Colombia now has its first Black Ambassador to the United States. In a July 12 tweet, Colombia’s president-elect, Gustavo Petro, announced that Luis Gilberto Murillo would become the country’s newest ambassador to the United States when he takes office in August.
The appointment is a full-circle moment for 55-year-old Murillo, who was born in Choco, a largely impoverished area of Colombia with a high concentration of Afro-Colombians who are often neglected in politics. He left the area after earning a scholarship to study engineering in the Soviet Union. But Murillo is no stranger to Washington D.C. His family fled Colombia for the area after being kidnapped by paramilitary groups in 2000. Murillo will have to give up his US citizenship to accept the ambassadorship.
Some believe Murillo’s appointment will go a long way when it comes to US-Colombia relations, providing a balance to the more left-leaning Petro. Murillo ran in the recent election as the Vice Presidential running mate to moderate candidate Sergio Fajardo. He joined Petro’s camp when his candidate didn’t get enough votes for a run-off. “[Murillo’s] appointment is probably reassuring to a lot of people in the Biden administration,” said Adam Isacson of the non-profit human rights group Washington Office on Latin America.“He’s not a hard leftist and he’ll be able to maneuver pretty well to show people that Petro isn’t a radical either.”
For his part, Petro is focused on protecting the Amazon rainforest, ending the war on drugs and steering the country’s economy away from dependence on fossil fuels. And while he and Joe Biden may find some common ground on environmental issues, the two will likely be at odds on the country’s free trade agreement with the US, which Petro says is economically harmful to his country’s farmers. Petro and Biden also don’t see eye to eye on the best way to deal with Venezuela and its authoritarian leader Nicolas Maduro. Although Petro tried to keep his distance during the election, he does believe Maduro should be recognized as the country’s leader. The US, on the other hand, does not agree.
This is an excerpt from a March 2022 statement from the State Department:
“Maduro, who was not reelected via free and fair elections, clings to power through the subversion of democratic institutions, manipulation of elections, and force. His policies are marked by authoritarianism, intolerance for dissent, and violent and systematic repression of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Murillo hopes to use his position to strengthen the relationship between the US and Colombia. “It is a great responsibility to lead bilateral relations with the US,” he said in a tweet. “We will work to strengthen the paths of peace and carry out coordinated work to bring greater prosperity to our two nations.”