Mariño Varela seeks to use her MPP to better understand the root causes of conflict in Colombia and around the world—and design solutions that will work.
Headshot of Andrea Mariño Varela
Andrea Mariño Varela

Growing up in Bogota, said Andrea Mariño Varela, MPP Class of 2023 and Pearson Fellow, conflict was always present. “For a while, my school recommended we keep sleeping bags in the classroom in case violence erupted and we couldn’t return home.”

Although she grew up in the capital, her family’s cattle ranching business was in the Magdalena region, a rural part of Colombia, which was more dangerous than urban areas. Still, even after her grandfather was kidnapped from the ranch, Mariño Varela and her family would return to support the family and to contribute to the wider local community. “My constant travel between Bogota and the Magdalena region—uncommon given safety issues—made me very aware of the disparities between urbanity and the small towns in my country,” she said.

While earning her BA in political science and a minor in journalism from Universidad de Los Andes, Mariño Varela took a comparative politics course where she read Why Nations Fail by James Robinson, The Reverend Dr. Richard L. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies at The Pearson Institute. “The book discussed Colombia’s conflict in depth. It was interesting to read how Colombia’s problems were connected to the problems of other developing nations—while also being unique because of the long duration of the conflict.”

After graduation, Mariño Varela worked for a public affairs firm. However, when Colombia’s peace agreement was signed in 2016, Humberto De La Calle, the chief peace negotiator, decided to run for president. Mariño Varela joined the campaign as a press assistant, traveling with the candidate through the country.

“He was someone I really admired. He knew a lot about the conflict, which was especially close to me because of my grandfather’s kidnapping,” Mariño Varela said. “I gained a much deeper understanding of my country and its politics during my time in the campaign.”

De La Calle eventually lost the election, but the experience reinforced for Mariño Varela that she was doing the right thing. She subsequently worked as an advisor to the President of the Constitutional First Commission, then for Colombia’s National Land Agency, where she helped implement Comprehensive Rural Reform—the first pillar in the 2016 peace agreement with former FARC guerrillas.

Although she was making an impact on the ground, Mariño Varela wanted to further develop her quantitative skills and gain direct international experience and began thinking about earning a Master of Public Policy. Harris, she said, was at the top of her list. “I liked that The Pearson Institute engaged in a lot of research about Colombia and Latin-America. Finding a place where my context was relevant and where I could gain valuable quant skills made UChicago a perfect fit,” she said.

As a Pearson Fellow, Mariño Varela also has had the opportunity to work as a Research Assistant for Associate Professor Michael Albertus. “It has been a great opportunity, especially since he’s an expert on land policy, which definitely resonates with me.” She also plans on exploring certificate opportunities at Harris, including the Finance Certificate and either the Global Conflict or International Development certificates.

As for plans after Harris, Mariño Varela said, “I hope to work for a multilateral organization, since they are key partners to emerging states and thus a good place to put the skills I learn at Harris to use in matters such as development, land policy, and poverty.” Eventually, Varela hopes to return to Colombia—and maybe run for congress. “If our congress doesn’t work right, we are not going to be able to resolve the historical issues Colombia faces,” she said. "I hope to play a role in that change."