Judge transfers Peru suit to Connecticut court

Yale got its wish in court on Thursday when a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that Peru’s lawsuit against the University should be heard by the United States District Court in Connecticut.

After years of on-and-off negotiations, Peru filed suit against Yale in December, hoping to win the return of the Inca artifacts excavated by Yale explorer Hiram Bingham III from Machu Picchu nearly a century ago. The artifacts are now housed at the Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Since Peru initiated its lawsuit, Yale has argued that the United States District Court for the District of Columbia has no jurisdiction over the matter.

“None of Peru’s claims have any merit,” Yale’s lawyers wrote in a motion calling for the case to be dismissed earlier this year, “but even if Peru’s claims had any merit … the District of Columbia would not be the right place to resolve them.”

Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. ruled Thursday in Yale’s favor, though he only transferred the case, instead of dismissing it. Peru’s lawyer, William Cook of DLA Piper, sounded optimistic after learning of the decision, even though he said this spring that “the issue is that D.C. is the appropriate place for the case to be heard.” Peru even filed a 57-page amended complaint in April outlining decades of history that the country said explained why the court in Washington should hear the case.

On Thursday, though, Cook said this in an e-mail message: “We are totally comfortable with the case being tried in Connecticut, and the people of Peru look forward to the opportunity to present the merits of their case to the Court in New Haven.”

University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson applauded the court’s decision on Friday, though she said Yale still sees no merit to the case.

“We had worked hard with them to reach a solid framework for a resolution,” she wrote in an e-mail message. “Peru may want to revisit its intentions in the case, which we hope will be productive.”


  • Percy

    I do not understand why this university can deny to send back to Peru historical items.

    In Peru there are several museums with probably most valuable objects and nobody steal them. But that is not the point, the point is that Yale has not the right to keep them in USA.

    I hope Yale accept to send the artefacts back to Peru without condictitions.

  • 1Y1

    To the victor go the spoils. We keep what we have the strength to take.

  • '12

    Well, "Percy," what I hope is that you go to your English classes in Lima more often and that you expand your reading list from Harry Potter to other, more intellectually fulfilling, works.


  • Bones

    Were it not for Hiram Bingham, these artifacts would have been destroyed. Peru should be thanking Yale for its stewardship.

  • takeon

    “To the victor go the spoils. We keep what we have the strength to take.”

    The victor of what I would question. There are real reasons to keep the artifacts at Yale but that’s not one of them.

    The fact is that Hiram Bingham made amicable agreements with the Peruvian government at the time that allowed him to keep all the non-gold artifacts. Today recovering the “stolen” artifacts is a popular stance for elected officials.

  • M. May

    I admire you for having the courage to write that Oprah is jerk. This is something that I have believed for a long time and
    it was great to see it in writing, somewhere. Thanks.

  • '00

    Well, "'12," what I hope is that in your remaining three years at Yale, you gain a little maturity. A Yale education can do wonders for some people. Hopefully you are one of them.

  • Anonymous

    Well, "'12," thanks for adding an utterly worthless comment.

  • 2010

    At #3: that was pompous and unnecessary.

  • ES

    To #3--

    Wow, ad hom attack much? Despite the errors, the message was perfectly understandable. Could we have said the same if you had written your response in Spanish? Would your Spanish have been error-free? I doubt it.

    Moreover, do you have a rebuttal to the actual argument that he made? If so, then MAKE IT. Don't just insult him for his English skills. He looks smarter than you right now because he expressed an informed opinion rather than making a snap judgment.

    It's types like you who make Yalies look bad to others. Get over yourself. You're not special just because you speak good English. You're going to have to try a little harder than that.

    Oh, and by the way, your comma after "fulfilling" was completely unnecessary.

  • Student

    The last thing I expected to see on these message boards were racist comments like the one above. News flash: English is not the only language in the world. Had it crossed anyone's mind that perhaps this is an issue important enough to merit the observations and interjections of some people who don't speak English?

    These artifacts belong to the Peruvian people and they serve no legitimate academic purpose in the states. They are mere trophies that champion colonial ventures on land that doesn't belong to us. It's the twenty first century and Americans are probably the only people in the world who romanticize the bloody and brutal colonial history of this country and university. Get over it. Give them back to Peru.

  • socialists

    Private property doesn't exist la la la la la la

  • Another student

    Oh, sure, all conquerors and colonists were evil murderers. Yale and America… horrible, horrible institutions.

    Come on, grow up. This is the way the world works. You just feel guilty for being born on a historically profitable side (or weren't, and are therefore bitter). Nothing really "belongs" to anyone, ever. Even the "natives" of a particular region killed off other tribes to be considered as such. The country or empire or tribe that has been able to develop mastery is allowed to use that to acquire what they can.

    Americans romanticize this culture because they dominated it, as did Britain before them, and France, Ghengis Kan, Rome, whatever… I frankly don't care whether or not Yale keeps this artifacts, but I'm sick of people hating on successful, strong civilizations. The moment we discover a habitable planet besides earth, can you guess what the ENTIRE human race is going to do? That's right, colonize. And what do you think will happen if we're met with resistance when we get there? We'll fight back.

