Publish date 09-08-2021
Francisco Vera Manzanares, 11, Colombian environmentalist, UN and EU ambassador.
“There is no" planet B ". If even a child can understand it, how can adults not do it? " The question is only apparently trivial. Especially if it is formulated, with the high-pitched voice of childhood, by an 11-year-old child whose height - one meter and a half - is inversely proportional to awareness, maturity and commitment. Francisco Vera Manzanares has long been an environmental defense veteran. In 2019, when he was in elementary school, he created, together with six friends, Guardianes por la vida. It all started with a protest in front of the town hall of Villeta, a town 90 kilometers from Bogotà. Now in the group there are 220 children from all over Colombia but also from Mexico and Argentina, gathered with the purpose of increasing the environmental awareness of citizens and asking the rulers to take urgent measures in defense of the life of human beings and the planet.
Francisco also participates in the Fridays for future, of which he is the national spokesperson and, at the end of each procession, collects the rubbish he finds on the street. He is also the goodwill ambassador of the UN and the European Union in his country. Even the Senate called him to hear his opinion on ecological policy. And he barely attends sixth grade.
The press has nicknamed him “Greta's little brother” but he doesn't like comparisons: «Everyone is a person unto himself. I deeply respect Greta Thunberg, what she does is important, however she and I live in very different contexts ». Colombia is, according to Global Witness, the most dangerous country in the world for environmental activists. In 2019 64 were murdered, last year another 53. Not even the 11 years have protected Francisco from being threatened via social media: it happened on January 15 last. The affair caused not only a national outrage. President Iván Duque guaranteed maximum efforts in finding those responsible, while the UN High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, sent him a letter of praise and support.
Yet Francisco defines himself as a child like many others. In the morning he does his homework, in the afternoon he attends classes and when he can he rides a bicycle, plays on the Internet at Maingraf, walks his dog, Pinky, kicks the ball with his friends who, he repeats, are many. "I don't feel different from my peers because I care about the survival of the people I love," he says. To support him in his commitment to him, it is above all his family, as he always remembers. "They support my activism and my dreams." Francisco, however, points out: “I don't play a script written by my parents. They gave me the tools to understand. I am the one who chooses what and how to do it ».
His mother and father, in particular, passed on to him the love for books, thanks to which he was able to realize the very serious climate crisis in progress. “I live in a small town, surrounded by the Andes, the houses all have a small piece of land where hens roll and yucca is grown. Just outside the center there are clearings, woods and streams, where many animal species live. I grew up observing them and I learned to love them. I started by defending their rights and then, slowly, reading and reflecting, I realized that it was not enough. Because there can be no life for them or us on a planet destroyed by global warming. Now I read everything but above all philosophy and physics, as well as social sciences. I'm interested in what happens and I can't stand injustice. " Among the readings of this little boy there is also the Laudato si 'by Pope Francis, a precious source of inspiration, together with the Poverello of Assisi, whom he considers a model. "He Pope Francis is right when he exhorts us to build an integral ecology, that is, an ecology that respects the environment and the people who live there. Guarding the common home means protecting my life, yours, everyone's. In the evening I say prayers with my mother and, each time, I thank God for the gift of living. It is the most precious thing we have. We are not just the future. We are on this planet now and we have a duty to protect it now. I have also read All Brothers, whose appeal to universal brotherhood is not limited to human beings, it includes every living creature. We often think that problems always concern others, confined to parts of the world too far away to touch us.
Covid has proven us wrong. An epidemic that broke out in China has spread everywhere. The same happens with climate change: it puts life at risk here in Latin America as in Europe or in the US, only more slowly ». To make his contribution to solving national and international problems, Francisco would like to take part in the elections one day and be elected president of Colombia. Even if he is not in a hurry. «First - he concludes - I would like to finish school and specialize in astrophysics. Then, we'll see what happens. "
A country without peace
Colombia has a very ancient history. The first human settlements date back to 4000 BC. Indigenous peoples come into contact with Europeans after the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, the Spanish conquistadors largely use force to subdue and exploit them. Bogotà was founded in 1538, while African slaves began to arrive in the port of Cartagena de Indias. Between continuous uprisings and ferocious repressions we reach 1821, with Greater Colombia, including the territories of today's Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama, which then become independent states. Modernity aggravates the conflicts between social strata, up to the civil war. A famous strike that caused the "masacre de las bananeras", 3 thousand dead, a crime also remembered by Gabriel García Márquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Decades of political alternation between liberals and conservatives followed, until the foundation in 1964 of the FARC - Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - Army of the People, a guerrilla movement operating from 2008 to 2017, when they agreed to disarm themselves by handing over their weapons to the United Nations . However, a thousand dissidents remain who in 2019 announced the return to armed activity.
“I don't play a script written by my parents. They gave me the tools to understand. I am the one who chooses what and how to do it ».
NP Aprile 2021