Colombia's Price for Peace: Cocaine and the Environment
Colombia's Price for Peace: Cocaine and the Environment
Colombia has billions in sunken treasure lying off its coast. But who owns it?
Sitting at the bottom of the ocean, just off Colombiaâs coast, is one of the hemisphereâs richest treasures: a Spanish galleon packed with billions of dollars worth of New World gold, silver and emeralds.
The fight over who will profit from the San JosÃ© shipwreck and its precious cargo â" thought to be worth between $4 billion and $17 billion â" has dragged on for almost four decades amid legal challenges and allegations of back-stabbing, international espionage and unbridled greed.
On Monday, barring a last-minute court ruling or additional delays, the Colombian government will announce the name of the company or companies eligible to recover the vessel â" and win the right to a significant portion of the San JosÃ©âs riches.
And while the announcement might finally bring the storied ship to the surface after 310 years, the fight over its treasure is far from over.
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The latest chapter in the San JosÃ© saga began in 2015, when Colombian Presiden t Juan Manuel Santos announced that a team of international researchers and the Colombian Navy had found the âHoly Grailâ of shipwrecks a few miles from the coastal city of Cartagena. He said the discovery of the San JosÃ©, sunk by the British in 1708, had âenormous archaeological value for Colombia and all of humanityâ and said it would be preserved and protected in a specially-built museum.
There was just one cloud over the celebration. Sea Search Armada, a salvage company from Bellevue, Washington, said it had discovered the wreck in 1982 and had, as required by law, provided the coordinates to the Colombian government at the time.
From the beginning, SSA was forced to defend its claim from multiple competing interests. And in 2007 Colombiaâs Supreme Court ruled that the company was entitled to half of all the treasure found at the coordinates it had provided â" as long as it wasnât considered ânational patrimony,â such as religious artwork or one-of-a-kind artifacts.
For SSA, that ruling is binding and conclusive.
âWe have the ownership rights par exce llence,â Danilo Devis, the companyâs longtime lawyer, said last week. âThere is no authority higher than the Supreme Court, except God.âColombia says it has discovered the site of the Spanish galleon San JosÃ©, which sunk off the coast of Cartagena in 1708. The shipwreck is the subject of a long-running legal dispute and is thought to be worth billions. The cannons, pictured here, were key to identifying the galleon, authorities said.
And yet the government disagrees.
The Santos administration contends that it found the shipwreck in 2015 independently of SSAâs research, working with international investigators and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. In addition, it says the San JosÃ© wasnât at the coordinates SSA provided
36 years ago â" before GPS made underwater mapping a precise science.
âThe Colombian government did not use any information that it already had on hand for this new finding,â the Ministry of Culture told the Miami Herald in a recent email. âWe can confirm that the [new] discovery is not at the coordinates provided by SSA in 1982. Once again, the information that SSA is providing is designed to confuse the public.â
The salvage company, however, says itâs the government trying to muddy the waters. Because of the technological limits of the time, SSA reported the wreck was âi n the immediate vicinityâ of a spot 21.5 miles west of the BarÃº Peninsula. In 2017, it offered to limit its legal claim to an area 36 nautical-miles around the coordinates it provided and asked the government for a joint visit to the site to settle the claim.
The administration rejected the offer and said that the only verification it was willing to accept was at the exact coordinates provided by SSA.
âThe only thing in which the government and SSA have agreed upon, for 35 years, is that there is no shipwreck in the precise coordinates indicated in the report of 1982,â Devis wrote in a legal brief. âT herefore, it does not make sense to verify some coordinates in which with absolute certainty it is known that there is nothing.â
Adding to the intrigue is the way the government says it found the San JosÃ©.
In radio interviews shortly after the 2015 announcement, Santos said the breakthrough came thanks to a white-bearded foreigner âwho looked like Hemingwayâ and approached him at an embassy reception. Th e president said the man had been studying the San JosÃ© for 38 years and had created a treasure map based on âpreviously unknownâ information, including wind patterns.
