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Mac Margolis

Colombia Treasure Ship Lures Lawyers, Guns and Money

The quest for a Spanish galleon could redefine the law on who gets to own the past.
Who gets to keep it?

Who gets to keep it?

Photographer: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Ever since it sank in battle off the coast of Colombia in 1708, the Spanish galleon San Jose has awakened conflicting claims. To Spain, the 64-gun vessel belongs to the mother country alone. Treasure hunters, asserting finders-keepers rights, demanded a piece of the ship's fabulous haul, which could amount to as much as $17 billion in gold, silver and precious stones.

But don't tell that to the Colombians. They know that the San Jose and its storied riches were always meant for Fermina Daza, the heroine of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Love in the Time of Cholera," whose fevered suitor vowed to dive to the bottom of the Caribbean so that she might "bathe in showers of gold."