    It's a natural human instinct to explore and expand beyond what we have, and I really can't fault the populations who have done well for themselves in the process. We live in a world of limited resources… we can't all be friends and survive.

  • @#12

    So if I decide to go break into your house and help myself to your belongings, you're not going to go to the police because it's natural instinct for me to try to amass as many resources to myself as possible? I'm pretty sure if we lived like that, life would be nasty, brutish and short.

    Naturalist fallacy ftw!

  • Anonymous

    If Incan artifacts belong to all the Peruvian people, then why don't American Indian artifacts belong to ALL American people instead of there being special tribal rights to contend with? (If the court agrees that they belong to Peru, then maybe Geronimo's remains belong to all of America so they can stay in the fort.)

    If Incan artifacts are the heritage of all Peruvians, not just Incans, why aren't they the heritage of the whole world, and equally at home in New Haven?

    Note to #5: Yale kept some gold artifacts from Incan Peru, too. The Peabody had them on display when they did the big Machu Picchu exhibit a few years ago.

  • yalesnark

    I think it is often forgotten that cultural patrimony issues are often tainted by government-fed nationalist politics in a number of countries that are culturally rich but do not have the means to pursue hard-power foreign policies. One might say that places like Italy make a big deal out of culture not only because that culture is worthwhile (and because it deserves protection), but also because it can make the citizens of the country feel good about themselves if they promote the "superiority" of Italian civilization and the "special connection" with its past. Sometimes, however, claims of connectedness border on the absurd. In a modern nation like Egypt, cultural connectedness (after massive migration, resettlement, arab invasion, religious change, all over several millennia) with the ancient pharaohs is a relatively tenuous one. This isn't to say that the Egyptians, who live with pyramids and ancient tombs, don't deserve a privileged place in admiring the things that litter their native ground. BUt it is to say that their claims of inalienable connectedness to that past is often a cultural construct, built up by often ambitious (frequently undemocratic) government policy, frequently to distract citizens from real foreign and domestic issues: S. Hussein, everyone knows, promoted Iraqi antiquity for these very, nationalist purposes. The Iraqi people, we do well to recall, do not necessarily like the fact that they even share the same country. Their are larger cultural and religious divisions there than an ersatz, propaganda version of the past, can easily displace.

    Peru is a complex situation, but not altogether different. More than most Latin American countries, there are tensions between Peruvians of native and Spanish birth, precisely because Indians make up a larger percentage of the overall population. Some coastal European-Peruvians make cruel fun of their Indian comrades, and the Indian population is legitimately bitter about it. According to Peruvians I know, the tensions are higher there than practically anywhere else in S. America. Bolivia is perhaps the other big exception.

    In any case, one might (if one's open minded) see all of this as one reason objects, often ancient and unrelated to current tradition and religious practice, can take on overwhelmingly large importance in a place like Peru. This Yale story isn't a big deal in the states, but it's front page news in Peru. And not least because it seems to replay a great national epic of colonization--and white oppression--that we at Yale can hardly imagine it still having today.

    All of this may allow us to understand Peruvians' desires to see objects returned to them in a better light, but it also makes it worthwhile to think about the case in a more nuanced light. Hurt feelings and fictional/politically enhanced national narratives are not necessarily firm ground for sending everything ever found in Peru back to Peru. Some would say the legal case is actually dubious (Peru doesn't really stop looting on a consistent basis, nor does it prevent rich private Peruvians from hoarding ancient pots in their homes: this case is not about protecting archaeological sites or the record of history). In all events, no culture has ever suffered in the larger reputation of world civilization for having dispersed some of its great objects (the Yale works aren't among them btw) to other places. The Italian Renaissance, the most prestigious art culture in the history of the world, has representative works in museums across the West and even in places like Japan. Do we really think anyone would care so much about Leonardo da Vinci if nobody except Italians ever saw his stuff? I don't think so.

  • @13

    Exactly! Except I WOULD call the police, because it would be MY natural instinct to get them back. And whoever controlled the situation (either you escaped the cops and therefore secured the "right" to keep my stuff, or the cops caught you and returned my stuff to me) would come out on top. And yes, as a result, life IS pretty nasty and short. You've given a near-perfect example.

    Expand that on a larger scale, then. Look at the Israel-Palestine conflict, for example. Regardless of my personal views, I respect both parties desire to secure that territory. While I might side with one for ideological reasons, from a purely human perspective I don't begrudge the Palestinians for blowing up a checkpoint, or the Israelis for calling in a retaliatory airstrike… and so on and so forth. Same goes for Yale-Peru. I respect Bingham's original acquisition, and I respect Peru's efforts now to get the stuff back. Furthermore, I respect Yale's resistance. Whoever comes out on top, though… they go home with the prize, end of story.