âHeâs not a treasure hunter, heâs not after the money,â Santos said of the man. âHe has an affinity for history, archaeology and culture.â
Three years later, Culture Minister Mariana GarcÃ©s told local radio that the hirsute mystery manâs name was Roger Dooley, a renowned underwater archaeologist.
The revelation sent shock waves through SSA.
Jack Harbeston, one of the founders of SSA, said Dooley had worked with IOTA Partners, a financier of SSA, from 2000 to 2003, and would have had access to the companyâs unsecured digital files, including maps and detailed research about the San JosÃ©.
While SSA spent two years and $11 million to find the site of the wreck in the 1980s, the governmentâs team â" advised by Dooley â" ârediscoveredâ the site within weeks of launching their expedition, SSA said.
âHow did Roger Dooley find it so fast?â asked Devis, the lawyer. âBecause they had our coordinates and the information they had stolen from us, so they were able to find the shipwreck in less than two months.â
In an email sent through a representative, Dooley called the allegations âabsurd and irresponsible.â
Dooley said his research into the shipwreck was done in Spain and the United States prior to 2000 â" before he ever had contact with Harbestonâs team. âDiscoveri ng the San JosÃ© was the result of an extensive and complex investigative process that relied on multiple factors and sources of information that were exhaustively analyzed,â he wrote.
And while he worked as a field archaeologist with IOTA Partners on the Mariana Islands, âSSA had absolutely nothing to do with that contract.â
While Santos said that Dooley was ânot a treasure hunter,â he very well may reap the benefit of his treasure map.
In March, the government opened up bidding for companies willing to participate in a public-private partnership to salvage the vessel.
Under the deal, the contractor will bear the financial burden of the salvage and building a museum in Cartagena to preserve and display the galleon â" a cost the government estimates at $70 million. But the contractor will be entitled to 50 percent of the treasure not considered ânational patrimony,â as determined by the National Council for Cultural Patrimony.
Some archaeologists and historians argue that the vessel and the entirety of its cargo should be considered national heritage and belong in a museum, not broken up to pay for the salvage. But the administration maintains that the contract â" which forces the winning bidder to assume the costs of the operation â" is the only viable way to recover the galleon.
When the San JosÃ© went down, it was carrying six yearsâ worth of accumulated riches gathered from Spanish colonies in Latin America. While no one is sure of the cargoâs value, a U.S. court â" in one of SSAâs many legal battles â" estimated it at a staggering $4 billion to $17 billion. Others have said it might be worth as much as $22 billion or as little as $1 billion.The San Jose Galeon from an unsourced painting
The company that set the baseline for the public-private partnership, and therefore is the âoriginator,â or the bidder that all other companies must compete against, is Marine Archeology Consultations (MAC), where Dooley is listed as âlead researcherâ and âproject coordinator.â
MAC, which is registered in England, couldnât be reached for comment despite repeated attempts to contact them through their website.
SSA and others complain that while MAC and Dooley had almost three years to fine-tune their bids working hand-in-hand with the government, others were given just 30 days. That deadline was extended multiple times and expires on Monday, July 23. But by all accounts, MAC is the only company that has submitted a successful bid. The Ministry of Culture said it could not confirm if there were any other interested parties until after Mondayâs deadline.
Nelson Fredy Padilla, a Colombian journalist who has followed the legal wrangling and written a book about the shipwreck called âThe San JosÃ© Galleon and Other Treasures,â said the opaque nature of the bidding has lent itself to âcorruption.â
The salvage contract âfor the San JosÃ© galleon is a legal option that has been manipulated by the whims of the Juan Manuel Santos government to favor the interests of the British firm MAC,â he said. âIf they really wanted transparency they should have had an open call for bids that would have allowed the input from Colombian universities and scientists.â
Padilla is among those who believe the entirety of the San JosÃ© and its riches are culturally valuable and shouldnât be handed over to âtreasure huntersâ like SSA and MAC.
