The rest of the islands in question, those in the Caribbean and the Pacific, were either taken by the United States during the Spanish-American War, Olson says, or acquired under the Guano Islands Act of 1856—arguably the best-named piece of legislation in American history. The latter acquisitions, Olson explains, "contained vast bird-guano deposits, which are full of rich mineral compounds used in agricultural fertilizers." Also at stake are many thousands of square miles of rich fishery zones and repositories of natural resources—including, quite possibly, oil. But what galls Olson the most is several Caribbean islands that, he says, were taken by the military in 1898 and not ceded to the independent nation of Cuba upon its creation, in 1902, but that inexplicably seem to belong to Cuba now. "So Castro's got a bonus somehow," Olson says. "Air space, economic zones, fishing rights, mineral rights." Marx says that the Census Bureau has filed inquiries on those islands with the State Department.
But the State Department is a huge and labyrinthine organization, and finding someone there who has answers to offer—let alone getting that someone to actually offer them—is a tricky process. Marx sent his inquiries to William B. Wood, who heads the department's Office of the Geographer and Global Issues. Wood passed them on to a staffer, Leo Dillon, who is quick to state that he cannot state very much. "Our office can only confirm that according to our records, the U.S. has no claims to any of those islands," Dillon says. Besides, he adds, "the guano has been taken from those islands," although he then admits he's not sure that's actually true. However, he does acknowledge that there are two Caribbean islands—Serranilla Bank and Bajo Nuevo—to which the United States has not repudiated its claim, even though other countries claim them as well. But he considers Olson's other arguments ludicrous; and anyway, Dillon says, "we deal with sovereignty from the current, not the historical, perspective." These were questions for the State Department's legal division, and he has already forwarded Marx's inquiries to that office.
The issue of the Caribbean islands was handed over to Paolo Di Rosa, at the State Department's legal office for Western Hemisphere affairs. Di Rosa acknowledges only that he has indeed been assigned to handle the matter and that "different islands are in a different status." Asked about Serranilla Bank and Bajo Nuevo, he responds cryptically: "Some of these islands or banks or whatever, we have asserted sovereignty over in various international contexts, even in the face of competing claims from other countries, and we consider our claims superior." He adds, "Some of the islands, we just have no idea where they are; they don't appear on our geographers' maps—we don't know anything about them."