Mission to Columbia

In the first week of July I had the pleasure of going on a mission to Bogota, Columbia, in the company of Didier Grange, Geneva City Archivist and Special Adviser of the ICA Secretariat. The main purpose of our visit was to attend a meeting of the Association of Latin American Archivists (ALA) and then the 8th International Seminar of Archives of the Iberian Tradition. We also wanted to find out more about the situation of archives in Colombia and to rekindle contacts with Latin American colleagues, only a few of whom had been able to attend the Congress in Brisbane.


At the ALA meeting Didier and I outlined the latest developments in ICA, including the implementation of the new constitution and the changes to the system of levying membership dues. We also looked forward in November to welcoming to the Paris Secretariat those Directors of National Archives in Latin America, who plan to attend the Higher International Conference of Archives, organized by France, and then the ICA Annual Conference in Brussels. Our ultimate intention is to enable colleagues in ALA to play a fuller part in ICA if they wish to do so.

The conference itself was on topic of ‘State Transparency: management, preservation and access to public documents’. About 400 colleagues attended from 20 countries. As I noted in my opening remarks, the ICA Annual Conference in Brussels will be considering a similar theme in a few months’ time. The issues of transparency and access to information are ones which transcend cultural and linguistic boundaries. It was noticeable that several Latin American countries have set up special agencies to deal with these issues, but they acknowledge that the full co-operation of the national and other public archives is indispensable if this agenda is going to lead to any practical results.
Didier and I also visited the splendid National Archives building, which must have one of the most spectacular views of any archive in the world, as it looks up to the mountains which shelter Bogota. After twenty years of use, it is still very much a state of the art building, meeting the highest standards. The following day we were privileged to visit the Municipal Archives of Bogota, a really magnificent building which is also a highly valued resource by the local community. Never before in my career have I seen two such impressive archive buildings in the same city. Clearly, Colombia is a country which takes its archives very seriously indeed.

Didier and I were quite overwhelmed by the kindness of Colombian colleagues throughout our visit, especially Carlos Zapata Cardena, Director General of the Colombian National Archives, and his invariably considerate and courteous staff. We hope that our mission has paved the way for increased co-operation between ALA and ICA in practical ways. In spite of our busy schedule, we were able to sample something of the country’s unique culture, based on a rich mix of peoples, languages and traditions. Thanks to the warmth, friendship and hospitality of our Colombian hosts, we enjoyed every minute of our stay. We also feel that we know much more about the situation of archives in Colombia and other Latin American countries.