The Peruvian government has rejected a revised proposal from Yale to share a contested collection of Peruvian artifacts and is preparing to sue the University, Yale officials said Wednesday.
In a letter to Yale that arrived Tuesday, Peru announced it is breaking off negotiations with the University and will sue in Connecticut state court for the return of artifacts from Machu Picchu that were excavated by Hiram Bingham and exported to the Peabody Museum more than 90 years ago, Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said Wednesday. Peruvian Ambassador Eduardo Ferrero also released a statement yesterday evening detailing his government’s grievances with what it believes is Yale’s refusal to acknowledge Peruvian ownership of the artifacts, claiming that the government of Peru has “the legal title on the artifacts” and expressing regret that Yale has not “acted in accordance with the principles of good faith.”
Yale President Richard Levin said University officials are still interested in continuing negotiations.
“We are prepared to keep talking,” he said, “We would like to resolve this as we have tried from the beginning, in an amicable way.”
Rodolfo Pereira, a spokesman at the Embassy of Peru in Washington, D.C., said Peru rejects Yale’s claim that the artifacts should be shared because they rightfully belong to all humanity.
“That is not a true statement,” he said. “If that’s true, why doesn’t Yale let Harvard also share some of these pieces? Why not any other university?”
In a statement released Wednesday, the University said it has “worked hard to meet the concerns of the Peruvian Government,” and proposed to share the collection of the Inca objects with Peru. The statement maintained that Yale has title to the artifacts and has acted as a responsible steward of the them since 1911, during which time it has allowed for breakthrough findings about the site and the daily lives of the Inca people.
Peabody Museum Curator Emeritus of Anthropology Frank Hole said that although the Peruvian government’s decision to pursue legal action is not entirely unexpected, he is surprised the government has decided to sue at this time.
“I thought they would talk and negotiate more,” he said. “I didn’t think the situation would come to this level.”
In his statement yesterday, Ferrero said he was concerned that under Yale’s proposal the University would try to find legal loopholes to maintain possession of the artifacts.
“Yale would vest the identification of the artifacts to an evenly divided committee with no mechanism for resolving disputes,” the statement said. “Yale would not send any artifacts to Peru if the Committee remains divided and even then not until Peru had raised funds for and built a functioning museum. Yale would divest Peru of any judicial remedy over the entire issue.”
Yale General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said she is prepared to represent Yale in the upcoming lawsuit.
“We will vigorously defend the suit and are confident we will succeed,” Robinson said. “We think our proposal was very sound and would have offered great benefits to the scholarly world and the public, in Peru, the United States and the world.”
Peruvian officials declined to comment on a prospective court date, but Pereira promised that the court battle “will happen.”