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Scholars and dignitaries to explore many facets of Colombia Aug. 1-4

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor
(217) 333-2177;


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Scholars and dignitaries will explore wide-ranging topics dealing with Colombia – from guerilla warfare and the war on drugs to Colombian identity and poetry – Wednesday through Saturday (Aug. 1-4) at the University of Illinois. The conference is titled "La Colombia internacional."

Discussions, lectures, roundtables and plenary sessions, all to be conducted in Spanish, will continue on Aug. 6 in Chicago. Participants in both meetings hail from academic and governmental institutions all across the United States and Colombia, as well as from Austria, Brazil, France, Germany, Mexico, Norway, Puerto Rico and Spain.

Among the dignitaries planning to attend the meeting, the 12th Biennial Conference of the Association of Colombianists, which is headquartered at the UI, is Alfonso Lopez Caballero, a key member of the Colombian national government’s peace commission, which currently is conducting talks with Colombian guerillas. Lopez Caballero is Colombia’s former ambassador to France, Canada and the United States, and former interior minister of Colombia.

Also attending are Otto Morales Benitez, a senator from Colombia, and Jesus Ferro Bayona, chancellor of Colombia’s Universidad del Norte.
The director of the Fulbright Commission of Colombia, the director of the Cervantes Institute of Spain and the Consul General of Colombia also are expected to attend the conference, which is dedicated to the memory of Colombian critic Monserrat Ordonez, who died in January. Several sessions will be devoted to her work.

Michael Palencia-Roth, president of the Association of Colombianists, director of the conference and a professor of comparative literature at the UI, described the conference as "a important international event for the university and for Colombia."

"The university is privileged to host Senator Otto Morales Benitez and the Honorable Alfonso Lopez Caballero, as well as the distinguished Colombian philosopher, Guillermo Hoyos Vasquez, as they discuss the challenges that face Colombia both culturally and politically," Palencia-Roth said, adding that the "prominent writers" Maria Mercedes Carranza (director of the National Center for Poetry in Colombia), William Ospina (poet and essayist) and Laura Restrepo (novelist), will read from their work and take part in roundtable discussions. In addition, leading North American scholars of Colombian culture will participate.

"The university has not seen a gathering quite like this in my 24 years here. I believe it to be the university’s first large international conference to be conducted entirely in Spanish." One session, on Colombian film, will be in English.

"That so many distinguished scholars and political figures have chosen to come to the University of Illinois demonstrates our ever larger presence on the international stage, the strength of our academic programs in Latin American culture, history and thought, and the strength of our library collections," Palencia-Roth said.

According to Palencia-Roth, the UI Rare Book and Special Collections Library recently acquired a very rare first edition of "La hojarasca" ("Leaf Storm") by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the 1982 Nobel Laureate. The book will be on display, along with other exhibits on Colombian culture, at the UI Library.

Thirty-four sessions over four days are planned. Films will run concurrently with the UI conference, which will be held in the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana. Registration is free for UI faculty, staff and students, and permits entry to all sessions; the public may purchase $10 day passes. The film screenings on Wednesday and Thursday evenings are free and open to the public.

The major sponsor for the conference is the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Other sponsors include several academic units within the college, UI International Programs and Studies, the UI Library and Rare Book Room and Special Collections Library, Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Colombia, COLCIENCIAS (Francisco José de Caldas Institute for the Development of Science and Technology), the U.S. Embassy in Bogota; Instituto Cervantes de Chicago and the Consulado General de Colombia in Chicago.

The Chicago meeting will take place 5-8 p.m. at the 410 Club in the Wrigley Building, 410 N. Michigan Ave. Titled "Encuentro con Colombianos Destacados" ("Encounter with Distinguished Colombians"), the meeting also is free and open to the public. Special guests will include Lopez Caballero and Ospina. Sponsors are the Cervantes Institute; the Colombian Consulate in Chicago; the UI; and the Association of Colombianists.

The conference Web site, which contains the complete schedule of events, is linked to The conference is coordinated by UI Conferences and Institutes; coordinators Scott Miller and David Ward can be reached at (217) 333-9561. Palencia-Roth can be contacted at