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The Tale of a Sunken Spanish Galleon

The Tale of a Sunken Spanish Galleon


A recent story coming out of Latin America has all the trappings and intrigue of a Hollywood blockbuster, but with some serious real-life implications.


Though it has been quite some time, as significant as several centuries can be, since the Spanish ship San Jose set sail for its intended destination, the ship is still making headlines across the world. Initially tasked as a carrier mission to transport gold to the then French monarch to support the nation’s fight against the British, that last voyage would become the beginning of a centuries’ long search for sunken treasure and the start of a new way of viewing lost wonders.


Sunken Treasure and Finders Rights…


The story of the San Jose’s sunken treasures has all the makings of classic high sea adventure. There are multiple governments claiming ownership, closed-door dealings, and of course the excitement of finding hidden wonders deep below the ocean’s surface. More importantly, at the center is a decades-long discussion concerning who truly has a claim over riches lost to the ocean.


For quite some time, the popular notion that those who find lost treasure have a rightful stake over the treasure has reigned as the de-facto ruling. Though this has been highly contested and fought over the years, the so-called “finder’s rights” have been, for the most part, respected. This notion was also legitimated in the eighties, as the United States government heard a case involving a professional team of treasure seekers and the US state of Florida.


As most, if not all, of the treasure found among the wreckage, was gained not through exploration within the Spanish’s borders but was the product of their imperialistic history, there is the rightful claim that the treasure belongs to those from it was initially taken from. In these case, the nations of Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia while they were under Spanish rule. While cases of lost treasure taken from people long since passed do not immediately elicit the appropriate response that might be admitted to more recent of subjugation and exploitation.


To put this in perspective and give a slightly more modern example of the practice, one just needs to consider the troves of valuables stolen from the Jewish people at the hands of Hitler’s forces.


When viewed in that light, the answer to the debate becomes quite clear, if the heirs of the Nazis were to try to claim rightful ownership over the tons of gold stolen from the very bodies of the people they massacred. The world would unequivocally stand against such assertion, as the memories of those horrors are still very much present in our collective mind.


The same principle, attitudes, and feelings hold true for the treasure found in the wrecked San Jose. And while all parties are still fiercely fighting over ownership, perhaps it is time that we start to make the wrongs of our past right, and begin to recognize that riches gained through exploitation is owed to those from which it was stolen.  


Understanding and Embracing Our Differences.


Given the shifts towards nationalism that have struck much of the world, it may seem easy to look at many of the things that make us different as reasons for distrust instead of a celebration of the different realities we inhabit.


This wave of protectionism and nationalism, while dangerous and disruptive to global progress, is, unfortunately, gaining ground among politicians who would exploit it for political gain.


And as the United States wrestles with an administration that has built much of its campaign promises and policy changes around border walls and preventing immigration; amidst Britain’s decision to separate itself from its European neighbors, dispelling the fears and celebrating our differences is more imperative now than ever.


Failure to embrace our differences will lead to more dire consequences beyond returns to nationalism, as our reticence to accept cultural differences may disrupt the progress we’ve made as a people to a creating a thriving global market.


So in honor of that which makes us who we are, no matter where we are from, let’s take a look at some of the differences Latin American countries have with the rest of the world.


Punctuality is more than a courtesy in Germany…


Across the pond, preparation is considered more than a sign of courtesy but a way of life


For the people of Germany, showing up on time is ingrained into their very culture. One that extends into every aspect of their lives, regardless of the situation.


Whereas inhabitants of Latin American nations are known for a more blasé approach towards punctuality, formal occasions and appointments always require a sense of readiness. That is not readily seen extending into personal lives beyond being a courtesy.


Though this seems like a rather innocuous culture difference, understanding the slight variations in the way a little tardiness is perceived is imperative when starting to bridge the gap between countries and building business relations abroad.


And as every business relationship is exactly that, a relationship, entering into one with more understanding of where the other side is coming from will only lead to a stronger alliance.


Keeping your home life at Home.


Latin American culture is well known for always being inviting, parties and reasons to celebrate, drawing huge crowds of people. This gregariousness is part of the definition of our culture. In contrast,  in Northern latitudes such as Canada, that proclivity to drawing everyone into celebrations and giving access to every aspect of life is not readily shared.


This isn’t to say Canadians are not a welcoming people, far from it. It is more to say that when compared to Latin Americans, Canadians tend to enjoy their privacy a bit more. There is often a very noticeable distinction between personal life and work life.


For example, a child’s birthday may be a reason to invite the entire office in Latin America, but the same event in North America would perhaps only warrant a pleasant conversation the following Monday.

While there are more examples than one could readily describe, or even mention in one post, it is important to remember that while the differences among us may be numerous, commonalities vastly outnumber the points in which we differ.


Taking that into consideration, with a healthy dose of open-mindedness and acceptance, is essential as we move forward into a global community and embrace all the small cultural differences that make crossing our borders so interesting and exciting.


The importance of Latin America


As a business partner is undeniable now and in the last century, not only in the US but the whole world. Now more than ever is a great time to start a business in the region – but no one said that this would be an easy task to achieve.


Latin America may seem homogeneous, but similarities are as frequent as not.  Negotiation in every region will be different, but before starting a business usually, the other side wants to meet in a more personal manner, and this step is crucial for business. People pay attention to facial expressions, so it does not hurt to be friendly and smile. Time is what is called “island time” meetings are often (not always) relaxed with few time pressures, negotiators tend to make their business decisions upon first impressions and trust (Interpersonal process). Direct conflict or confrontation is something that is not appealing during negotiations and is avoided as much as possible,  relying upon the interpersonal process to minimize any roughness.


In Latin America, people take particular care with regards to their appearance and believe in spending valuable time with business partners. Through this is how they gain respect and trust. It, therefore, goes without saying that one needs to have a flexible schedule when doing business in Latin America.


Don’t expect great detail or sharing of information in the preliminary meetings, as negotiators hesitate in sharing data as they may feel that the other party is going to use it against them.


Zero Sum negotiation must be expected and, the solution to this is to distribute benefits. Don’t be surprised if you encounter bargaining and haggling as this is something familiar with the negotiators in the region.


The Latin America negotiators manage the rapport by the emphasis in persuasion, meetings start very affably, telling jokes and looking for personal similarities. As time passes the tone changes and the negotiator becomes quite eloquent (or at least that is the intention) and if things are not going their way usually will use power as a last resort to try to convince you (loud voices and disinterest to intimidate).


Some subcultures in Latin America negotiate with a language of ambiguities. A “Yes” may, in fact, mean “maybe” or even “No,”


Learn to read between the lines as Latin Americans tend to communicate indirectly. When in doubt, do not hesitate to ask sensitive questions. The real key to getting along with Latin Americans is a positive attitude.


Spontaneity precedes any planning in South America. Where many things are uncertain and where the political situation, as well as private affairs, could change from one day to the next, spontaneity is the norm.


However, those who come with an open mind and do not adopt prejudices are on the right path to becoming interculturally competent.


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