The tragic history of Clipperton: the last territory lost by Mexico


Clipperton Island is a small coral atoll located in the Pacific Ocean, about 1,300 kilometers southwest of Acapulco, on the Mexican coast. It is an island completely isolated; the closest landmass is almost a thousand kilometers away (it’s about Socorro Island ). With only 9 square kilometers of surface, including the inner lagoon, it is a piece of land with hardly any interest, neither human, because it is completely uninhabited. The sovereignty over the atoll is held by France, forming part of the French overseas possessions. But the island was not always French, and neither was it always uninhabited. One hundred years ago it was the scene of a tragedy worthy of any Shakespearean drama. This is his story.

Satellite view of the island

The island was discovered at the beginning of the 18th century by John Clipperton, pirate and English corsair who dedicated himself, among other things, to attacking Spanish possessions and ships in the name of his British majesty. Although there is no documentary evidence, it is claimed that he used the island as a base for his rapture expeditions. The legend says that he buried part of his profits on the island (the pirate’s treasure!), Something that seems unlikely at this point, but let’s leave it there. In 1711 a pair of French ships arrived at the atoll and gave it its Gallic name, the Island of the Passion. Something weird must have the French to name an island whose only attraction was and is guano. Let’s leave it there too. During the nineteenth century the United States, France and Mexico disputed sovereignty over the tiny islet; finally in 1909 France and Mexico reached an agreement; would be submitted to arbitration Victor Manuel III , at the time king of Italy. The problem was that the decision took 22 years to arrive.

Location of Clipperton in the Pacific Ocean. Its EEZ ( Exclusive Economic Zone ) does not apply in this case, as it lacks inhabitants, an indispensable condition for having said privileges.

Prior to the Franco-Mexican agreement, the Aztec government had reached an agreement with the Pacific Island Company for the exploitation of the island’s guano. It was 1906, and Clipperton would live a few brief years of something like prosperity that would culminate in a horrible tragedy. The British company, together with the government of Porfirio Díaz , proceeded to the construction of a mining settlement, with its barracks, its small railroad, its lighthouse and its Italian and Chinese miners brought from San Francisco. Mexico also sent a small military detachment, under which Ramón Arnaud was found, first (and only) governor of Clipperton, title that would hold during 10 years, between 1906 and its death in 1916. Between means it married with one such Alicia Rovira, to which took to live to the Island of the Passion. As much as an idyllic Pacific island, an atoll covered in shit is not the best destination for a honeymoon, but good.

Coconut trees in Clipperton. After the trees you can see the lagoon of the atoll.

Between 1906 and 1914 the population of the island remained around 100 inhabitants among miners, engineers, soldiers and their families (women and children included). In 1908, the Pacific Island Company ceased operations on the island, when it was bankrupt, and because it could not supply Clipperton’s guano, of low quality. So the men of the military detachment remained, to reaffirm the Mexican sovereignty on the island, and miners with no place to return or anyone to take them. Food and other resources, including drinking water, arrived every two months with a boat from Acapulco. It is easy to imagine the event that would mean, for an isolated community beyond the normal, and barely a hundred people, the arrival of a ship with everything necessary to simply remain alive. In 1910 the Mexican Revolution was unleashed , of which in Clipperton they hardly found out. Until January 1914, when the Acapulco ship stopped arriving. It was sunk by the Mexican revolutionaries off the coast of Mazatlan .

Shortly after, an American schooner ran aground in the place. Before the news that the American sailors brought from Mexico, three officers launched themselves in a boat towards Acapulco, where they arrived weeks later; however, the new Mexican authorities declined to rescue a declared supporter of the previous regime. Scurvy and hunger were preyed upon by the islanders. By the time the US Navy sent a rescue ship, in June 1915, there were only 24 people on the island, 14 men, six women and six children, who survived on coconut milk and fish. The Americans rescued their people and offered Arnaud transportation to Acapulco for the entire garrison, but the captain refused. In his youth he was prosecuted and sentenced for desertion, and perhaps he feared being accused again of the same. That decision was his death sentence. Yours and almost everyone else.

The Clipperton beach. Below, Clipperton’s Rock, the highest point of the island (29 meters, the average altitude of the terrain is between 1 and 3 meters in the rest of the atoll)

During the following year the majority of the population died of hunger and scurvy. It is difficult to imagine the physical and especially mental conditions of the sparse population of the island. Isolated, without provisions and without hope, going crazy every minute. Captain Arnaud and four other men were drowned when the precarious raft sank in which they tried to reach a ship that would rescue them. In 1917 on the island there remained a man (the lighthouse keeper), eight women and seven children. The lighthouse keeper, a man named Victoriano Álvarez, ended up going crazy (as other men had done on the island before him), and after proclaiming himself King of Clipperton proceeded to embark on an orgy of rapes and murders that ended the lives of four women . The fifth on the list was Arnaud’s widow; when he began to receive the attentions of the lighthouse keeper he simply killed him. Very shortly after a warship ofUSA . He passed by the island and picked up the 11 survivors, four women and feels children.

The survivors of Clipperton, in 1917

In 1931 King Victor Manuel of Italy accepted Mussolini’s orders and granted sovereignty over the island to France. Mexico had been fourteen years without putting a foot there, reason why there were no disputes, although at the present time voices can still be heard claiming the sovereignty on the atoll. In 1934 the Island of the Passion was erased from the Mexican Constitution. France rebuilt the lighthouse and sent a small military detachment to the island, which was dismantled in 1944. The US Navy. he occupied it secretly in 1945, and when World War II ended he abandoned it again. Since then, only short scientific or amateur radio expeditions have come near. Jaques Costeau, the legendary marine researcher and disseminator, visited the island in 1978 together with a survivor to shoot a documentary. And some shipwreckers have spent two or three weeks there before being rescued. But nothing more. Clipperton Island was swallowed by time and the sea and forgotten by History until in 2005 the Colombian writer Laura Restrepo published a novel about the island.

Source: mexicodesconocido, frontera

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