The US courts have told the Tampa-based deep sea salvage company Odyssey Marine Explorations that they have to return to Spain the gold and silver coins and other finds which they took in 2007 from the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, which sank off Portugal in 1804. At the time of the discovery the find was estimated to be worth around $500 million to collectors, which would have made it the richest shipwreck in history.
Now Peru has asked the Supreme Court to put a hold on the return of the treasure to Spain because it claims that the treasure was ultimately "stolen from the Peruvian people" by Spanish colonialists.
"Cultural Property Observer", Washington lawyer Peter Tompa ('Peru to Supreme Court: Spain Stole It First!')postulates:
Shouldn't the ardent repatriationists of the archaeological community support Peru over dastardly Spain? Surely if they pushed for Yale to return study artifacts from Machu Picchu, they should root for Peru in its efforts to take back what they are due from whatever source. Or, is their ire selectively employed against American companies and institutions? Perhaps "finders, keepers" is the best rule after all.I find the lawyer's argument rather difficult to follow. Yale University hanging on too long to the loaned excavation archive from Machu Piccu is a relatively cut-and-dried case.
The area that is now Peru in 1801-4 was a viceregency of Spain, under the rule of the Bourbon king Charles IV and administrated by Viceroy Gabriel de Aviles. The Peruvian mines and Lima mint (where many of these coins were struck) were Spanish-run for the Spanish Crown. Do the Peruvians expect the US Supreme Court to declare the entire Viceregency of Peru illegal? The Spanish Empire as a whole? On what grounds do they expect this re-writing of history?
I suppose if the US Supreme Court is going to negate colonial claims in such a manner, it’d be equally logical for the US Government to give the land Washington DC stands on back to the Nacotchtank and Piscataway and start paying them back-rent going back to 1791.
Map: The Spanish colonies in South America, 18th Century [Wikimedia]