The escalation of the ongoing Yale-Peru dispute following the publication of former Peruvian First Lady Elaine Karp de Toledo’s New York Times column last week is yielding no winners. But the transnational friction it generated does present an opportunity for both sides to step up — with the onus on Peru — and finalize a deal before compromise is delayed once more.
In her scathing piece last week against Yale and Peru’s current administrations, Karp de Toledo argued that the University is continuing to “den[y] Peru the right to its cultural patrimony.” Tellingly, she wrote, “Fortunately, a final agreement has been delayed.”
Fortunately for whom?
In short, no one but Karp de Toledo and her husband, former President Alejandro Toledo. When the two raise ruckus — and stories championing their self-proclaimed support of indigenous people flood Peru’s newspapers — their influence increases. (And under Peruvian law, Toledo can run for a second term after sitting out for one.)
That is not to say the right-versus-wrong question should be ignored. After reviewing the agreements, the News has concluded that Yale was right to agree during the recent round of negotiations to return most of the artifacts to Peru and cede title to the others (although they would remain for some time in New Haven). Original contracts and letters between the two parties do not indicate that even the explorer himself, Hiram Bingham III, would agree with the University’s earlier position that Peru never expected Yale to give anything back. And given the tenuous foundation of Yale’s legal argument (save for the statute-of-limitations point), it is the University’s moral duty to return the “trophies,” as the News referred to them in January 1913.
Yale, however, has already agreed to this much. Blocking the resolution now appear to be outspoken political dissidents, like Karp de Toledo, who argue for an immediate and unequiovcal return of all of the artifacts. These activists would prefer that no agreement be reached than that one be struck with the Western bully they consider Yale.
The only silver lining is the possibility that Karp de Toledo’s column is sparking what it did not intend: a sense of urgency for both parties to return to the table and resolve differences before all sense of amicability is lost. National Institute of Culture Director Cecilia Bakula’s presence on campus today indicates this may be the case.
Either way, what is at least certain is that Yale has done its part. For the first time, the burden is almost entirely on Peru’s government and people to take the next step forward and salvage the agreement struck in September.
The Memorandum of Understanding outlined then provides for the return of most of the artifacts. It calls for museums and joint projects in the spirit of international cooperation. And it allows Yale to symbolically transfer ownership without setting a precedent that — for better or for worse — it will not be able to honor in similar disputes with other nations that may arise in the future.
It so happens that the Olympics are fast approaching. And it so happens that the agreement Karp de Toledo attacked in her column provides the neutrality and cooperative spirit that Beijing will provide the international community of athletes this summer.
So let the agreement live to see the lighting of the torch — and the vanquishing of this needlessly drawn-out dispute.
Peru, it’s up to you.