As a crowd of students, faculty and even a few Peruvians hissed and clapped, Eliane Karp-Toledo, the former first lady of Peru, called for the immediate return of all Inca artifacts housed at Yale last night.
Speaking to a full house at the Yale Political Union, Karp-Toledo was characteristically outspoken; though she thanked the University for allowing her to speak, she was quick to criticize Yale for being, in her words, “the only institution that cannot recognize Peru’s ownership over the artifacts.”
“Why the reluctance to send back the Machu Picchu artifacts immediately and unconditionally?” Karp-Toledo asked at one point during the spirited debate. “Why not reach a reasonable agreement based on the facts that the artifacts belong solely to Peru and are to be returned unconditionally?”
Karp-Toledo mainly rehashed existing arguments about the rightful ownership of the artifacts. Indeed, much of the evidence she presented at the YPU was also included in the lawsuit Peru filed against Yale in December.
But the arguments were new to Yale students who have not followed the complex back-and-forth between Yale and Peru over the last few years.
“In my many years in the Union, I’ve never seen this body so close to relevance,” said Carmen Lee ’09, the first speaker to rebut Karp-Toledo.
Richard Burger, a Yale archaeologist who has studied the artifacts, was visibly annoyed during Karp-Toledo’s address. But he and other Yale faculty and administrators could not respond to Karp-Toledo’s accusations. Because of the litigation that is pending against Yale, University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson has asked University employees not to comment on the artifact dispute.
Still, there was no shortage of student opinion both for and against the resolution, “Yale should return all Machu Picchu artifacts to Peru immediately.”
David Trinh ’12, a member of the Independent Party, was one of several speakers at the YPU who brought up the question of how far universities and museums should go in returning objects.
“The question is whether it is appropriate for one nation to go to another and knock on the doors of its museums and universities and demand back any artifacts that belong to its people,” Trinh said.
Another speaker asked whether Karp-Toledo thought the French government could demand the return of the Statue of Liberty. Karp-Toledo said no, explaining that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to America.
For some of their more serious arguments, Yale students were coached by the same Yale professors who were forbidden from commenting on the dispute.
Trinh, for one, said in an interview earlier Monday that he had met with Burger to discuss the history of the Machu Picchu collection at Yale and also some of the arguments that Karp-Toledo was likely to make.
“The lawsuit that Peru has filed against Yale has no merit and is a political ploy on the part of Ms. Toledo,” Trinh said in the interview, channeling Burger and other Yale officials.
Per Karp-Toledo’s request, no vote was held at the debate. But, judging from hisses and claps, the majority of the YPU did not buy Karp-Toledo’s arguments. Those who did were mainly members of the Conservative Party and the Party of the Right.
In a nod to her own personal history, Karp-Toledo showed a picture of her husband, Alejandro Toledo, at his 2001 presidential inauguration in Machu Picchu. Historically, such ceremonies have taken place in Lima, Peru’s capital; Karp-Toledo and her husband, though, were always interested in making the return of the artifacts a priority of Toledo’s administration and wanted to use the inauguration as an opportunity to bring attention to the artifact dispute.
Even since her husband left office, Karp-Toledo has continued to pressure Yale to return the artifacts immediately. Speaking bluntly at the YPU, she noted that she has never been one to “keep my opinions to myself.”