Oceana, The 'country' Of 26 Islands That Spain Forgot In

Oceana, the ‘country’ of 26 islands that Spain forgot in the Pacific

A Spaniard proclaims the independence of a group of atolls in the East Indies.

One of the islands of Oceana.

When the sun did not set in the Spanish Empire, islas like Güedes (or Guedes), Pescadores or Coroa were just crumbs on the table of colonial politics that no one would have bothered to pick up. And in fact, nobody bothered to do it, which over time has given rise to innumerable speculations, to a grotesque recent political episode and the birth of a micronation, one more of the hundreds that today swarm through Internet forums with more or less real pretensions of official recognition.

The most widespread version tells that he was the conqueror Hernando de Grijalva who first sighted this group of Pacific atolls in 1537, during an expedition from the American coast. Since Grijalva was killed during a mutiny, he was unable to give a personal account of his journey, but the travel log was collected and included in his writings by Antonio Galvão, Governor of Ternate, in the Moluccas Islands under Portuguese control.

The atolls supposedly sighted by Grijalva were included in the Spanish domain over the Islas Carolinas, as part of the East Indies. When the disaster of the defeat against the USA in 1898 forced Spain to get rid of its last colonies, the Carolinas were sold the following year for 25 million pesetas to Germany, which had previously disputed the possession of those islands.

From then on, the destiny of the Carolinas was to go from hand to hand according to the result of each new war conflict. At the end of the First World War, its control was transferred to Japan, but after World War II it was the US that took over the territory from 1947.

Spanish Oceanic Province”

This was the case until 1948, when Emilio Pastor y Santos, investigator of the Superior Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), argued that several islands discovered by Grijalva, including Güedes, Pescadores, Coroa, Monteverde and Ocea, did not belong geographically to the Carolinas and had not been formally ceded to Germany in the sales contract signed in 1899. Therefore, Pastor proposed, Spain could still claim its sovereignty as “Spanish Oceanic Province“.

Pastor presented his thesis in the play Territories of Spanish sovereignty in Oceania, published in 1950 by the Institute of African Studies of the CSIC. But meanwhile, the matter had reached the Council of Ministers of the Francoist government, which in January 1949 examined the request made by Pastor to get rid of the uncomfortable issue with a “as long as the matter is not clarified, it is appropriate to wait […]”. Spain did not yet belong to the UN, and Franco did not want to antagonize the allies.

The truth is that several experts have subsequently considered that Pastor’s argument was barely solid, for many reasons. In the first place, and given that Grijalva did not write down the location of the islands on the map, their assignment to territories with other current names was rather tentative in some cases.

But in addition, and leaving aside the fact that Spain never exercised an active presence in those territories, the Spanish names of those islands did appear in a previous agreement of 1885 in which Germany and Spain had divided the domain of the region. The 1899 sale, experts argue, was in batch; although the names of all the islands were not specified in the contract, Spain had no intention of retaining possessions in the Pacific.

The nonexistent Spanish Micronesia

In spite of everything, the issue has periodically resurfaced in the media over the decades: with the Pastor’s death in 1956, or in 1976 on the occasion of the incorporation of the Mariana Islands as a free associated state of the USA. More recently, in the internet age, the so-called Spanish Micronesia has become a recurring topic, discussed in forums, blogs and even on Wikipedia. Meanwhile, the decolonization of the Pacific has been dividing the islands of Kapingamarangi (Pescadores), Mapia (Güedes), Nukuoro (Monteverde) and Rongrik (Coroa) between the Federated States of Micronesia, Indonesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The last bizarre appearance of the Pacific atolls in national politics came in 2014, when a MP for Amaiur asked the government about this matter in Congress. The response of the Executive was that no, that Spanish Micronesia does not exist, and that “the intention of Spain when signing the treaty with Germany was to transfer all its possessions in the Pacific”.

But Spanish Micronesia could still give something more of itself, and it is that today it seems that there is no territory with the slightest shadow of doubt about its status, although this doubt has been crushed by the weight of historical facts, which escapes in the new fashion of micronationalism. On November 14, 2012, Augusto Prieto Fernandez took possession online of the islands, declaring their independence under the name of the State of Oceana and self-proclaiming head of state with the title of Doge.

pataphysical state

Most micronations claim sovereignty over the property of their founders or over uninhabited territories that micronationalists consider to belong indefinitely. In other cases, such as the Italian Principality of Seborga, some of its inhabitants take refuge in a presumed historical gap regarding the sovereignty of the enclave. Oceana has none of this: it is about atolones, some inhabited, which belong without question to other nations, and whose residents do not even have the slightest notion that their islands were once under the rule of a country called Spain that they have never heard of.

It is difficult to know if Oceana has at some point harbored any serious claim, or if it is a mere fun. At the very least, its Declaration of Independence was sent and received by the Spanish government, and those responsible have bothered to prepare a nice web page announcing the future implementation of the kit micronationalist usual: stamps, currency, passport, citizenship document, noble titles and a range of merchandising which includes t-shirts, pens, key chains, lighters and even tableware.

On the other hand, the self-definition of the micronation on its website as a “postmodern, physical, pataphysical state [que viene a ser lo contrario de la física], virtual and mental”, and the affirmation that his sovereignty “is not intended to interfere in –nor is it incompatible with– that of other states”, suggests that its founders call “independent state” what seems more like a club, or an association of friends from the Pacific atolls who one day were Spanish without actually ever having been, more than pataphysically.

Which has not prevented Oceana from naming diplomatic representatives in Rome, Barcelona and Havana, all this before abruptly halting its construction: Oceana’s Twitter account remains anchored in 2015, and its website has not been updated since then. Faced with attempts at contact by this newspaper, the government of Oceana has only responded with a administrative silence as calm as the sound of waves on a Pacific beach.