Human rights activist and political scientist Marcia Alexandra Santacruz Palacios was born in Puerto Tejada, northern Cauca, Colombia, an area exploited by mining companies and whose largely poor Africa-descended population has resided for four centuries alongside indigenous peoples. Aware of the long history of neglect by the national government and the use of violence by outside interests to intimidate inhabitants of the region, Palacios was attracted to the study of psychology, politics, and society. She attended at La Universidad de Manizales, one hundred miles northwest of Bogotá, and Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia. From 2000 to 2005, she was a professor at Universidad del Pacifico in Buenaventura, Colombia, teaching psychosocial welfare and personal growth management. She next focused on peace education at the Paulo Freire Institute in Berlin, Germany, and then earned her master’s degree at Spain’s Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM) where she also pursued the doctorate, investigating government and public policy administration.
While studying at UCM, she served for two years as chairwoman of the advocacy group, High Council of Black Communities in Spain (Alto Consejo de Comunidades Negras en España, or ACCNE), giving voice to the concerns of the country’s swelling black population, estimated at nearly seven hundred thousand, primarily immigrants from Africa. In Spain she has participated in scholarly meetings, co-authored the monograph African Descent Today, Tribute to Professor Gutierrez Ildefonso Azopardo (2011), and can be viewed in Internet videos addressing Spanish audiences. In an often-cited interview, she commented about the racial climate in Spain as it pertains to blacks, saying: “In the (white) Spanish mind, blacks are synonymous with domestic work, poverty and lawlessness. In their subconsciousness, they can’t believe that there can be a black Latina (like her) who speaks about Sartre.”
In 2012 while a visiting scholar at the School of Social Work at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Pontifical Catholic University of Chile) in Santiago, she observed: “…over the last decade, some countries in the region (Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, among others) have advanced an important new paradigm of inclusion recognizing the political significance of diversity and multiculturalism. In the case of Spain and Italy, in the last decade, using the pretext of financial crises, anti-immigrant sentiment and institutional racism have intensified. These circumstances have resulted in random police identity checking and racial profiling that has (disproportionately) affected black Africans and African-descended persons.”
In line with her varied experiences abroad and commitment to peace, conflict resolution, human rights, social welfare, and environmentalism, Palacios has worked to reform government policies both in Spain and her native Colombia. In recent years, she has worked closely with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and has served as Director of Human Rights, UNESCO Heritage Club, Valencia, and Spain, wherein she advocates on behalf of Colombia’s racial minorities and for sustainable development globally. She was profiled in the Afro-British publication, Power List 2013, as one of the most influential blacks on the European continent.