The 23-year-old fashion designer dressing Colombia’s first black vice president

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Esteban Sinisterra Paz, a 23-year-old fashion designer from the impoverished and impoverished Pacific region of Colombia, not long ago began his career when he got a call from a historic client.

Francia Márquez – the renowned environmental activist and Colombia’s first black woman elected vice president – ​​was at stake and wanted two clothes made.

“When I got the call from her, it was amazing because it wasn’t just about me or her, it was about our entire community,” said Sinisterra, an Afro-Colombian who runs the bespoke record label Esteban African. “This is a story written by all those who were excluded and ignored, but one day they 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 were ever taken into account, but now we know we can achieve a lot.’ Photography: The Washington Post/Getty Images

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

Her campaign was bolstered by the addition of Marquez, 40, to the ticket, who made headlines around the world 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 an incendiary outsider. Much of his support often stems from not being a typical, fair-skinned politician with a rich political and business background.

“Their victory made me really believe in democracy,” Sinisterra said. “No one like us and Francia were ever considered, but now we know we can achieve a lot when we work collectively.”

Márquez, a single mother and former maid, won the prestigious Goldman Award in 2018 for her activism against a gold mine in her village, having led 80 women on a 350-mile march to Bogotá.

Like Márquez, Sinisterra has been displaced by Colombia’s conflict with leftist rebel groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which have plagued the countryside for decades, claiming more than 260,000 lives and forcing seven million 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 agreement signed with the FARC in 2016 was supposed to bring development to rural communities, but instead, other armed groups – left and right in ideology, but united by their involvement in the drug trade – moved and now are vying for territory.

Sinisterra was forced to flee his home in Colombia’s southwestern province of Nariño as a child when fighting between rival groups escalated. “So many armed groups were around, we didn’t even know which was which, but my family knew we had to get out,” said the designer. “I was one of the few young Colombians able to escape the war.”

The stylist said that Márquez’s colorful and patterned clothes reflect Afro-Colombian traditions. “Red is what we use when we want to create this impact of the strength of a woman from the Pacific,” Sinisterra said. “Francia never had her own aesthetic because she was so focused on her struggle, so it was great to work with her on creating one without losing her essence.”

Despite the outpouring of support for Márquez and Petro in marginalized communities and many cities, the duo will face a number of unenviable challenges in office.

Inflation is rising along with the country’s national debt, cocaine production is on the rise and neighboring Venezuela remains mired in economic crisis, with refugees fleeing to Colombia every day.

Petro, known for an imposing ego and arrogant style, will also have to manage his vice president, who commands her own base of support and is a political newcomer unaccustomed to the compromises often demanded in the halls of power.

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

But for Márquez’s supporters, it represents a rare chance to advance the rights of Colombia’s poorest, who celebrate his intention to create a ministry for equality.

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

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