VP Francia Márquez’s angers Colombians over helicopter commute

VP Francia Márquez at the Munich Security Summit. Photo: Presidencia.

Colombian Vice President Francia Márquez delivered resounding statements to her fellow citizens during a video interview with Semana journalist Vicky Dávila. In the video that has been circulating on social media, the country’s first Afro-Colombian VP was asked why she commutes to work every day in a Black Hawk helicopter at an expense of COP$60 million (US$12,000) per hour of flight time. Márquez resides in Dapa, Valle del Cauca, some 460 kilometers West of Bogotá, flight that in a state-of-the-art helicopter takes over one hour.

“If I were white and a member of the elite, they wouldn’t be making a scandal about it,” stated Márquez. “It’s normal for elites, born in their golden cradles, to be transported in these aircraft,” she added.  Márquez also justified her daily commute with a military escort given security risks against her life.  “For the elites it’s not normal that a woman who worked as domestic help in a family home, and now Vice President of Colombia, moves around in a helicopter.”

The issue-at-large, and one that has Márquez facing a barrage of criticism, was her final remark in which she scoffed at the expense to taxpayers, and the government’s daily expenditure for her transport. “Well, too bad! They can cry… they can shout. I’m not sorry!” was her refrain.

Colombia’s VP Francia Márquez lives in Dapa, Valle del Cauca.

Márquez’s Marie Antoinette style of tackling domestic issues belittles her role as an Afro-Colombian activist who championed environmental issues. As the media legitimately raises concerns that COP$60 million pesos per-hour in personal transportation could be allocated to building schools in some of the most impoverished regions of the country, the country’s second-in-command responds with the equivalent of “let them eat cake” – words coined by the 18th Century monarch who did not fare well with France’s starving masses.

The use of her words “de malas” (or too bad) has a stronger connotation in Spanish than in English. It’s a phrase that could substitute “go jump in the lake,” or used in a more vulgar context. The reactions from many Colombians of Márquez’s pedantic statements have not paused on social media. Opinionator and investigative journalist Daniel Briceño @Danielbricen tweeted early Tuesday: “Good morning. How did Colombia’s elites wake up this morning?”

Bogotá mayoral candidate Luis Ernesto Gómez, and former Government Secretary to Mayor Claudia López, wrote the following: “We Colombians who elected her Vice President @FranciaMarquezM expected a change to the arrogance and lack of historical empathy of the ruling class. Her words in this interview are more of the same. What a disappointment.”

Even one of the country’s most admired caricaturists Matador @Matador000 put down his illustration pen to express the following: “Vice President @FranciaMarquezM your lack of humility is evident with “they can shout” or “they can cry.” As a government official, you must ensure the proper use of public resources, an hour of flight in a Black Hawk costs 60 million pesos. You criticized the elite, and do the same.”

Others were less moderated in their condemnation of the Vice President, among them the verified Twitter profile of “La República” with more than 74,000 followers. “There’s that trauma that certain people have if they are criticized, or victimize themselves because of the skin color or social stratum. I criticize Francia not because she is black, but because she is resentful, and full of hate.”

As the fall-out of Márquez’s interview with Semana continues, beyond the issues of race, class, social standing and who really are “elites” in Colombia – past and present – the Vice President’s defiant remarks reveal an inherent animosity by many senior government officials to the media, and above, public opinion. This, at a critical time, in which the government should show restraint with cost-cutting measures (without putting anyone’s life at risk, of course) after having passed hefty tax reform legislation, and new reforms to health and pensions that could potentially flat-line the financial solvency of the nation.