Peruvian officials traveled to Yale this weekend for the second time in a year, suggesting that an end to the almost 100-year-old dispute over the ownership of Inca artifacts could be imminent, officials on both sides said.
Cecilia Bakula, director of Peru’s National Institute of Culture, along with several Peruvian experts, will spend the next few days in New Haven reviewing Yale’s inventory of Inca artifacts excavated from Machu Picchu by Yale explorer Hiram Bingham III between 1911 and 1915.
Her visit to New Haven is consistent with long-standing intentions that a Peruvian expert review the inventory of artifacts before a final agreement is signed, University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said Sunday.
“We have always understood and agreed that Dr. Bakula would visit before the final agreement is signed,” Robinson said in an e-mail.
But as Yale and Peru officials seem to be approaching a final agreement, Eliane Karp de Toledo, Peru’s former first lady said it is the rush to finish that could lead to the approval of what she has called “a bad deal for Peru.”
Nearly six months ago, Hernan Garrido-Lecca, Peru’s then-minister of housing and now-minister of health, visited Yale and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with University officials that was hailed as the penultimate step in the resolution of the century-long saga.
While Garrido-Lecca is not part of the delegation to Yale this week, he said in an e-mail to the News on Sunday that he remains confident the negotiations will be finished within weeks.
“Before the end of March,” Garrido-Lecca predicted.
In September, Yale and Peru offered a similarly hopeful signal when they established a 60-day deadline for the completion of negotiations surrounding possession of the objects that have been housed in Yale’s Peabody Museum since Bingham’s expeditions.
But negotiations stalled for several months amid political strife in Peru, and tensions mounted over the last week when Karp de Toledo wrote a piece in The New York Times decrying the September memorandum.
The inventory has long been a concern of Karp de Toledo and other Peruvians, critical of both President Alan Garcia’s administration and the negotiations.
Under the terms of the September agreement, all museum-quality objects would be returned to Peru in just a few years, to be housed in a special museum following an international exhibition of the items organized collaboratively by Yale and Peru.
University officials have consistently insisted that the final agreement — no matter when it may be reached — will bear a strong resemblance to the terms established in September.
While the final agreement may now be near, the memorandum remains controversial in its stipulation that almost all of the non-museum-quality objects in the collection remain at Yale for up to 99 years.
Yale archaeology professor Richard Burger was charged with creating an inventory of the objects and, importantly, classifying them as either museum-quality or non-museum-quality.
University spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said in a statement the Peruvian visitors this week will “verify” Burger’s inventory.
“In preparation for that visit, Yale has provided a complete inventory of the collection, including descriptions of all items and photographic images that are available,” she said.
Karp de Toledo said it is unfair for Peru that the inventory was completed entirely by Burger, without Peruvian involvement.
“Nobody from Peru has ever been allowed to do this inventory with the boxes opened,” Karp de Toledo told the News on Sunday. “These negotiations are being done behind closed doors.”
Peru’s lead lawyer, William Cook, of the Washington, D.C., law firm DLA Piper, declined to comment.