Interview: Huem Otero, Vienna's first Latin councilor

The Colombian was appointed this year to the Vienna council for the Green Party.

Huem Otero

Huem Otero becomes the first Colombian to reach the Vienna council. / Photo: IG-huemotero

Latin American Post | Santiago Gómez Hernández

Listen to this article

Leer en español: Entrevista: Huem Otero, la primera concejala latina de Viena

Huem Otero is the first Latina to reach the Vienna City Council. This Colombian, belonging to the Green Party, won her seat in the local elections in October. Otero, born in Colombia and of Austrian descent, went from being an environmental activist to making history. In Colombia, she admires the environmentalist Francia Márquez and aspires to be the first Latina mayor of the Austrian capital.

Tell me a little about how you came to Austria and became the first Latina councilor in the history of the city.

I arrived here in Vienna when I was very young with my family: my mother and my brother. I was 10 years old and I arrived in 94, at a time when Colombia was suffering from the economy and we had Austrian nationality, because my grandfather was Austrian, so my mother made the decision that she wanted us to come to live here. Especially for Education. Because in Colombia, (quality) education is private and one is in a vicious circle. You grind and kill yourself to be able to pay your children a good education, then they too grind to the death to be able to pay for their children's education. 

I started to get involved in politics from the age of 16 at school. Here in Austria the system of student representation and democracy is very interesting,  unions are very strong and in schools there are student spokespersons. It is an issue for all schools, there is a representation at the state level and at the national level and that's where I started. All of this exists from a very young age and is closely linked to the parties. There I started joining the Social Democracy and then at the University I left the Social Democracy and joined the Greens.

What differences do you see between the Green Party in Austria, which is very environmentalist, and the Parties in Latin America?

The Green Party has a long tradition here. It was created in the 80s. Here in Austria, it is closely linked to the history of grassroots movements that at the time decided to enter politics because there is support for the population. But the beginnings were of much activism and protest.

Regarding the movements in Latin America, I am not very informed. I follow politics in Colombia, not so much in Latin America, but in Colombia. My impression of the Green Party in Colombia, from what I can see from here, is that it is not that environmentalist, but is based more on fighting corruption. There are party organizations at the world level, such as the Global Greens, but at this moment I do not see a strong bond between Austria and the Green Party in Latin America. 

It would seem very interesting to me to establish these relationships, but I don't think it is necessary to do them with the party, it is counterproductive because the environmental movement in Colombia is very diverse and comes primarily from social movements. For example, Francia Márquez, who is an activist and environmentalist in Colombia who is not linked to the Green Party, or the indigenous movements. Here you can see the difference between the environmental movement in Colombia and the environmental movement in Austria. On environmental issues, I think it is very important to respect these grassroots movements and also to establish those relationships because environmentalism does not necessarily have to be linked to a party.

What movement or characters do you admire in Colombian politics?

I already named a person. Francia Márquez is a very inspiring person, I even voted for her for congress, because I have dual nationality. I find her to be a very interesting person, very strong. Also, she is a person who has fought for the territory, being a black woman and a mother she is very inspiring, it seems to me. And in general, the indigenous and farmer movements are powerful movements that have protected the environment in Colombia, but I think they are very invisible. César Pachón also seems to be an interesting person.

As the first Latina councilwoman in Vienna, what policies do the Latino and immigrant communities need in your city?

Any problem that any group has had: Latino, women, etc. has worsened now in times of pandemic crisis. The issue of access to work seems difficult to me and the issue of recognition of degrees. For example, if someone studied in Latin America, in Colombia and needs to certify something, they need to fill in 50 thousand different forms to get it approved. If you look at the population in Vienna, a third do not have the right to vote. It is a severe democratic deficit, and the problem is that it is an issue at the national level that cannot be solved by the local government, but participation tools can be strengthened, other than voting.


A post shared by Huem Otero (@huemotero)

In addition, the issues are becoming more visible. I also have a privilege. I am Latin, but I have been here for so long that the language is not difficult for me, I learned it at 10 years old. So, I still have to admit that in my immigrant status, I was still privileged. In addition to always having citizenship. So instead of seeing myself as the spokesperson who knows everything, I feel more like the one who listens, and the one that has the doors open for people to talk to me. 

There is already a Latina on the Vienna council. Will we see the first Latin Chancellor in the future?

Well, let's be a bit modest for now.

Also read: Latin America: 4 women who sweep in politics

What political future do you see?

I first want to focus on the issue of the Council, because despite the fact that I have been involved in a lot in political activism, the act of having a position, a mandate, is different. Because it is very different to be an activist with a poster, saying that everything is wrong and being in a position of power. It is a new role, that I have to fill as the opposition because unfortunately, we are no longer in the Government in Vienna, so I am going to learn. That is also an art. For now I want to see how it goes and I don't know. I love Vienna and I would like more to be able to do the best work I can for my city. 

So the first Latina mayor of Vienna?

Well, yes (laughs).