Murillo’s ascent to become an influential Afro-Colombian political figure began as a teenager, when he earned an unusually high score for his state on the national collegiate qualifying exams. This allowed him to be awarded Colombia’s ICETEX Scholarship to study abroad. As a result he attended Moscow State University where he earned his Bachelor's degree in Mining Engineering and Master's degree in Engineering Science with a concentration in Open Pit Mining, in 1990. He also received a Certificate as Instructor of Russian Language. Because Murillo graduated with honors, he was offered to continue in a PhD program in Mining Engineering. Although initially he accepted the offer and started the program, six months later he returned to his native country and region to contribute to his community and to gain professional experience.
In 1993, at the age of 27, Mr. Murillo was promoted by Colombian President César Gaviria to the Office of Director General of the Corporation for Sustainable Development of the State of Chocó (CODECHOCO), under the National Department of Planning. As Director of CODECHOCO, Murillo reorganized and transformed that public institution. This transformation was needed to respond to the challenges of developing pioneering programs to promote the protection of biodiversity and the tropical rainforest. These reforms also incorporated the defense of land rights of rural Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities that populate Choco’s River Valley Region. In this position, Murillo played an important role in the discussion of Colombia’s National Environmental Law (Law 99/93). This law mandated the creation of the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Murillo was awarded the honor as Chocó Executive of the Year in two consecutive years, 1993 and 1994.
In 1995, Bogotá’s Mayor Antanas Mockus Sivickas and the Director of the then Department of Environmental Protection of Bogotá (DAMA), Eduardo Uribe Botero, appointed Murillo as the Deputy Director of Planning of this agency. Urban environmental management had been a sector largely underdeveloped. He has taught environmental policy in Colombia’s top universities.
In 1998, a coalition of the Afro-Colombian National Movement Party, the Liberal Party, and Afro-Colombian leaders drafted Murillo as their gubernatorial candidate for the state of Chocó, five months before the election. Riding the wave of democratic optimism generated by the new 1991 Colombian Constitution and other encouraging developments in Latin America, Murillo, as an independent political figure, defeated the competitors of major traditional movements in Chocó and was elected governor – as one of the youngest people (age 31) elected to this office in Colombia’s history.
Follow his platform of reform, Governor Murillo proposed a reorganization of the institutional structure of the state government. He pioneered the creation of a Secretariat of Ethnic Affairs and the Office of Environmental Development. He also designed and implemented the state plan for ethnic development. During Murillo’s tenure, Colombian government formalized the biggest collective land title to Afro-Colombians rural communities, under the umbrella of the Asociacion Campesina del Bajo Atrato (ACIA).
However, the intimidation and massacres against Afro-Colombian communities and their subsequent displacement from their ancestral lands had already begun. All armed groups, paramilitaries and guerrillas, committed atrocities against rural communities. Given the seriousness and difficulty of the situation of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities of Chocó, Governor Murillo declared the state of Chocó a territory of peace. At this point, Murillo favored the creation of forces under the United Nations’ leadership and authority. At the time of this proposal, Murillo was the subject of an illegal harassment. He and his family were threatened.
In January 1999, Murillo was stripped of his office by a controversial court ruling, which has been described in editorials of Colombia’s newspaper El Espectador as unjust. The Colombian newsmagazine Revista Semana wrote that because of a legal technicality, the political career of one of the most influential leaders in Colombia was about to end. Murillo’s removal from his office had several negative ramifications for the people of Chocó. First, public confidence in the democratic process suffered. Second, state government policies that protected the environment, the rainforest and other needed reforms were abandoned. Third, issues of concern for people of Chocó lost prominence in the national political debate.
After leaving the Governor’s Office, Murillo continued being an outspoken leader on issues of environment, democracy, security, and development. In 2000, Murillo was kidnapped by an illegal armed group. After being released some hours later, he left the country with his family. Murillo relocated to the United States, where he became a voice for equality, security, and development in Colombia. Murillo was determined of a greater need for political debate and organizing and he began working at the Lutheran World Relief (LWR), as the US-Colombia Policy Coordinator and was later, promoted to the position of Senior International Policy Analyst. Murillo worked to make the voices of marginalized global citizens, especially Colombians, heard in the foreign policy debate in Washington, D.C. and the international community. His work was part of LWR’s efforts to resolve conflict and to build peace around the world through local projects backed by education and advocacy in the United States.
Murillo is an advocate of Afro-Colombians and Afro-Latinos. He has created links between Afro-Colombian, Afro-Latino and African American civil society, public, and popular elected leaders. Murillo is an advocate for U.S. foreign aid that promotes equality and just development in Latin America and, hence calls for broad changes in U.S. policy toward the region. Murillo regularly participates in Congressional Briefings and lectures about critical topics of foreign policy in the United States. Articles written by, or about Murillo have appeared in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Miami Herald, New Amsterdam, Chicago Tribune, Source and Crisis Magazines, among others.
Murillo served at the Phelps Stokes Fund as Senior Fellow and Vice President for Programs and Strategy, Murillo led an initiative that integrates leadership, development, security, energy, environment, and culture within the framework of foreign policy. The aim of this initiative was to promote development and diversity in Latin America and throughout the world, through the promotion of youth leadership, creative social and economic inclusion, and policy and institutional transformation that are sensitive to Afro-Descendants, Indigenous, and other marginalized social groups.
Murillo also has served on the board of directors and on advisory committees of various U.S. based organizations, such as the Colombian Human Rights Committee, US Office on Colombia, American Friends Service Committee, the Global Exchange Speaking Bureau, and the Center for International Policy.
After several years working in Washington, Murillo returned to Colombia in 2011 when he won for second time the election for governor of Choco, his native state, However, after a year and half in the position, he was removed once again after a controversy about an alleged disciplinary sanction against him when he first became governor, back in the nineties. After that Murillo started a tough journey to clarify his legal situation. Finally, in 2013 the office of the Colombian general Inspector, Alejandro Ordoñez Maldonado, freed Luis Murillo from any disciplinary sanction.
In 2014, Mr. Murillo worked for the re-election campaign of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, as campaign officer for Pacific region. After winning, President Santos appointed Mr. Murillo as Director of the Pacific Initiative, the special presidential program directed to boost the social and economic development of that region of Colombia. The program is called "Todos Somos Pacifico" and its principal office is in Bogota but with offices in Buenaventura, Quibdo, Guapi and Tumaco.