Former Peruvian first lady to debate artifact case

Eliane Karp-Toledo, the former Peruvian first lady whose dogged attacks on Yale helped start a legal battle between the University and Peru, will speak at the Yale Political Union this evening.

Karp-Toledo’s visit comes at a time when Yale and Peru are engaged in a legal battle, as the parties exchange motions responding to the lawsuit Peru filed against Yale in December over the rightful ownership of Inca artifacts housed at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. Her debate at the YPU will be an unusual one, since — at Karp-Toledo’s request — no student vote will be held at the end.

The artifacts in question were excavated by Yale explorer Hiram Bingham III in the early 20th century, and have been in the collection of the University ever since. Peruvians have sought the objects’ return over the last century, but few have been as forceful as Karp-Toledo.

Even still, Karp-Toledo has not been a part of recent negotiations between Yale and Peru, and University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said the debate would in no way affect the litigation between Yale and Peru.

“Of course, [Karp-Toledo] is very outspoken about her views on the topic,” Robinson added.

Karp-Toledo and her husband, former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, made the repatriation of the artifacts a priority of his administration. Negotiations with Yale at the time, though, were hostile and Peru ultimately threatened litigation.

The administration of current Peruvian President Alan Garcia, a former Peruvian president who succeeded Toledo in 2006, initially seemed more amicable to Yale. But, under pressure from Karp-Toledo, now a lecturer in the anthropology department at Stanford University, Garcia’s administration ultimately sued Yale in December after more than a year of negotiations.

Under Peruvian law, a president cannot serve more than one consecutive five-year term, but can run for office again after staying out of office for at least one term. So when Garcia’s term expires in 2011, Toledo could run again. Alexander Martone ’10, the YPU’s vice president, said this explains in part why the YPU will not hold a vote after this week’s debate.

“It’s a sensitive political issue back in Peru, so we felt that having the vote could overly sensationalize the issue,” added Martone, who invited Karp-Toledo to Yale.

Sensational as the debate might be in Peru, it is less likely to cause major controversy on Yale’s campus. Richard Burger, the Yale archaeologist most closely associated with the artifacts, said he was disappointed that Yale will not be able to defend itself against Karp-Toledo’s charges during her visit. Robinson’s office, he said, has asked all relevant faculty and staff not to comment on the dispute between Yale and Peru while the lawsuit remains active.

“We routinely ask Yale faculty and staff not to comment on pending litigation because they may or may not be fully aware of specifics of the University’s legal position, or the facts or law on which it is based,” Robinson said.

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said the University has made several resources available to the YPU leadership, so that students could be more informed about the history of the artifacts in advance of the debate.

“We do have concerns about Eliane Karp-Toledo’s past characterization of the facts and of Yale’s position and goals regarding Machu Picchu,” Conroy said. “We have every expectation that the students will do sufficient research to ensure an informed debate.”

Conroy added that Karp-Toledo has decided to allow the news media to attend Monday’s debate, even though some YPU guests “choose not to have media in attendance so the debate is purely an intellectual exercise for the students.”

Karp-Toledo, who penned a column for The New York Times that criticized Yale last year, has never been interested in keeping her opinions to herself. She will sit for interviews with various media outlets tomorrow afternoon in a room on campus with a guard stationed in front.

The debate will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall. Karp-Toledo and students speakers will debate the topic “Resolved: Yale should return all Machu Picchu artifacts to Peru immediately.”

Comments