Luis G. Murillo-Urrutia will join the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative for the 2020-2021 academic year, through the MIT MLK Visiting Professors and Scholars Program.
Murillo has an extensive background in the government of Colombia as an administrator of environmental conservation programs and an advocate for racial and social justice. From 2016 to 2018, he served as Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development for Colombia in the administration of former President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos. He also served as Governor of the Department of Chocó, a predominantly Afro-Colombian region of Colombia.
Murillo served in these roles at an historical inflection point for the country, as it was ending half a century of conflict that had resulted in the deaths of 220,000 people, mostly civilians, and displaced several million. Throughout the peace process and afterwards, the confluence of human rights, environmental stewardship, science-based decision-making and community engagement has been central to a better future. Minister Murillo played a critical role in making this new future for Colombia.
Murillo has been a lifelong advocate of Afro-Colombians and Afro-Latinos through his expertise in regional development, the environment, sustainable development and peace building. In 1993, at the age of 27, he was appointed to the Office of Director General of the Corporation for Sustainable Development of the State of Chocó and subsequently launched a reorganization of the office to focus on the protection of biodiversity and the land rights of Afro-Colombians and Indigenous communities of the Chocó River Valley Region. At 31 Murillo was elected Governor of the state of Chocó and soon afterward created a new Secretariat of Ethnic Affairs and the Office of Environmental Development. During this period, rampant violence against the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities led Murillo to declare Chocó a state of peace, with implications for United Nations involvement. After leaving office under a controversial and much-criticized ruling by Colombia’s Supreme Court, Murillo continued his advocacy until he was kidnapped and his family threatened. He left Colombia for the U.S. with his family and did not return until 2011.
In addition to his central role in the domestic Colombian political transformation, Murillo has been an active voice in urging fundamental changes to the formulation and deployment of U.S. foreign aid in ways that promote truly equitable and just development in Latin America. Murillo served as U.S.-Colombia Policy Coordinator and subsequently Senior International Policy Analyst at the Lutheran World Relief and has served as a Senior Fellow and Vice President for Programs and Strategy at the Phelps Stokes Fund, where he led an effort to promote youth leadership in areas of institutional transformation and social and economic rights, especially inclusive of Afro-Descendants, Indigenous and other marginalized communities.
The Environmental Solutions Initiative is proud to host and partner with Minister Murillo as we develop our programs in Nature Based Solutions for Climate Change and Cities and Climate Change. With Minister Murillo’s wise counsel and direct engagement, we plan on acting on a variety of issues of environmental justice with a concentration on marginalized communities. Through his various roles in government and civil society, Murillo has been on the front lines of conceiving of and realizing a new and better future for the people of Colombia.
Minister Murillo's plans for his term at MIT include interdisciplinary research on the intersections of environmental issues in Colombia—among them illegal mining and deforestation of the Amazon—with the security and economic wellbeing of Afro-Colombians. He will focus especially on new possibilities for Colombia’s carbon tax, enacted in 2016, as a tool to strengthen local environmental conservation as a source of economic prosperity. Minister Murillo will also appear in public events to expand awareness of environmental and climate justice issues in Latin America, and will forge new regional connections for the Environmental Solutions Initiative’s Nature Based Solutions program, currently active in and around the city of Mocoa, Colombia.