EL TIEMPO, July 13, 2022


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

A profile of the man who will represent the Gustavo Petro administration in Washington.

Luis Gilberto Murillo was born in San Juan, a town close to the Municipality of Andagoya in the forgotten Department of Chocó. However, he says, effort can do anything, and now he is a respected leader who speaks several languages, is an expert on the environment, and starting this August, he will be Colombia’s first Afro-Colombian Ambassador to the White House.

He will take over after renouncing his United States citizenship, an essential requisite for representing this country. He was the Governor of Chocó in 2012, and Minister of Environment in the second term of Juan Manuel Santos.

National leaders who know him speak of his enormous capacity for work, his ease in taking on enormous challenges, and his people skills.

Those were some of the assets Sergio Fajardo saw in him when he appointed him as his Vice-Presidential candidate.

After they lost in the first round, he was one of the first to join the Historic Pact movement, because he thought Petro was the best alternative for the moment this country is experiencing now.

Besides Santos, he worked closely with Germán Vargas Lleras.

“I quit the Radical Change Party in the government crisis in 2017, because of some differences regarding the legislation related to the Peace Agreement. I resigned as Minister and quit the Party. But President Santos asked me to continue in a personal capacity, saying it had not been necessary to resign from the Ministry and quit the Party. So I stayed on in the administration, more in a personal capacity,” he explained in an interview with journalist María Isabel Rueda.

In this conversation with EL TIEMPO, the journalist said, “Is this a betrayal for some people?”

“No, in no way. I have a cordial relationship with Germán Vargas. It simply went public that I had some differences, so the best thing to do was to leave the Party, wasn’t it?” he answered.

“After the Ministry, I left the country, more for academic activities in American University in Washington, and later on at MIT. And in 2019, we founded the Colombia Resurgent Party, which originated in Afro-Colombian communities; and although I wasn’t active in its militancy, I did contribute a little to the drafting of the policy platform, and then they invited me to be a nominee in the Center of Hope Coalition.”

That’s the way he left that group, although later he went back through the main gate, beside Fajardo.

So once more the country was able to lay eyes on Murillo and his family. “In Colombia they say that behind every man there is a woman; she is annoyed by that, and she always says that she is neither in front, nor in back, but rather beside. And obviously, I understand that it’s definitely better to give battle in Colombia than in Russia . . .,” referring to his wife’s nationality.

He has three children. “Aged 20, 28, and 30. All began their studies in Chocó, but the two younger ones are now out of the country more, in the Washington area, although very much connected to Colombia,” he says.

For him, the United States has been important in his life. In 2000, for example, when he was the victim of an extortion kidnapping by the paramilitaries that forced him to leave Colombia, that country took him in.

He worked there as a research associate at the Center for Latin American Studies (Clals) at American University in Washington, and as a consultant in natural resource management, equity, and inclusion at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In 2020, he was the first Colombian to join the team at the Environmental Solutions initiative of the Martin Luther King program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the subjects most important to him.

For example, he led the creation of a payment for environmental services system in rural communities to provide incentives for the protection of the jungle, wetlands, and páramo[1] (high mountain páramo), and he presided at the Environment Ministers Forum of Latin America and the Caribbean, which led to an agreement on a regional environmental agenda in the United Nations Environmental Assembly in 2017.

These subjects are on the agendas of Presidents Gustavo Petro and Joe Biden, so it’s hoped that his term in Washington will lead to consensus between the two countries for unified environmental policies.

As he recalls, Colombia Resurgent is a political party with an Afro-Colombian base, founded to represent the interests of those Colombians that belong to the ethnic communities and support children, youth and family. They are oriented to the formulation of public policies with a different focus, with impact on collective wellbeing, faithful to our Ubuntu philosophy: “I am, because we are.”

[1] Páramo refers to different kinds of Alpine tundra ecosystems in the Andes.

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