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Latin America Team Dispatch

The Ghosts of Pirates Haunt These Waters

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Gold taken from what is today Peru was stored in Portobelo and Cartagena then shipped off to Spain

So we are all headed to Colombia now, sort of…

Kevin and Abeja have caught a boat going along the Caribbean coastline, while Monica, Kavitha, and Shawn are headed out (keep your fingers crossed!) on Wednesday for a 15 hour boat ride to Colombia across the Pacific Ocean

So we should be happy, right? Of course we are, that is, as long as we don't run into pirates.

Yep, that's right, pirates. For over 300 years this area has been the happy hunting ground of some of the world's most famous pirates - or at least the Caribbean side has been.

Why would there have been pirates in these parts?

Because there was a LOT of gold being shipped on boats through this area back to Spain. And even today these waters are known for modern, gun-toting pirates who will attack boats when they think they can get something valuable out of it.

To tell this story right, we have to start it with the indigenous of the Americas, the people who originally lived here. Some of the most famous groups were the Aztec, the Maya, and the Inca. Each of these groups had great wealth, a lot of it was in gold jewelry. So one of the big reasons people from Spain came and took over here was to get the gold. They would lie, cheat, steal, or kill in order to get it.

This gold would then be carried overland to forts where it could be guarded until a group of ships with lots of soldiers came to take it all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain.

So this is where the pirates come in. People all over the world knew about this gold, and most of them wished they could have some of it. And a few of them did something about it. They formed groups of pirates and attacked the ships that carried the gold. But they didn't just attack the ships, they even attacked entire towns where the gold was stored.

As Kavitha writes in her dispatch about Partying in Panama, the city of Portobelo, Panama had a major fort where gold was stored. The town of Portobelo was taken over and destroyed by pirates in 1739.

Another and even more important city was Cartagena, in Colombia. Pirates laid siege to the town 5 times! That means they surrounded it and wouldn't let anybody, or any food or water, in or out. The most famous siege was led by an English explorer Sir Francis Drake in 1586. He took over and for 100 days her ruled the city. He only left when all the townspeople together gave him 107,000 pieces of gold.

After that Spain spent 59 million ounces of gold to refortify the city, including a massive wall around the city which is still there, and two forts. A huge chain hung between them across the bay so pirates couldn't get their boats in so easily!

So why would there be pirates today?

Just like in the old days, pirates will take anything from money to cargo - this can be high-tech equipment or oil The way they operate is different in different parts of the world. "Arabian Sea buccaneers might bear anti-tank missiles, while West Africans carry knives, often raiding ships anchored miles offshore using dugout canoes launched from fishing boats. They take anything not bolted down, even lifebuoys. "

"According to the London-based International Maritime Bureau… here were 224 incidents of piracy and armed robbery of ships…" in 1996, and "the IMB.'s Commercial Crime Services Executive Director Eric Ellen thinks these figures tell only half the story. Attacks are under-reported by crews and owners wishing to avoid long delays in port for police investigations. With a ship's operating costs running around $10,000 a day, investigations can cost the owner more than the piracy." (This info is from a story called "A Plague of Pirates.")

Are we worried? Well, we won't take any unnecessary risks. But after waiting more than ten days for a boat, we're all going to be pretty grateful to get on the ocean waters! We're actually more worried about getting sea sick! Wish us well, matie!


Monica - Hey There, Sailor, Got Room For Three More?
Monica - Being Tardy Sucks!
Team - Has Anyone Ever Taken Over YOUR Country Just To Be President?
Kavitha - Partytime in Panama!
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