WASHINGTON, USA -- The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) on Friday held a ceremonial session to commemorate 520 years of the "Discovery of America: Encounter of Two Worlds."
The secretary general of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, said that "the encounter of human beings was one of the most transcendent events in the history of humanity." He added that "we can hold different opinions about what happened next, some even say it was a bad thing, but I believe that this encounter was inevitable and was going to happen sooner or later. It happened that day and the protagonist was Spain, which celebrates its National Day on October 12.”
Insulza added that "since five centuries ago we have argued about and reflected on what happened, but in the end we all feel part of the same America, that is in the first place mestizo, then African-American, then indigenous, then a product of mixtures and links between one reality and another and of later European migrations as well as migrations from the Middle East and Asia."
"This convergence could not be easy, it was difficult and painful, but from it emerged a continent to which we are very proud to belong and whose birth we all celebrate today," he concluded.
Ambassador Roberto Saladin, permanent representative of the Dominican Republic, speaking on behalf of the Central American Integration System (SICA), said that "more than the encounter of two worlds it was the encounter of two cultures, because it was the island Hispaniola from which the great expeditions for the exploration of North, Central and South America departed."
Saladin recalled that "the magnitude of the undertaking led by Spain opened the doors to so many episodes of grandeur and tragedy, as well as the disappearance of some indigenous peoples, that it is nearly impossible, 520 years later, to recognize or deny the grandeur of this epic in the history of humanity."
Ambassador Sonia Johnny, permanent representative of Saint Lucia, who spoke on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), called the Encounter of Two Worlds "a historic fact that is inextricably linked to first European to set foot in the Americas in 1492.”
“However, there are two sides in this encounter, Columbus’ unfortunate response to the New World was to conquer and control, a policy that caused huge problems in indigenous communities," said Johnny referring to the "dark side of the encounter."
"However,” she added, “there was also a bright side, for the European arrival led to what has been dubbed the Columbian exchange – an exchange described by its authors as a global swap of animals, plants, people ailments and ideas that had a profound impact on Europe, Africa and the Americas. This to some was the big step to globalization."
Ambassador Allan Culham, permanent representative of Canada, spoke in his address of "the revolution in human knowledge” that “was sparked by Columbus’s voyage across the Atlantic,” and provoked changes in “the science and the art of map making."
“Prior to 1492, the conventional wisdom of mariners, academics, theologians and map makers was the world was flat,” Culham said.
“The voyage of Columbus dispelled this myth and opened up a whole new area of inquiry for the human mind,” Culham added, citing especially the map produced in 1507 by Martin Waldseemüller in France.
"This map contained the first known use of the word America to describe the continent to which Columbus had arrived," he said.
Ambassador Jorge Alban, permanent representative of Peru, on behalf of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), held that "the meeting of two worlds is one of the turning points in the history of mankind, because it opened the way to the integration of two connected cultural networks."
"We are in large part the product of this interbreeding between native America with its collective sense, cohesion and identification with nature and the worldview that this suggests, and the West, with its idea of material progress and the application of technology as a tool to overcome and put the natural environment at the service of man and society," added Alban.
Ambassador Jorge Hevia Sierra, permanent observer of Spain, said, "On October 12 we celebrate the meeting of two worlds and the arrival to American soil of the ships of Christopher Columbus on an undertaking financed by Queen Isabella and her husband King Ferdinand."
"It is certainly Spain's great contribution to universal history," he said. "It was a moment when the world map acquired practically the contours it has today. It is in those years when a vast process of cultural mixing and blending of races and cultures begins, which over the centuries would lead to the creation of a new reality called Latin America."
Which is why, said the Spanish diplomat, "the great Simon Bolivar said clearly, 'We're a kind of microcosm of the human race', referring to the origins and components of the Latin American population."