Who was the first and only black president of Colombia?
Juan José Nieto Gil was the first and only black president in the history of Colombia.
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Between January 25th and July 18th, 1861, Juan José Nieto Gil was the first and only black president in the history of Colombia. All the presidents who exercised power during that period (1858-1863) were recognized as presidents of this country, except him.
At that time, the territory now called Colombia was part of the Grenadian Confederation, which also included Panama.
Juan José Nieto Gil was a Cartagena native of humble origins who had the intellect and leadership to guide the people in times of civil wars. However, despite his efforts, he is little remembered and does not even appear in books.
Nieto was described by historian Orlando Fals Borda as a man "stocky, with light brown skin (or dark wheat), greenish wattle eyes, straight and broad nose, thin lips, arched eyebrows and half-curly black hair".
One of his great achievements was that on May 21st, 1851, he decreed the abolition of slavery in the northern coast of Colombia and that is why that date is now known as 'Afro-Colombian Day' in the country.
"It is the day on which the odious title of lord and slave has disappeared from among us. None of our brothers will wear around his neck the powerful, the black, chain of servitude," Nieto said on that occasion according to several investigations.
A portrait of the president with his black features was unveiled by the then president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, in August 2018, to be included in the gallery of former presidents, at the Palacio de Nariño.
Nieto Gil passed away in 1866.
Why was he erased from history?
"He was never accepted by the Cartagena elite for being mulatto, but at the same time his importance could not be denied; then they had to somehow make him white to be able to 'present him in society'," explained historian Moisés Álvarez, director of the Cartagena History Museum, to the newspaper El Tiempo.
For Gonzalo Guillén, what was done with Nieto is a sign of the "enormous racism of this country".