Yale and Peru Finalize Agreement

On Friday, Yale University signed an agreement with Peru over the disposition of objects removed from Machu Picchu nearly a century ago. The agreement, which will avoid continued litigation will create a joint Center for the Study of Inca Culture in Cusco, Peru. The center will preserve the artifacts, make the objects available for study and display, and promote research. This looks to be a beneficial agreement for all the parties involved. There will be a new joint research center in Cusco, pairing Yale University with the University of San Antonio Abad del Cusco. And though the objects will no longer be in Connecticut, the objects will be available for future study, and will still be cared for. And finally, Peru’s suit against Yale is no longer necessary to resolve the dispute. A memorandum of understanding was created in November, but Peru had backed out of agreements in the past with Yale. This time though, the dispute looks to be resolved for good.

As always, the best place for coverage of the dispute is the Yale University paper, and reporter Sarah Nutman is writing a series on the returns:

Since Yale and Peruvian officials signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the return of the objects last November, both sides have been eager to underscore the goodwill between the two parties. The document, they say, allows Peru and Yale to move beyond the mistrust that has often characterized their interactions over the century-long struggle — it has eliminated any underlying disagreement. 
For the most part, the two sides agree. Peru will repatriate thousands of pieces. Some will arrive in time for the centennial this July; the rest will be in Peru by December 2012. But there remain aspects about which Yale and Peru tell very different stories. For instance, how the pieces came to stay in New Haven for so long, and why, after nearly a decade of bickering, Yale simply offered to cede them to Peru.

  1. Sarah Nutman, Yale and University of Cusco sign collaboration agreement, Yale Daily News, February 11, 2011, http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/feb/11/yale-and-university-cusco-sign-collaboration-agree/ (last visited Feb 14, 2011).
  2. Sarah Nutman, Returning to Machu Picchu, Yale Daily News, February 14, 2011, http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/feb/14/returning-to-machu-picchu/ (last visited Feb 14, 2011).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Yale Says Machu Picchu Artifacts Will Return

Yale has announced objects from Machu Picchu will be returned to Peru, and that an agreement is being “formalized”. It seems the objects will return to Peru early next year, which will bring an end to the ongoing lawsuit brought by Peru. Hopefully the two sides have reached a mutually beneficial compromise, and an agreement is close. But remember, an agreement has been announced before.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Senator Dodd Weighs in on Yale and Peru

Sen. Chris Dodd has weighed in on the dispute between Yale and Peru over objects removed by Hiram Bingham from Peru during the early part of the 20th century. Bingham brought widespread attention to Machu Picchu during a serious of expeditions, and he returned home with many objects, which have been in the possession of Yale, despite what Peru claims was an agreement to return those objects.  Yale has offered to provide material and financial support for research in Peru in exchange for a traveling exhibition and continued lease of the objects, however that agreement fell through and Peru has sought relief in federal Court.

Yet now Sen. Dodd has offered to intervene.  Though he says Peru are the rightful owners of these objects, he may mean these are items of cultural heritage which should be returned to Peru.  “The Machu Picchu artifacts do not belong to any government, to any institution, or to any university,” Dodd said in a statement. “They belong to the people of Peru. I plan to work with both parties to resolve this dispute quickly, amicably, and return the artifacts to their rightful owners.”

From the AP story:  “Machu Picchu has special significance for Peru and the entire world,” Yale said in a statement. “We look forward to a plan that preserves the artifacts and ensures their availability to the public and scholars to promote further appreciation and study of the rich cultural legacy of Machu Picchu.”

