Peru Wants a Piece of the Black Swan

Sam Jones of the Guardian had an interesting article earlier this week updating the dispute between Spain and Odyssey Marine over the enormous shipwreck known as the Black Swan. Odyssey Marine recovered a massive amount of gold off the ocean floor, which may in fact be the wreck of the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes. The dispute is currently pending in US Federal Court in Florida; the admiralty law of salvage will most likely dictate that Odyssey Marine will at the very least get to keep a substantial portion of their haul provided the wreck was found in international waters.

Now it seems Peru has made claims:

But Madrid and Odyssey are now facing growing calls from Peru for some, or all, of the Mercedes’ cargo to be returned to the South American country.
Peruvian campaigners say that because the gold and silver coins were probably minted from metal taken without permission by the Spaniards, they belong to the modern-day country, not its former colonial master.
Last year, Peru’s production minister, Rafael Rey, said it was only “logical” that his country would seek the treasure’s return.
Blanca Alva Guerrero, director of the defence of cultural patrimony at Peru’s National Institute of Culture, said: “If we can establish that some or all of the recovered artefacts came from Peru, we are ready to reclaim them as material remnants of our past.”
She added that Peru had a legal right to recover any items deemed part of its “cultural heritage”.
Mariana Mould de Pease, a Peruvian historian who has successfully campaigned to oblige Yale University to return hundreds of artefacts taken from the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, said that although Spain had “acted duplicitously, and – where necessary – brutally” during the colonial period, she hoped a deal could be reached. “Given the historical ties between the two countries, I think Peru should join Spain in taking part in the scientific recovery of the ship’s contents.”
She said that Italy’s recent success in securing the return of Roman items from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty Museum in the US had “already influenced countries such as Peru when it comes to taking legal action founded on cultural restitution”.
Spain, however, has so far dismissed the Peruvian claim, saying that the Mercedes was sailing under a Spanish flag and pointing out that Peru did not exist as a country in 1804.

This appears to be nothing of substance backing this up. I do not see any way in which Peru could intervene in the dispute between Spain and Odyssey Marine. Perhaps others are aware of this kind of thing working in other contexts, but as vile as the conquistadors may have been, they weren’t dealing with a legal entity or nation as they understood it. Peru did not exist when this gold was taken.
Also, many will of course note that the agreement between Yale and Peru is hardly a done deal, despite the fact its probably about as good a deal as Peru could get under the circumstances.

I’m also surprised at how the Italian repatriation successes of recent years are continuing to appear in circumstances which are wholly unrelated. The Odyssey project, as flawed as some may believe it was, appears completely legal, and is a far cry from the looting which the Italian repatriations were responding too.

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3 thoughts on “Peru Wants a Piece of the Black Swan”

  1. Hello,

    Bob Long here.

    Just returned from an exploration in Guatemala. We were working in the west of the country (studying fauna). Many of the locals are saying that there is a major new Mayan find in the north of here in the jungle (some will not talk as they have been paid to keep quite). They told us that there have been many secret visits from members of the Mormon faith who have been flying in, in private aircraft. Apparently, some of the finds shoot a hole in the basis of their religion and artefacts have been removed to stop the story getting out. Are archaeologists involved? What have they been taking? do they have permission? Is it logged and documented? and is it being well looked after?

    PS. I have now discovered from other people that this has been going on for sometime and also at other sites. It seems that the Mormons have control of the sites and will remove (destroy?) anything which questions the basis of their religion. If this is the case it puts them on a par with the Taliban and needs to be exposed. I would have thought that this would have made an interesting investigative TV documentary.

    Does anyone else know about this?

    All the best,


  2. On the comments on Peru and the Black Swam, there is a reference to the vile Spanish conquistadores. May I ask why the Spanish conquistadores should be considerd as more vile than the English or the Dutch or the French? After all, Spaniards mixed with the Indians and allowed them privileges unknown of in English colonies ( for instance attending universities). If you go now to Mexico, the Andes or Paraguay you will find that most of the population is either mixed or Indian…¿ where is the genocide then? by contrast, you go to the US or Canada and where are the Indians? either killed or confined to reservations.

  3. Well Francis, interesting you bring this up about what being the difference between the Spanish, English, Dutch or French. There is actually a colossal difference. The conquistadores wiped out whole indigenous tribes of people over a 350 year period in the tens if not hundreds of millions of individuals. They were treated as if their only purpose was to work the mines and then be thrown away. I admit that the early US and other greedy riches seekers were bad but the Spanish take the cake as far as the genocide of whole civilizations in the wake of their greed. Let’s not stray from the subject at hand here.
    Throughout recorded history, hundreds of treasure transport ships have sunk in oceans all over the world. Between 1421 and 1423 the Chinese circumnavigated the globe with 800 large junks. Their cartographers drew maps that equal today’s experts. The Chinese found gold in many parts of the world but never took the devastating steps the Spanish took to secure its value. The Chinese already knew of gold and although regarded its value in high esteem, they had no need to destroy civilizations to acquire it. Expeditions led by Spaniards and the German Banking house of Wesler had been rapidly moving into the interior of South America from the Andes for more than a decade in 1541. The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V King of Spain, had granted Wesler the province of Venezuela as collateral for a loan. Whole tribes numbering in the tens of thousands were tortured and put to death in the wake of the invader’s greed for not revealing hidden treasure locations. Once the vast stored wealth of the New World was supposedly exhausted, entire Indian empires were then forced into cruel slave labor to mine the ore. Tens of thousands died at the hands of merciless Spanish slave drivers. Despite the inhuman treatment and scores of deaths that occurred, treasure continued to pour out of the New World unabated.
    The ore was processed and sent to the New World Royal mints in Mexico City, Mexico, Santa Fe de Bogota,Columbia and Lima, Peru. The earliest coins in the Americas were minted in Mexico City where the first mint was established in 1536.
    The coins were minted by the Spanish before Peru even existed.

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