The epic saga between Yale and Peru escalated this weekend — in the pages of The New York Times.
In a guest column published Saturday, Eliane Karp de Toledo, Peru’s former first lady, harshly criticized the Memorandum of Understanding that the current Peruvian government and Yale signed in September. On Sunday, University officials struck back at Karp de Toledo in interviews, questioning the validity of her claims and the nature of her motives.
The memorandum of understanding — a copy of which the News obtained from Karp de Toledo last month — was celebrated by both parties as the end to a nearly century-long dispute between Yale and Peru over the rightful ownership of Inca artifacts that Yale explorer Hiram Bingham III excavated from Machu Picchu between 1911 and 1915.
But, Yale officials have said, political disagreement in Peru has stalled the negotiations surrounding a final agreement. On Sunday, Karp de Toledo — whose husband Alejandro Toledo will be eligible to seek Peru’s highest office again in 2011 — said she hopes her piece will clear the slate in the negotiations and force the parties to start anew.
“This is a question of sovereignty, of fairness, of equality,” Karp de Toledo said by phone from Stanford, where she is currently an archaeology lecturer. “Yale is not telling the truth and is acting in an arrogant, neo-colonial manner towards the sovereign nation of Peru. I wanted my article to show people that.”
But University officials and faculty members said what Karp de Toledo’s piece shows most prominently is factual error.
Richard Burger, an archaeology professor at Yale who co-curated an exhibit of the artifacts at the Peabody Museum of Natural History in 2003, said Karp de Toledo’s piece in the Times was an example of “sour grapes.”
“It was filled with distortions, inaccuracies and outright lies,” he said on Sunday. “It is a disgrace.”
Burger said he is disappointed that The Times would publish Karp de Toledo’s article. University Spokeswoman Helaine Klasky is currently drafting a response to The Times, he said.
Representatives of The Times did not return requests for comment Sunday night by press time.
In multiple interviews over the past several weeks, Karp de Toledo has repeatedly denounced the negotiations for two main reasons: She wants all of the artifacts to be returned to Peru as soon as possible and the discussions to be more transparent and open. Burger pinned the responsibility for the confidential nature of the memorandum on the current Peruvian government of President Alan Garcia.
Burger pointed to one passage of Karp de Toledo’s Times piece as a particular example of its “politcal nature.” In it, she wrote that Yale would not allow Peru to conduct an inventory of the several-thousand-piece collection on the grounds that “the archaeologist we had selected was not qualified.”
But Burger — who recently completed an inventory of the objects himself — said there is no basis for this claim.
“There was never a formal request by the Peruvian government to Yale to have a specific archaeologist come to Yale,” he said. “So how could we have rejected it?”
University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson, who said she never personally negotiated with Karp de Toledo, agreed in an e-mail Sunday that “her piece contains a great many inaccuracies.”
Among these, Burger and his wife, Peruvian archaeologist Lucy Salazar said, are Karp de Toledo’s claims that Bingham brought silver statues back to Yale, that he agreed to a 12-month loan which Karp de Toledo said was later extended by a half-year and that Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd supported the Toledo government’s position in the negotiations.
But Karp de Toledo stands behind her piece as written.
The memorandum, which had included provisions for several hundred museum-quality pieces to be returned to a Peruvian museum after travelling the world in an exhibition, she said, does not go far enough. Specifically, Karp de Toledo takes issue with the fact that, under the terms of the memorandum, some non-museum-quality pieces would remain at Yale for up to 99 years.
Karp de Toledo and Burger did find one area of agreement: Her piece, both said, brings increased attention to the negotiations. Burger said further discussion is not necessarily a problem for Yale. But, he cautioned, “if they miss this opportunity, it will be a tragedy.”
For Karp de Toledo, the current memorandum is a tragedy. Then again, it was under her husband’s presidency that Peru first threatened legal action against Yale.
And Burger said Sunday that legal action becomes more and more possible as time goes on.
“If these negotiations break down,” he said, “we may find ourselves in court. And Yale would do well in a trial.”
Peru’s lead negotiator with Yale, Minister of Health Hernan Garrido-Lecca, and Peru’s lawyer, William Cook of the Washington, D.C. law firm DLA Piper, both declined to comment for this article.