Luis Gilberto Murillo, a seasoned Colombian politician, has been chosen to serve as the South American nation’s first Black ambassador to the United States. According to The Associated Press, leftist President-elect, Gustavo Petro, took to Twitter on Tuesday to announce that Murillo will officially hold the country’s key diplomatic position once he’s sworn into office in August.
The 55-year-old Afro-Colombian is said to be a known face in Washington as his connections to some notable American politicians date back to when he fled Colombia after right-wing paramilitary groups threatened to kill him.
Colombia will have its first leftist government after Petro is sworn in next month. And in a transition that some people have said could be problematic, Murillo will reportedly have a lot on his plate when it comes to ensuring smooth bilateral relations.
Leading up to the presidential elections, Petro, in his campaign, expressed his reservations with the United States-backed forced coca eradication and extradition as well as the free-trade agreement between both countries. Petro said the agreement was negatively impacting local farmers.
Petro also said he intends to re-open diplomatic relations with Venezuela. But Adam Isacson, who is an observer of Colombia for the Washington Office on Latin America, told The Associated Press that Murillo’s background could be key in mitigating any tension.
“His appointment is probably reassuring to a lot of people in the Biden administration,” Isacson said. “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 grew up in poverty in the Afro-Colombian province of Choco. The region, which is one of the poorest areas in Colombia, has a large population of inhabitants who are descendants of enslaved Africans. Afro-Colombians have also reportedly had little representation in business and politics.
The 55-year-old politician previously served as Colombia’s environment minister as well as the governor of his home province of Choco. Paramilitary groups kidnapped Murillo in 2000, causing him and his family to later flee to Washington. The Afro-Colombian politician is also a U.S. citizen, but he’ll have to renounce his citizenship in order to serve as the ambassador of his home nation.
“It is a great responsibility to lead bilateral relations with the US,” Murillo shared on Twitter. “We will work to strengthen the paths of peace and carry out coordinated work to bring greater prosperity to our two nations.”