The Galápagos Islands are best known for their diverse flora and fauna. The islands were made famous by Charles Darwin whose keen observation on the island, during the voyage of the Beagle, eventually led to the development of his theory of natural selection and evolution. Today, the islands and their surrounding waters is a protected national park and a biological marine reserve, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But the islands also has a dark history.
In 1832, the Galapagos Islands were annexed by Colonel Ignacio Henandez and the archipelago became part of the Republic of Ecuador. Soon after, penal colonies were established on the island due to it’s remoteness and isolation from the mainland that made any escape nearly impossible. Prisoners from the mainland were transferred to the islands and were forced to work in agricultural fields. The first colonists were exiled soldiers sent away from home for taking part in a failed coup attempt on the mainland. But the awful living conditions resulted in number of revolts and by 1952, the settlement had failed.
The Wall of Tears on Isabela island. Photo credit
A number of attempts were made to settle on Galapagos Islands but none were successful. Manuel J. Cobos, who brought prisoners and indentured laborers to work on his sugarcane fields and coffee plantation, were killed by his own workers. Another José Valdizán, who obtained a 12-year contract from the government of Ecuador to extract orchil from Galapagos, died during an uprising in 1878.
Towards the end of the Second World War, the Ecuadorian government established another brutal penal colony on the island of Isabela. In 1946, 300 prisoners were transferred to Isabela and were forced to build a pointless stone wall as a form of punishment. The prisoners had to walk long distances to the quarry, cut out large volcanic rocks and then carry them back to the site. Many prisoners died in suffering. Finally, in 1958 the prisoners revolted leading to the guards being killed and many prisoners dying. The government closed the Isabela penal colony a year later.
The remains of the futile wall, some 100 meters long, can still be seen close to Puerto Villamil today, standing as testament to a period of cruelty and torture. It has been named the “Wall of Tears”.
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