Yale and Peru are closer than ever to resolving their long-standing dispute over artifacts from Machu Picchu, and a delegation from Peru will be arriving at Yale late next week for negotiations about the status of the objects.
Yale, Peruvian and U.S. officials said negotiations were jump-started under the new Peruvian administration of President Alan Garcia, and a threatened legal battle is now seen as unlikely. Over the summer, Yale’s general counsel traveled to Peru, and the University pledged to provide an inventory of the artifacts by the end of the year. Now, a delegation of Peruvian officials led by the country’s housing minister will be sitting face-to-face with Yale officials, including General Counsel Dorothy Robinson — a first in the long history of the dispute.
“We’re excited because we think that there’s some possibility of coming up with an agreement that would be beneficial to both sides,” Deputy Provost for the Arts Barbara Shailor said Monday.
Earlier this summer, Peruvian Embassy Press Counselor Vladimir Kochera said his government is hopeful that an amicable resolution can be reached — an about-face from the more combative policy of the previous administration, which left office last July.
“There have been meetings, and progress has been done,” Kocerha said. “Things have changed since last year: a new government is in place. You have a new ambassador, a new policy.”
Kochera said a lawsuit — publicly proposed by the past Peruvian government in December 2005 — is not currently on the table.
“Why would we sue Yale if we’re talking to them?” he said. “If somebody had that idea before, I’m telling you: that’s a previous administration, and we’re not pursuing that policy.”
Shortly after Kochera’s interview with the News in early August, a devastating earthquake struck Peru. Kochera said this week that the government has since been focused on providing aid for earthquake victims, and he declined to comment further on the dispute with the University.
According to an Aug. 30 report in the national Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, the Peruvian delegation to Yale will be led by Hernan Garrido-Lecca, Peru’s housing minister and a Harvard graduate school alumnus, who was appointed this summer by Garcia to reach out to Yale.
Shailor said although the earthquakes have complicated the Peruvian officials’ plans, the talks are still expected to take place, but Yale does not yet know who or how many officials will be visiting campus. The delegation will arrive Sept. 13 and stay in New Haven until Sept. 14, she said.
At Yale, the delegation will meet with officials including University President Richard Levin, Robinson and Shailor. Peruvian officials will also speak with Michael Donoghue, the director of Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History — which houses the artifacts under discussion — and with curators from the Peabody, Shailor said.
Although Yale officials are hopeful for progress toward a resolution, they have stopped short of altering their long-held stance that the University holds the title to the artifacts, which were acquired by Hiram Bingham III in a series of excavations in Peru in the early 20th century.
“This is not an admission that the artifacts should have been sent back earlier,” Robinson said, adding that despite “various press accounts,” Yale has not given Peru the title to the artifacts. “We believe that the artifacts that were subject to an 18-month limitation were sent back long ago.”
Robinson said Yale administrators are encouraged by their recent discussions with officials from Peru’s new administration.
“We have found Minister Garrido-Lecca, who is leading the effort for Peru, to share our sincere interest in an amicable and creative resolution,” she said. “We have discussed some very promising ideas with him and his delegation.”
Artifact curator Richard Burger, a Yale professor, did not respond to requests for comment. Robinson said Burger is on academic leave, working on another archeological site in Peru at the present time, a sure sign of improved relations between the University and the country. Burger has historically been one of the most outspoken critics of Peru’s claims to the artifacts — as well as of what he has said would be the country’s inability to keep artifacts safe were they to be moved.
The recent attention to the dispute stems from a small press conference in early August, when Cecilia Bakula, the head of Peru’s National Institute of Culture, fielded an inquiry about Yale.
“The relationship is moving forward like never before, towards an understanding,” Bakula said at the press conference, where she appeared with Karen Hughes, the American undersecretary of state for public diplomacy.
Dan Martinez, press secretary for the U.S. Embassy in Peru, said the U.S. position “has been to try to encourage the two sides to arrive at some mutually agreeable arrangement.”
“We look forward to some kind of a solution being worked out,” said Martinez, who added that although the possibility of a lawsuit did not come up during the press conference, “this process has sort of been re-energized, and so it would seem that litigation would be, for now, off the table.”
The Yale-Peru dispute has received attention around the world over the past two years: protests in Peru, condemnation of Yale by the National Geographic Society, a cover story in The New York Times Magazine in June exposing the political motivations behind the threat of litigation, a case study analysis in the Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law, and even appeals for a resolution directly from the White House.
Chris Heaney ’03, a freelance journalist who researched the dispute on a Fulbright Scholarship, said the possibility of handing Peru the title to the artifacts and the promise to inventory the artifacts are “huge admissions for Yale.”
“Whether or not Peru will accept Yale’s offer is another question,” he said. “It’s still up in the air as to where this is going to go next.”