The battle for the underwater treasure of the San José has just begun.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos insists that the trove from the shipwrecked Spanish galleon belongs to his country, while Spain refuses to give up its alleged rights over the ship.
There are a lot of owners who are now popping up. No sir, this is the Colombian people’s cultural heritage”
President Juan Manuel Santos
“The galleon is part of Colombia’s cultural heritage for the Colombian people,” Santos said on Tuesday, just one day after his government and Spanish officials agreed to try to negotiate an agreement over ownership.
“There are a lot of owners who are now popping up. No sir, this is the Colombian people’s cultural heritage,” the president added.
The San José was sunk by a British war fleet during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1708, in Caribbean waters near the coast of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.
According to historical records, the Spanish galleon was carrying 200 tons of silver, gold and precious stones discovered in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.
On Friday, Santos announced the find on Twitter. The following day at a news conference, he explained that a search team made up of government archeologists and researchers from a private organization found the wreckage on November 27, using an underwater unmanned vehicle.
The precise location of the wreck and other details about the discovery were not disclosed by Santos, who said the entire operation was a state secret.
A tweet from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos featuring a video of the expedition to locate the vessel. The text reads: “The discovery of the #GaleónSanJosé marks a historic milestone for our underwater cultural heritage.”
“Spain has a right to ownership,” said Spanish Culture Minister Íñigo Méndez de Vigo on Monday.
Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo went further by issuing a warning to the government in Bogota. “If this cannot be resolved on friendly terms, they must understand that we will claim it and defend our rights.”
In response, President Santos defended his country’s position.
“We are going to share it with the rest of humanity because it is an important discovery, but its heritage belongs to the Colombian people,” he said.
If this cannot be resolved on friendly terms, they must understand that we will defend our rights” Foreign Minister García-Margallo
Spain has asked Colombia for information concerning the find and how it fits in with a UNESCO treaty, which establishes that such vessels belong to their country of origin.
“Spain has signed the UNESCO convention and everyone must comply with international law, even though Colombia hasn’t signed this treaty,” explained Méndez de Vigo, at the same time adding that the San José is a state-owned vessel.
Santos said that his government presented a cultural heritage protection law that was passed in 2013 so that the government “would have a legal basis, and all the measures at hand, to clear hurdles” in the event of such a controversy.
Foreign Ministry officials from both countries are expected to sit down to talks in the coming weeks. Plans for a meeting between García-Margallo and his Colombian counterpart, María Ángela Holguín, are also in the works.
English version by Martin Delfín.