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Panama leads fight against treasure hunters

Created on Sunday, 30 October 2016 08:48
Last Updated on Sunday, 30 October 2016 14:02



Panama is, for now, the only Latin American country really committed to conservation of underwater cultural heritage and the fight against treasure hunters, Efe said one of the global leaders of the industry, the Spanish archaeologist Ivan Negueruela.

Besides being one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 2001 and in operation since 2008, Panama is the only country in the region that is trying to form a specialized unit that can deal with the pirates of the century.

"Hopefully Panama serve as oil stain and other countries in the region imitate their model," said Negueruela, which runs for more than a decade the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology (Arqua), located in the Spanish city Cartagena (southeast).

In March 2015, Panama warned Spain of the appearance ten years ago a Spanish galleon sunk near the archipelago of Las Perlas on the Pacific and subsequent pillaging by an American company, with the connivance of the Panamanian administration then.

"At the current government he did not like what was done then. By dividing the treasure, this American company was very villainous with Panamanians and gave them very little material and in very bad condition. Most were coins semi destroyed without any commercial value, "said the expert.


The galleon San Jose, built in 1611, set sail from the Peruvian port of Callo towards Panama with a major cargo of gold and silver on board and sank on June 17, 1631 after brushing with a shoal.

"Whoever wants to dig down a boat, you need the permission of the ministry of culture of the country where the ship and this country, in turn, must notify the governing country of the vessel," said Negueruela.

The government of Juan Carlos Varela, despite the "bad behavior" of his predecessors, wanted to redirect the commitment of Panama with the convention of UNESCO and requested assistance from Spain to appraise the pillaging of San Jose and create a unit of aquatic archaeologists, Negueruela said.

The Spanish is in charge of training twenty Panamanian officials from various ministries and security agencies of the country that end up forming the special unit of marine archeology.

Training, he said the director of Arqua consists of a one-week workshop, which ended today, and a stay of several months in the Spanish museum.

"If we get that in a few years all countries in Latin America have their own operating center, its own archaeologists and their own laws to comply with the convention of UNESCO, will be the bane of treasure hunters," said the archaeologist.

The signatories of the international treaty of UNESCO, among which include Spain, Cuba, Mexico or France undertake to preserve the underwater heritage, giving priority to conservation "in situ" and reject the commercial exploitation of this heritage.

"The country does not sign the convention hiding something. The key to this treaty is that the underwater heritage is the heritage of all humanity and cannot sell," warned Negueruela.

UNESCO estimates that more than three million shipwrecks are scattered across the oceans, and other archaeological remains, as the lighthouse of Alexandria or the palace of Cleopatra.