According to the Associated Press, The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, sent a letter to Colombiaâs Ministry of Culture in April also expressing its alarm.
âTo allow the commercial exploitation of Colombiaâs cultural heritage goes against the best scientific practices and ethical international princi ples,â it said.
The government denies those allegations, saying it spent three years carefully crafting the bidding guidelines to make sure the nationâs interests are protected. And the proposal was approved by the Minister of Finance, the National Planning Department and the Council of Ministers.
Devis, SSAâs lawyers, says the lack of competition for such a juicy contract is proof that the process is flawed and that most competitors believe that MAC has an unfair advantage.
âThe San JosÃ© is the most valuable shipwreck in history and itâs the dream of every salvage company on the planet,â he said. âWhy is there only one bid? Because everyone knows this contract is already taken.âSource: Google News Colombia | Netizen 24 Colombia
The Most Adventurous Ways to Experience Colombia
After decades of civil war, a new peace deal has finally opened the countryâs remote interior to handy travelers, making Colombia the hottest adventure destination on the planet.
How Joseph Brodsky Finds (and Sells) the World's Best Coffee Beans
You can go fishing for peacock bassâ"arguably the worldâs toughest fighting fishâ"which requires an adventure in its own right just to get to them; or prowl for payaras (vampire fish).
And there are plenty of other exploits to be hadâ"if you explore Colombia by some untraditional means. See what we mean.Source: Google News Colombia | Netizen 24 Colombia
Ivan Duque is Colombia's Youngest President-Elect Ever. Now He Has to Fix the Divided Country
Long before he got the chance to enter politics, IvÃ¡n Duque was a local rock star. As a teenager in the 1990s, he sang in his high school band, Pig Nose. His onetime bandmates say that even then he was looking for something deeper than rock ânâ roll. âI was always looking for energy in my music,â recalls Rafael Gavassa, an old friend of Duqueâs. âBut IvÃ¡n was a little more about substance.â The grunge music of Pearl Jam and Nirvana informed Duqueâs songwriting. âI was more transcendental with the lyrics,â Duque remembers.
Itâs hard to imagine Duque as a long-haired grunge lover now. Sitting in his campaign headquarters in BogotÃ¡, the 41-year-old sports the sober dress shirt and tie of the political classâ"a look no doubt honed by his years in Washington working for a Latin American development bank. The wardrobe wi ll also work in his next job. On June 17 he became the youngest person to be elected President of Colombia.
This country of 49 million is something of a regional outlier in terms of its politics; its democratic institutions have withstood the rise of Latin American strongmen and populists who ran military dictatorships in the late 20th century in Argentina, Brazil and Chile, and, more recently, the socialist experiments in Venezuela and Bolivia. Duque, a partly U.S.-educated technocrat who speaks fluent English, is more in the mold of a Macron than a ChÃ¡vez or a Pinochet.
Like Franceâs upstart President, Duque says he wants to govern from the center. He joins a generation of younger leaders, like Canadaâs Justin Trudeau and New Zealandâs Jacinda Ardern, who ar e committing themselves to a new kind of neoliberalism that attempts to move past left and right.
âIâve always considered myself an extreme centrist,â Duque told TIME a few weeks after his election victory. âWe need to have the right balance between development and environmental protection. The right balance between entrepreneurship and worker rights. The right balance between free markets and the ability to fix market flaws â¦ Itâs a matter,â he says, as if the point could be lost, âof putting things in the right balance.â
The President-elect promises to take Colombia forward by uniting its divisions. But the obstacles are huge. Corruption and rising unemployment top a list of concerns in a country that is only now emerging from a half-century of armed conflict. Coca production is reaching new highs, and powerful criminal mafias contr ol territories in Colombiaâs outer periphery. Next door, NicolÃ¡s Maduroâs iron grip on Venezuelaâs failed experiment is pushing hungry and sick migrants across the border.
