year-old fashion designer dresses Colombia’s first black female vice president | Colombia

Esteban Sinisterra Paz, a 23-year-old fashion designer from Colombia’s conflict-ridden and impoverished Pacific region, had just started his career when he received a call from a customer who made history.

Francia Márquez – the famous environmentalist and Colombia’s first black female vice president-elect – was on the line and she wanted two outfits made.

“When I got her call it was amazing because it wasn’t just about me or her, but our entire community,” said Sinisterra, an Afro-Colombian who runs the custom label Esteban African. “This is a story written by everyone who was shut out and ignored, but one day stood up and said, ‘We want change for our community’.”

Designer Esteban Sinisterra Paz in his studio in Cali, Colombia
Designer Esteban Sinisterra Paz: ‘No one like us and Francia was never considered, but now we know we can achieve so much.’ Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images

Sinisterra and millions of other voters got his wish on the evening of June 16 when Gustavo Petro, 62 – an ex-guerrilla and the former mayor of Bogotá, the capital – won the presidency after a long and bitter campaign for power from the political elites. . When Petro takes office today, it will be the first time the conservative South American country has been ruled by a leftist.

His campaign was boosted by the addition of Márquez, 40, to the ticket, who made headlines worldwide when she became Petro’s running mate in March. Like Petro—who was a member of the now-defunct M-19 rebel group in his youth—Márquez is seen as a bloated outsider. Much of her support often comes from not being a typical politician, being fair-skinned, and wealthy political and corporate stocks.

“Because of their victory, I really believed in democracy,” Sinisterra said. “No one like us and Francia was never considered, but now we know we can achieve so much if we work collectively.”

Márquez, a single mother and former housekeeper, won the prestigious Goldman Prize in 2018 for her activism against a gold mine in her village after leading 80 women on a 350-mile march to Bogotá.

Like Márquez, Sinisterra has been displaced by Colombia’s conflict with left-wing rebel groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FArc), which have plagued the countryside for decades, taking more than 260,000 lives and displacing seven million people from their homes. Other rebel groups, such as the still-active National Liberation Army (ELN), state-aligned paramilitaries and Colombian security forces have also committed atrocities.

A peace deal signed with Farc in 2016 would herald the development of rural communities, but instead other armed groups — left and right in ideology, but united by their involvement in the drug trade — have withdrawn and are now fighting for territory.

As a young boy, Sinisterra was forced to flee his home in Colombia’s southwestern province of Nariño when fighting between rival groups grew too fierce. “There were so many armed groups around, we didn’t even know which one it was, but my family knew we had to leave,” the designer said. “I was one of the few young Colombians who managed to escape the war.”

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The designer said Márquez’s outfits, brightly colored and patterned, reflected Afro-Colombian traditions. “Red is what we use when we want to create that impact of a Pacific woman’s power,” Sinisterra said. “Francia never really had her own aesthetic because she was so focused on her struggle, so it was great to work with her to create one without losing her essence.”

Despite the tidal wave of support for Márquez and Petro in marginalized communities and many cities, the couple will face an unenviable set of challenges in the office.

Inflation is rising along with the country’s national debt, cocaine production is at an all-time high and neighboring Venezuela is still in an economic crisis, with refugees fleeing to Colombia every day.

Known for skyrocketing ego and stubbornness, Petro will also have to lead his vice president, who commands her own rank and file and is a political newcomer unaccustomed to the deal-making often required in the halls of power. .

“Márquez is an activist used to often demanding impossible things,” said Sergio Guzmán, the director and co-founder of Colombia Risk Analysis, a local consultancy. “So the question is, how long will she have patience with Petro to deliver on his promises of rural reform, economic justice and the renegotiation of the free trade agreement with the United States?”

But for Márquez’s supporters, she is a rare opportunity to advance the rights of Colombia’s poorest, who celebrate her intention to establish a ministry for equality.

“Francia is the first black vice president of a country that has long decided to make people like her invisible and only pay attention to white men,” said Yacila Bondo, a young Afro-Colombian activist. “Now the panorama is wide open.”

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