Afro-Colombian politician tapped as ambassador to Washington

Jul 12, 2022, 2:49 AM | Updated: 3:22 pm

FILE - Luis Gilberto Murillo gives a press conference to announce he is the running mate of preside...

FILE - Luis Gilberto Murillo gives a press conference to announce he is the running mate of presidential candidate Sergio Fajardo in Bogota, Colombia, March 17, 2022. Colombia's President-elect Gustavo Petro appointed Murillo as the country's new ambassador to the United States, on July 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)

(AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A veteran Afro-Colombian politician who studied in the Soviet Union and fled his homeland after being kidnapped by a paramilitary group has been tapped to become Colombia’s first Black ambassador to the United States.

In a brief message posted on Twitter on Tuesday, leftist President elect Gustavo Petro wrote that Luis Gilberto Murillo would take Colombia’s most important diplomatic post when he’s sworn into office next month.

Murillo, 55, has a long record maneuvering in Washington’s power circles, having established himself there more than two decades ago when fleeing death threats from right wing paramilitary groups.

Among his powerful supporters is Rep. Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who helped craft aid programs for the traditionally marginalized Afro-Colombian population as part of negotiations over a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement.

Murillo also has U.S. citizenship — something he’ll have to renounce to take up his diplomatic post.

But as ambassador for Colombia’s first leftist government, he’ll need more than deep connections to stabilize a bilateral relationship in what some fear could be a rocky transition.

During the hard fought presidential campaign, Petro, a former guerrilla, took aim at forced coca eradication and extradition — centerpieces of the U.S.-backed drug war in Colombia — as well as the free trade agreement with the U.S. he blames for impoverishing local farmers.

He’s also vowed to immediately re-establish diplomatic relations with Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government in neighboring Venezuela.

Murillo’s own background could help ease any tensions, according to Adam Isacson, a longtime observer of Colombia for the Washington Office on Latin America

During Colombia’s latest presidential election, Murillo ran as the vice presidential candidate for Sergio Fajardo, a centrist politician from Medellin. He only endorsed Petro after his own candidate failed to get enough votes to qualify for a run-off vote.

“His appointment is probably reassuring to a lot of people in the Biden administration,” said Isacson. “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.”

Murillo was born into a poor family in the largely Afro-Colombian province of Choco, along Colombia’s Pacific Coast. The region is one of Colombia’s poorest and home to a large population of descendants of African slaves who have long been underrepresented in business and politics.

He studied engineering in the Soviet Union on a scholarship, along the way meeting his Russian wife. He served twice as governor of his home province and has also been Colombia’s environment minister.

In 2000, Murillo was kidnapped by paramilitary groups and later fled to Washington with his family. One of his first jobs in the capital was to work as a bouncer at a night club. Eventually he found work in several international development agencies including the World Bank.

“It is a great responsibility to lead bilateral relations with the US,” Murillo said on Twitter. “We will work to strengthen the paths of peace and carry out coordinated work to bring greater prosperity to our two nations.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Candles are lit on a memorial wall during an anniversary memorial service at the Holy Trinit...

Associated Press

Pain and terror felt by passengers before Boeing Max crashed can be considered, judge rules

Families of passengers who died in the crash of a Boeing 737 Max in Ethiopia can seek damages for the pain and terror suffered by victims in the minutes before the plane flew nose-down into the ground, a federal judge has ruled.

13 hours ago

OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman, the founder of ChatGPT and creator of OpenAI speaks at University College ...

Associated Press

Artificial intelligence threatens extinction, experts say in new warning

Scientists and tech industry leaders issued a new warning Tuesday about the perils that artificial intelligence poses to humankind.

13 hours ago

FILE - Employees walk through a lobby at Amazon's headquarters on Nov. 13, 2018, in Seattle. A grou...

Associated Press

Amazon workers upset over job cuts, return-to-office mandate stage walkout

SEATTLE (AP) — A group of Amazon workers upset about recent layoffs, a return-to-office mandate and the company’s environmental impact is planning a walkout at the company’s Seattle headquarters Wednesday. The lunchtime protest comes a week after Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting and a month after a policy took effect requiring workers to return to the […]

2 days ago


Associated Press

Body of avalanche victim in Washington state recovered after being spotted by volunteer

Search crews have recovered the body of a climber who was one of three killed in an avalanche on Washington's Colchuck Peak in February.

2 days ago

Eugene and Linda Lamie, of Homerville, Ga., sit by the grave of their son U.S. Army Sgt. Gene Lamie...

Associated Press

Biden on Memorial Day lauds generations of fallen US troops who ‘dared all and gave all’

President Joe Biden lauded the sacrifice of generations of U.S. troops who died fighting for their country as he marked Memorial Day with the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

3 days ago

OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman, the founder of ChatGPT and creator of OpenAI gestures while speaking at Un...

Associated Press

ChatGPT maker downplays fears they could leave Europe over AI rules

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on Friday downplayed worries that the ChatGPT maker could exit the European Union

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...

Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Afro-Colombian politician tapped as ambassador to Washington