The Centro Boliviano Americano of Santa Cruz, as part of its 30th Anniversary celebration, organized the First Latin American Seminar for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language at CBA’s facilities from July 18 – 22, 1988, with more than 150 English teachers and representatives from seven Binational Centers (BNCs) in Latin America and from the former United States Information Agency (USIA) in attendance.
During the opening ceremony, Mr. Luis Alberto Gamarra, Executive Director of the BNC Santa Cruz, proposed that this initiative continue and he proposed a higher objective: the foundation of an organization sponsored by the Binational Centers and USIA to bring together all BNCs in order for them to share their experience and best practices in the field of English Teaching and Cultural activities, as well as to encourage closer understanding and cooperation among its members.
A meeting took place in Mr. Gamarra’s office on July 20 with the participation of representatives from seven Binational Centers and USIA:
• Mrs. Ruth Montalvan: English Teaching Officer, USIA, Washington D.C.
• Mrs. Blanca Arazi: Executive Director, BNC (ICANA) Buenos Aires, Argentina
• Mrs. Maria de la Paz Peña: Academic Director, BNC Asunción, Paraguay
• Mrs. Maria Elena Perez: Academic Coordinator, BNC Montevideo, Uruguay
• Mr. Oscar Castro, Text Book Division Director, BNC Mexico City, Mexico
• Mrs. Marcel D’rpic, Academic Director BNC Cochabamba, Bolivia
• Mrs. Ruth Soria, Academic Director BNC La Paz, Bolivia
• Mr. Luis Alberto Gamarra, Executive Director BNC Santa Cruz, Bolivia
• Mr. Andreas Toumazis, Academic Director BNC Santa Cruz, Bolivia
The following individuals participated as observers:
• Mrs. Susan Stempleski, Academic Specialist, City University of New York, USA
• Mrs. Tracy de Gavilanes, Coordinator of the English Department, Pontificia Universidad Católica of Ecuador
Those in attendance at the meeting supported the idea of continuing this type of international meeting in the future and they discussed ways in which those events could be organized. At the end of the discussion, participants unanimously decided to found the Association of Binational Centers of Latin America (ABLA). The idea was to select a name that embodied the importance of communication among BNCs. ABLA was selected since the word hablar in Spanish means “to speak” in English, and ABLA and HABLAR are pronounced the same (since the “h” is silent in Spanish), thus implying communication. Tasks were established to plan, organize and direct future meetings with representatives from all BNCs in Latin America and USIA officials with the objective of promoting cooperation among its members.
The ABLA proposal signed by all the participants established that the purpose of the international meetings or conventions would be “to share expertise and experience in the field of Teaching English as a Foreign language (TEFL) and Cultural activities, as well as to encourage closer understanding and cooperation among its members and people in the USA”. The ABLA proposal also invited all Binational Centers in Latin America to join ABLA, which would “have its headquarters in a different country every two years, based on where the next meeting will be held”. On that occasion, the participants chose ICANA (Instituto Cultural Argentino Norteamericano) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as headquarters for the first ABLA International Convention to be held from July 16 – 20, 1990, and Mrs. Blanca Arazi, Executive Director of ICANA was named Convention Chairperson.
The First ABLA Convention took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina from July 16 – 20, 1990, where new BNC representatives participated, including Mr. Edward G. McGrath from the BNC in Barranquilla, Colombia, and Despina Tefarikis from the BNC of Antofagasta, Chile, among others. During this convention, Blanca Arazi, Executive Director of the BNC in Buenos Aires, presented and proposed the Convention Logo that has symbolized ABLA over the years (a hot-air balloon with colors representing the flags of all the countries in Latin America). At the same event, representatives from USIA presented a plaque that has been passed around to all BNCs that have organized ABLA conventions over the past 26 years, starting with the BNC in Santa Cruz where ABLA was founded.
The following BNCs have organized ABLA Conventions:
• 1988: ABLA founded at the Instituto Boliviano Americano – Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
• 1990: Instituto Cultural Argentino Norteamericano – Buenos Aires, Argentina
• 1992: Instituto Cultural Dominico Americano – Santo Domingo, República Dominicana
• 1994: Centro Venezolano Americano del Zulia – Maracaíbo, Venezuela
• 1996: Associação Cultural Brasil Estados Unidos– Salvador Bahia, Brazil
• 1998: Centro Cultural Sanpedrano- San Pedro Sula, Honduras
• 2000: Instituto Cultural Peruano Norteamericano – Lima, Peru
• 2002: Instituto Chileno Norteamericano de Cultura – Temuco, Chile
• 2004: Instituto Guatemalteco Americano – Guatemala, Guatemala
• 2006: Centro Ecuatoriano Norteamericano – Guayaquil, Ecuador
• 2008: Centro Boliviano Americano – Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
• 2010: Centro Colombo Americano – Cali, Colombia
• 2012: Instituto Cultural Dominico Americano – Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic
• 2014: Instituto Cultural Brasil Estados Unidos – Londrina, Brazil (the Convention was held in Florianopolis, Brazil)
• 2016: Instituto Mexicano Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales – Monterrey, Mexico (the convention was held in Houston, Texas, U.S.A.)
• 2018: Instituto Cultural Argentino Norteamericano – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Those who participated in ABLA’s foundation identified a potential need for collaboration among most BNCs in Latin America and they undertook the initiative of addressing that need and building upon it. Nevertheless, the most important aspect is that ABLA Binational Centers have met the challenge and helped to strengthen the synergies and competitive advantages of BNCs in the Hemisphere.