Friday, March 6, 2009

Peru’s New Year Resolution: Get Our Inca Antique Back

By Lu Tang
Picture: Peru Machu Picchu Sunrise
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Many big museums in United States, Britain, France and etc. are facing pressure from countries with ancient civilizations like Greece and Italy to return ancient artwork and other cultural artifacts. The question of who owns cultural objects is not unique to the dispute between Yale University and Peru. Peru is now demanding for the return all their treasures Yale University.

Nearly 100 years ago, Yale Professor Hiram Bingham rediscovered the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu between 1912 and 1915, now the most famous tourist attraction in Peru, and the more than 4,000 artifacts were excavated. Over the course of those digs, Bingham shipped crates of artifacts back to Yale University in Connecticut, where the collection has remained to this day.

"This is our patrimony. This is everything to us - proof that even though today we are poor, our ancestors lived great and proud," David Ugarte of Peru's National Culture Center told USA Today in 2006. "Bingham said he was going to study those pieces and give them back. It was clear to all they were to be returned."

Yale disagreed, arguing that it kept only those objects that it fully owned after returning any loaned objects in the 1920s.

Peru and Yale reached an agreement in September 2008 that Yale would return the antifacts housed in Yale's Peabody Museum, but it fell through over a dispute over how many artifacts were to be returned.

The Peruvian government believes that there are some 40, 000 pieces of Machu Picchu objects left at Yale, but Yale’s estimate is around 4.000 pieces.

“I think Yale should follow what the law says, which is that these
artifacts are from Peru and belong to Peru and their voluntary return from Yale
should happen immediately,” Aldo Gabriel Soraluz Luzquiños, a Peruvian student commented.

How would the American public react if we took thousands of Civil War artifacts with the idea to study them and then say that if you want them back in a hundred years we’ll return them then?”

In November 2008, it is reported that Peru plans to sue Yale University. Peru officials have threatened to sue in the past, but never did.

"It is, of course, disappointing, since we had a positive informal meeting with the foreign minister, and have expected to have further discussions," Yale Spokesman Thomas Conroy said, “Yale has stated in the past that it will defend any lawsuit.”

A recent New York Times column of Peru’s former first lady criticizing the negotiation even further clouds the situation.

According to Yale Daily News, Eliana Karp de Toledo, Peru’s former first lady, accused Yale of an “arrogant and neo-colonial manner towards the sovereign nation of Peru” and she denounced that the negotiations were not transparent and open enough.

Yale University responded that the points made by Karp de Toledo-- whose husband Alejandro Toledo will be eligible to seek Peru’s highest office again in 2011-- was not valid and questioned her motives.

It seems that the possibility of a legal action is increasing.

“If these negotiations break down,” Richard L. Burger, director of the Yale Peabody Museum said, “we may find ourselves in court. And Yale would do well in a trial.”

“The diplomatic negotiation with Yale University did not work. Peru has to sue Yale University. I am convinced that we have sufficient proof to win in court,” Rocio Perez, a Peruvian citizen said. “Our Peruvian legal rules and international regulations are going to help us to win in court.”

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