Duqueâs first and greatest challenge when he takes power in August is to bridge the divide over Colombiaâs peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which was at war with the state for five decades. Although a 2016 agreement earned outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos a Nobel Peace Prize, Colombians are bitterly divided over its terms. âColombia has presented a paradox for the last two or three years,â explains Michael Reid, author of Forgotten Continent: A History of the New Latin America. âSantosâ government has been hailed globally for the peace accord. But at home his gove rnment has been unpopular for a long time â¦ partly because of disillusion with the peace agreement.â
Duque, who won office on a promise to overhaul the deal, must solve that paradox if he is to succeed in his ambition to become a new archetype for what a Latin American leader can be. The agreement, he says, âleft a fracture in Colombian society. And I think now itâs time to heal that wound.â
Born in 1976, Duque grew up when the drug baron Pablo Escobarâs MedellÃn cartel was at the height of its powers. Duqueâs father governed Antioquia, the economically muscular province of which MedellÃn is the capital, during the early 1980s. Over the same period, cocaine began to rival extortion and kidnapping as FARCâs primary s ource of income. The Marxist group had formed in 1964 after farmers armed themselves and holed up in mountain camps during a government crackdown on left-wing ideology.
While the cartels and FARC were battling for control of Colombia, Duque was immersed in his studies. School friends remember him always walking around with a book in hand. âThere we were with Batman, and at 14 he was reading The Prince!â Gavassa chuckles, referring to Machiavelliâs treatise on power. Duque studied law in BogotÃ¡ and, a year after graduating, left to work at the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank, which finances development projects across Latin America.
He remembers the era as a period of violence back home, when many feared that Colombia could become a failed stat e. A week before he returned to get married in 2003, FARC blew up a business club in BogotÃ¡, killing 36. A distant relative was among the dead. âIt was shocking for everyone,â he says of the attack. âI think that was a big change in the way people felt about FARC and about violence.â
His work in Washington brought him into the orbit of Alvaro Uribe, the President of Colombia from 2002 to 2010, who became a mentor. After Uribe began the center-right Democratic Center Party in 2013, Duque returned home to run as a Senator. He quickly gained a reputation among his more hard-line colleagues in the Senate as a moderate consensus builder.
His signature issue became the peace deal struck by Santos in 2016, which ended fighting between the state and FARC. The agreem ent won international praise but proved hugely divisive in Colombia. Over 50 years, the sprawling armed conflict involving rebels, paramilitaries and the state left some 220,000 dead, millions displaced and large tracts of the country littered with land mines. Now FARCâs leaders were being allowed to walk freeâ"and, to many Colombians, escape justice for their crimes. During a referendum on Santosâ proposed accord, Duque campaigned against it. âMy whole life, Iâm a person who believes in peace,â Duque says now, âbut I believe that the only way to ensure peace in any society is with the rule of law.â
His opposition to the deal gave the freshman Senator a platform to become his partyâs candidate for the presidency last December. During the elections that ushered him to power, it was a central plank of his campaign. Now Duque must tweak the agreement in a way that pleases everyone: the signatories, the Colombian people and the global community.
What he proposes is effectively an upgrade of the deal that would give stronger sentences to former FARC leaders and scrap amnesty for crimes by guerrillas linked to the drug trade. But Duque pledges to keep the provisions that he says are working, like the reincorporation of FARC into civilian life. The mistake Santos made, he says, was âdividing Colombians between friends and enemies of peace. For me, there are no enemies, and we all want peace.â
The divisions in Colombia arenât all a product of the peace deal. The country has one of the most unequal societies in Latin Ame rica. Over half the population works off the books, while the public sees the government as a corrupt, elite institution dedicated to enriching itself. According to Gallup, in 2017 only 22% of Colombians had confidence in the government. To fix that, the President-elect says he will build a Colombia that works for everyone. âI want to be the President of social justice in Colombia. To increase and improve the quality of health coverage, education, housing and sports but at the same time guarantee the level of security and justice throughout the country so that no one feels threatened by criminals. Thatâs the way to ensure peace.â
Globally, Colombia is known for its most infamous historical export: cocaine. Although the days of Escobar are gone, the d rug remains a multibillion-dollar industry. Acreage planted with coca, the hardy Andean shrub used for making cocaine, shot up to 180,000 hectares last year, compared with 48,000 hectares in 2012 at the start of the peace talks.
