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Speaker Explores the Secret History of Columbus

By Eddy Ball
November 2009

Historian Manuel Rosa
"Columbus was on a mission to hurt Spain and help Portugal," Rosa told his audience. "He was very knowledgeable about what he was doing."
(Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS biologist Eli Ney
In her introduction, Ney recognized the people who were working during the presentation to set up the cafeteria, including Lysandra Castro, Maria Sifre, Lisa Banks, Juanita Roman, Michelle Mayo and others on the committee. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Displays of arts and culture of various Latin American countries
Displays highlighted the arts and culture of various Latin American countries represented by employees at NIEHS. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Lysandra Castro, left, and Veronica Godfrey
NIEHS Diversity Council members Lysandra Castro, left, and Veronica Godfrey, enjoyed Latin American foods at the reception. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Three Guitarists
The Mariachi Los Galleros featured three guitarists, shown above, two trumpeters and a violinist. They played several traditional favorites, including a rousing version of "La Bamba." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

During its latest Hispanic Heritage Celebration on October 6, the NIEHS Diversity Council offered employees and contractors a novel perspective on explorer Christopher Columbus with a lecture by historian Manuel Rosa. Hosted by council member and NIEHS biologist Eli Ney, Rosa's talk, "Unmasking Columbus," explored the topic of "Columbus, the who, what and where - his identity, his knowledge and his mission."

A native of the Portuguese Azores who once worked on an information technology contract at NIEHS, Rosa has spent the past 18 years investigating historic events related to Columbus' 1492 voyage to America. His research findings are the basis of his two controversial books in Portuguese - the carefully documented account, O Mistério Colombo Revelado (The Mystery of Columbus Revealed), published in 2006, and a popular version of the study released this year, Colombo Português (Portuguese Columbus).

As the titles of his books suggest, Rosa rejects the depiction of Columbus as "an inexperienced, lost and confused" explorer - a self-made man and shipwrecked sailor from Genoa, Italy, who stumbled across the Americas in 1492 during his misguided search for a western route to India.

Basing his argument on DNA and documentary evidence, Rosa presented a revisionist account of the explorer, whose real name, he argued, was Cristóbol Colón. According to Rosa, Colón was in fact "a highly trained [and very well-educated] nobleman, a Portuguese spy who infiltrated the Spanish royal court on a mission to take Spanish ships as far from India as possible in order to protect India's trade routes for the Portuguese king [Henry II]."

As Rosa explained, during this time of cataclysmic shifts in the global balance of power, Portugal used its most powerful weapons - artifice, secrecy and intrigue - to divert Spain to the Americas and preserve its own standing as a colonial power in Africa and the East Indies. Columbus, Rosa contends, was an expert navigator, a master prevaricator and accomplished cryptographer who plotted against Spain throughout the voyage, even stopping at Portuguese island ports on his way to America and on his return voyage before returning to Spain - presumably to give progress reports to his Portuguese handlers and co-conspirators.

Rosa contends that the new information he has discovered about Columbus offers a fresh context for understanding apparent contradictions in the established historical record. The new evidence also helps explain Spain's readiness to sign the Treaty of Tordesillas( Exit NIEHS in 1494, dividing newly discovered lands outside Europe between the two naval superpowers - and reserving Africa and India for Portugal.

Following the presentation, attendees and others from NIEHS gathered for a cultural food tasting, country information exhibits and entertainment by the group Mariachi Los Galleros de Mexico in the NIEHS cafeteria.

Musicians posing with members of the NIEHS Diversity Council
Musicians posed with members of the NIEHS Diversity Council. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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