For background on this dispute, see these posts

  1. John Christoffersen, Senator Christopher Dodd Says Artifacts Held by Yale Belong to Peru, http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=38572 (last visited Jun 15, 2010).
  2. In Peru, Dodd Works to Mediate Dispute Over Machu Picchu Artifacts | U.S. Senator Christopher J. Dodd, (2010), http://dodd.senate.gov/?q=node/5658 (last visited Jun 15, 2010).
  3. Cultural Property Observer, Connecticut Senator Sides with Peru Against Yale Cultural Property Observer (2010), http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2010/06/connecticut-senator-sides-with-peru.html (last visited Jun 15, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Peru has Dropped Some Claims Against Yale

Peru has decided not to allege fraud and conspiracy claims against Yale University in its lawsuit over objects removed from Machu Picchu in the early part of the 20th century.  One of the main points of contention in the dispute is whether this action is timely.  It surely would have if brought soon after the objects were removed, but Peru will either have to justify waiting decades to bring a claim, or convince a court that Peruvian law applies—perhaps under the lex originis rule

For background on the dispute see these posts

From the AP:

The withdrawal of some claims comes after Peru hired new lawyers who said the move would simplify the case and “facilitate resolution” of the dispute. Yale’s lawyers had warned that the claims violated civil procedures prohibiting frivolous arguments.

The fraud allegations that were withdrawn accused Yale of intending to deceive Peru by promising to return the artifacts and conspiring with Bingham to retain the artifacts unlawfully by fraudulently assuring that Yale would return the artifacts when Peru demanded.

“Peru has dropped all claims of Yale having intentionally done anything wrong,” said Jonathan Freiman, Yale’s attorney. “We’re glad that they have done so, but we think the rest of the case is equally misguided and should be withdrawn, as well.” . . .

“Yale has wholly betrayed Peru’s trust and confidence,” the lawsuit states. “Yale has exploited its holding of the Machu Picchu collection for commercial and financial gain at the expense of the interests of the Peruvian people and in violation of the fiduciary obligations that Yale owes Peru.”

  1. John Christoffersen, Peru lifts some Machu Picchu claims against Yale, AP, March 10, 2010 (last visited Mar 10, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

"Peru is rightful owner of artifacts"

So argues former First-Lady of Peru Eliane Karp-Toledo in an Op-Ed today in the Miami Herald (for a brief discussion of another Op-Ed in the NY Times, see here). She discusses the ongoing dispute between Yale and Peru over objects taken from Peru by Hiram Bingham, and effectively communicates Peru’s position—and only their position.  Though I think it is reasonable to criticize some of the actions of Yale University since they have held the objects, Karp-Toledo does her argument a disservice I think by ignoring some very real and well-founded differences of opinion between Yale and Peru.

For example, she argues “Many years of frustrated negotiations, and Yale’s presentation of an insensitive ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ in 2007, finally led the Republic of Peru to file a lawsuit against Yale in the District Court for Washington, D.C., in December 2008.”  Yet I’m not really sure how that memorandum was “insensitive”; nor does Karp-Toledo really tell us why.  That agreement, now apparently abandoned, aimed at creating a kind of lease which would have created a collaborative relationship between Yale and Peru.  It would have been similar in form perhaps to the agreements Italy has been promulgating with many institutions forced to return looted antiquities.  Peru would have received title to all the objects, with many remaining in Connecticut. There would have been an international traveling exhibition, and proceeds would help build a much-needed new museum and research center in Cuzco. Yale also would have provided funds to establish a scholarly exchange program. As Yale president Richard C. Levin said at the time, “We aim to create a new model for resolving competing interests in cultural property,… This can best be achieved by building a collaborative relationship — one which involves scholars and researchers from Yale and Peru — that serves science and human understanding.”  I’m afraid I don’t see how this arrangement was “insensitive”. 

File:MuseoSicán lou.jpgAnother point of contention is where these objects may be stored if they are returned.  Though she points out the Royal Tombs Museum of Sipán (pictured here), she has little to say about the current exhibition near Machu Picchu at Aguas Calientes.  An expanded center such as the one Yale had offered would seem to be badly needed, as there are indications the current museum near the Aguas Calientes train station is not fit for purpose, according to Arthur Lubow in a long piece in the NY Times Magazine:

The doors were open to the air, which was moist from the nearby river, and the sole official was a caretaker who sold tickets and then exited the building. On display in the attractive (if unguarded) museum are the finds that Peruvian archaeologists have made at Machu Picchu in the years since Bingham’s excavations.