Those numbers have caught Washingtonâs eye, especially as Colombia has received $10 billion in U.S. aid since 2000 to fight drug trafficking. Last year, President Trump pushed to decertify Colombia as a partner in the war on drugs, a move that would threaten almost $400 million that has been pledged to post-conflict remediation. Advisers talked the U.S. President out of it, but the message to Duque on his recent visit to Washington was clear: the next Colombian President must deal with the cocaine problem in order for relations to prosper. âThe reduction of illegal crops is vital for Colombia,â he says.
Duque also plans to work with the U.S. in rallying regional neighbors to take a harder stance against Venezuela, where Maduro is consolidating power. âI think our regional diplomacy during the last 20 years has been very weak toward Venezuela,â he says. He plans to withdraw Colombia from the Union of South American Nations, an organization created in part to challenge U.S. hegemony in the region, and denounce Maduro in front of the International Criminal Court. âWe need to take actions when we see things that can be a threat to the entire continent,â he says.
Duqueâs vision to set the region against authoritarianism may also help strengthen relations with Washington. âI think this is a government that will be very active in helping the U.S. convince other governments in the region that Venezuela is a rogue actor,â says Raul Gallegos, associate director at risk consultancy Contro l Risks.
The economic collapse of Venezuela has caused a regional humanitarian crisis, and at least 500,000 people have crossed the 1,300-mile border with Colombia in search of work. Duque suggests starting a âhumanitarian fundâ to deal with migrants on the border and creating a unified set of policies that would give migrants the same employment rights as Colombian workers. But ultimately the crisis wonât be solved until Maduro is out of government, Duque says. âNow is the time for the whole continent to put enough diplomatic pressure to open the road for Maduro to step out.â
Itâs not yet clear whether Duque will govern with a populist streak, but he does know how to display a popular touch. During his campaign, he danced salsa with TV hosts and sang fol k music, in contrast with the aristocratic Santos. âI think he models himself a little on JFK,â says Mary Roldan, a Latin American historian at Hunter College. âThe young man who comes without any political baggage, who represents youth and a pragmatic, modern, untainted approach to politics.â
But Duque does indeed have baggage: a perceived synonymy with his hard-line mentor that he hasnât been able to shake. Uribe is a controversial figure in Colombia. While the former President demobilized brutal paramilitary groups, close associates were found guilty of cooperating with them, members of his government spied on judges and journalists, and his military murdered civilians. He is seen by some as symbolic of the corrupt elite that Duque says he is againstâ"and many see the younger man as a puppet of his predecessor. âThe big question about Duque is to what extent is he his own man?â Reid says. Duque insists that he has his own political agenda, separate from his mentor. âWe disagree on a lot of things,â he says.
When they first met in Washington, Uribe was a presidential candidate, and Duque says they bonded by reciting the Gettysburg Address together and exchanging book recommendations on the 16th President of the U.S. âWhat I admire about Lincoln is his humility, creativity, love for his people and capacity to build consensus in times of crisis,â Duque says. â[He] had this capacity to govern the country with all the people in the past who were his adversaries.â
But it was also Abraham Lincolnâs 1860 election that helped tr igger the American Civil War. That President found greatness by holding together a young nation that had descended into a cataclysm. Duqueâs challenge is to manage the peace in his own.
This appears in the July 30, 2018 issue of TIME.Source: Google News Colombia | Netizen 24 Colombia