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A New Debate over Columbus


Puerto Rico’s historians estimate that Christopher Columbus landed in Puerto Rico roughly November 19th, 1493, on his second voyage to the New World.

But where did he land? That’s a question that has been creating controversy for many years.

Columbus had passed by or visited Dominica and Saba, Guadaloupe, Antigua, Montserratte, and St. Kitts, among other islands, naming them along the way with names which are generally no longer used. Still, the route was fairly direct and well known. It is known that Columbus was heading for Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles, where he had left about 40 men on his previous voyage.

Columbus had European livestock aboard as well as people intending to settle in the New World. His ship had made the crossing from Spain in only 21 days, and he spent only one day traveling along the coast of Puerto Rico, then known as Borinquén.

Columbus came ashore somewhere between Aguada and Aguadilla, or perhaps in Añasco or Rincon. Or possibly Mayaguez, Guayanilla, Combate, or Bocaron.

Aurelio Tio, the former official historian of Puerto Rico, chose Añasco as the most likely, partly on the basis of 15th century court documents disputing a piece of land.

Pulitzer Prize winning historian and Columbus expert Samuel Eliot Morison agreed with him. The two visited the locations together and Morison concluded that Tio was correct. The news of this certainty was reported now and then in mainland papers: stories in 1949, 1963, and 1978 in various parts of the country announced the “new” discovery.

In 2000, however, a government funded commission, led by Osiris Delgado, Ricardo Alegria, and Adam Szasdi of the Puerto Rican Academy of History, made the official determination that the landfall occurred between Aguada and Aguadilla.

The mayor of Añasco believes that new evidence from University of Puerto Rico oceanographers will finally clinch the question.

Why, after half a millennium, is the controversy still able to rouse so much passion? The answer may lie in the benefits for tourism.

Rincon Beach Resort in Añasco trumpets, “The Great Admiral, Columbus, chose this bay for his first PR landing!” on tourist sites like TripAdvisor, and the competing towns have neighborhoods named “Columbus Landing” and statues of Columbus.  It is a debate that may not be resolved soon.

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