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

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

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Esteban Sinisterra Paz, a 23-year-old fashion designer hailing from the conflict-torn and impoverished Pacific region of Colombia, hadn’t started his career long when he received a call from a long-time client.

Francia Márquez – the famous environmental activist and Colombia’s first black woman elected vice president – was on the line and wanted two dresses made.

“When I got her call, it was great, because it wasn’t just about me or her, but our whole community,” said Sinisterra, an Afro-Colombian who runs the bespoke 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.'”

The designer Esteban Sinisterra Paz in his studio in Cali, Colombia

Designer Esteban Sinisterra Paz: “Nobody like us and France has never been taken into consideration, but now we know we can achieve so much”. Photograph: The Washington Post / Getty Images

Sinisterra and millions of other voters granted his wish on the evening of June 16, when Gustavo Petro, 62 – a former guerrilla and former mayor of Bogota, the capital – won the presidency after a long and bitter campaign to wrest power from the country political elite. When Petro takes office today, it will be the first time that the conservative South American country will be ruled by a leftist.

Her campaign was bolstered by the addition of Márquez, 40, to the ticket, who made headlines around the world when she became Petro’s running mate in March. Like Petro – who in his youth was a member of the now defunct M-19 rebel group – Márquez is seen as an outsider. Much of his support often comes from not being a typical politician, fair-skinned, and rich political and business stock.

“Their victory made me really believe in democracy,” Sinisterra said. “No one like us and France has never been taken into consideration, but now we know we can achieve so much when we work together.”

Márquez, a single mother and former domestic worker, won the prestigious Goldman Award 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 was displaced by Colombia’s conflict with left-wing rebel groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), which have disrupted the countryside for decades, killing over 260,000 people and forcing seven million people to leave. 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 inaugurate the development of rural communities, but instead other armed groups – left and right in ideology, but united by their involvement in drug trafficking – have moved and are now push for the territory.

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

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

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

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

Petro, known for a massive ego and bossy style, will also have to manage his vice president, who commands his own support base and is a political newcomer not used to the deals often required in the halls of power.

“Márquez is an activist used to asking for things that are often impossible,” said Sergio Guzmán, director and co-founder of Colombia Risk Analysis, a local consulting firm. “So the question is, how long will he 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, it represents a rare opportunity to promote the rights of Colombia’s poorest, who celebrate his intention to establish a ministry for equality.

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

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