My wife, Nohra, and I wish you a warm welcome to the National Museum of Natural History. We are delighted you can join us on this special evening for Colombia in Washington. It is also a great pleasure to have in this occasion the presence of the Vice President of Colombia, Mr. Francisco Santos, and the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Camilo Reyes, who give more brightness to this Colombian golden night.
Once upon a time, the Muiscas tribe would anoint a ruler by rolling him in gold powder, which he then ceremonially washed off in a sacred lake while casting offerings of emeralds and gold into the waters. This took place more than five centuries ago at religious festivals held at Lake Guatavita, near Bogotá, the capital of Colombia.
It is a wonderful story, isn’t it? This is part of the ancient legend of El Dorado that has captured the imagination of generations throughout the world for several hundreds of years. The Spanish conquistadores traveled endless and dangerous paths searching for this land of gold – a land of treasures, a source of unending wealth, where the caciques bathed in gold lagoons and the women decorated their bodies with gold powder. They journeyed through the magnificent mountain peaks of the Andes and lush Amazon forest lands. Many went mad or died while searching for it, not realizing that El Dorado was right beneath their feet, in the beautiful land that we today know as Colombia.
Today, the legend of ancient gold comes to Washington, dazzling us with its magic and splendor. On behalf of the Government of Colombia, I would like to thank: the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, headed by director Christian Samper; Generous sponsor Julio Mario Santodomingo; Greystar Resources, represented here by its president David Roving and Executive Vice President Frederick Fólder; and the Colombian Coffee Federation, represented by Juan Esteban Orduz, for working with us to bring this splendid exhibit to the American people.
I recently presented to President Bush my credentials as Ambassador of Colombia to the United States. I am pleased that my first public engagement as ambassador is in your company is on this joyous occasion.
As ambassador of the land of El Dorado, I am honored to share with you the spectacular pieces of gold and cooper works and ceramics, which are on loan from Bogotá’s renowned Museo del Oro.
The very definition of gold – a very dense, lustrous, highly malleable solid that is often mixed with other metals to make it harder and stronger – in many ways also defines the Colombian spirit. My country is home to 85 different ethnic groups, creating a true melting pot of European, Afro-Caribbean and indigenous communities. We treasure this wealth of diversity. It gives us both strength and unity as a people, as well as a rich and proud cultural heritage. The diversity of our population, combined with their boundless energy, creativity and relentless optimism, creates a culture that sustains and holds the country together, even in the face of adversity.
While art sustains our spirits, Colombians and Americans are working together every day to advance peace and development in my country. I would like to thank the American people for their continued support and involvement in my country. I feel strong pride for the commitment of both of our nations to promote peace, democracy and cultural exchange and understanding throughout the hemisphere.
Geography and history have made Colombia and the United States neighbors. But it is the values we share – our mutual love of democracy, freedom and opportunity for all our citizens – that makes us friends.
Dear friends, the pre-Columbian gold and the legendary treasures of El Dorado which surround us this evening are masterfully accompanied by the musical chords of Colombian guitarist, Nilko Andreas Guarín. I am proud to present this talented artist who has rediscovered and revalued the magnificent contribution that the composer Guillermo Uribe Holguín made to the Colombian and Latin-American music.
I would like to express my gratitude once again to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and its director Christian Samper, and the generous sponsors of this event for making this exhibition a reality. And thank you all for joining us in experiencing the spirit of ancient Colombian gold.
Nohra and I wish you all a joyous holiday season and the happiest of new years.