 I think it is worth asking at this point, how much of the ongoing dispute is a product of the effort to continue the Indigenous rights movement in Peru, irrespective of whether it is actually creating a better place to display these objects, and display them to the public—whether that is in the US or Peru?  I think that collaboration is a far better model, but I’m not sure Karp-Toedo has provided and argument which would call for zero collaboration.  Instead she seems eager to punish Yale and Hiram Bingham for taking Peru’s heritage.  A claim I think which is not supported by the facts as we know them.  Though there are certainly indications that these objects should have been returned to Peru long ago, they were not, perhaps because of intervening events (America’s involvement in WWI may have provided a distraction), neglect, negligence or even bad faith.  
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

"Peru v. Yale: A Battle Rages Over Machu Picchu"

I’m quoted in David Glenn’s article for the Chronicle of Higher Education on the dispute between Yale University and Peru over artifacts taken from in and around Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham between 1911 and 1916. The piece is behind their subscription wall, but it really is worth the effort to get your hands on a copy. It’s a good overview of the dispute, with a timeline and an overview of the parties’ public statemetns which gives us an idea of the competing legal claims.

The dispute draws some of the important ramifications the dispute has for repatriations generally. We are all eagerly waiting for Yale’s responses on the merits. At this point the parties are still disputing the proper federal court for the dispute. If and when the dispute reaches some of those important substantive points, whether the action was timely will likely be a prominent issue, as I speculate in the piece.

One of the important potential ramifications of this dispute may be whether nations of origin have the right to try to reach back and challenge some of these past agreements.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Peru Files Suit Against Yale

Last Friday, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Peru quietly filed suit against Yale University seeking the return of a number of objects from in and around Machu Picchu. The objects were excavated and removed to the United States by Hiram Bingam in the early part of the 20th Century. This is the culmination of a long process between Peru and Yale, in which the parties had seemingly agreed to a beneficial compromise for both. The suit will of course be interesting to unfold, as it would seem to push the boundaries for a court resolution of a dispute over objects which were removed from Peru in the waning years of the imperial age.

The suit was expected, as Peru had made the tentative decision last month to bring suit. This after what had appeared to be a happy resolution to the dispute, with Yale offering a very substantial settlement including an international traveling exhibition and the construction of a new museum and research center in Peru in exchange for a new 99-year lease on the objects.

That deal fell through, and now Peru has decided to seek redress in Federal Court.

I’ve had a chance to quickly read over the complaint and I see a number of interesting issues:

  • The degree to which the 1970 UNESCO Convention may apply — as an international instrument and policy imperative.
  • If there will be further development of the requirements neeeded to establish national ownership over an object. The complaint cites an 1893 Decree which prohibited removal of objects absent special permission from the government. A potential issue may be what kind of special permission –if any — Hiram Bingham had from Peruvian authorities at the time.
  • Also, there will likely be an interesting back and forth over whether Peru’s suit is timely. The complaint argues that there has only recently been a demand and refusal of the objects, though there appears to be the possibility of a strong laches defense for Yale given the time which has passed since the objects left Peru. Yale may have a strong defense by arguing it has held the objects in a transparent way, and Peru has impinged Yale’s rights by waiting so long to bring a claim.
  • Finally, there may be interesting conflicts of law issues which arise.

A win for Peru in court may set a precedent for other future claims from the imperial age, and may extend further the window for nations of origin to seek the repatriation and restitution of objects. This would be a powerful legal option going forward, in which the pendulum has seemingly already swung back to favor nations of origin already.

However even if the court dispute is unsuccessful, Peru may still have a good outcome if they can sway public opinion at home or abroad. I have more questions than answers at this point. I wonder to what extent Peru may be seeking a public shaming of Yale in the hopes of punishing them or forcing them to apologize for taking these objects away. It should be noted that the objects themselves are primarily interesting for their intellectual value. They are not prized for their inherent beauty or value. Their primary purpose would seem to be to assist in research and other pursuits. One wonders if Peru would be able to perform this research function as well as Yale University? Or, if those intellectual pursuits might have been best advanced if Peru had been able to reach an agreement with Yale which would have resulted in the construction of a research center in Peru. Isn’t the ‘star’ of the ancient city the well-preserved ruins themselves?

The initial complaint is here ($).

Hat Tip: Peter Tompa.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com