A Path to Recover Patrimony

Article excerpt

EACH YEAR THE contraband traffic of pre-Columbian artifacts and colonial-era religious art from Latin America moves hundreds of millions of dollars. Second only to drug trafficking in the Americas, this growing trade threatens to rob future generations of Latin Americans of their cultural patrimony and a piece of their identity. The search for ways to stem this trade led representatives from cultural institutes all over the world to meet in Cuzco, Peru, in late September for the conference "Combating the Traffic of Objects of Cultural Heritage."

"We are all doing solo dances; we need to create structures in which we can work together, that's why we are here," says Nelson Jofre of Interpors subregional office in Buenos Aires.

Illegal traffic in cultural objects has taken its toll on many other nations around the world. In countries like Bangladesh, Mall, and Samoa examples of traditional local folk art are difficult, if not impossible, to find, while they abound in Europe and the United States. This is what officials in Latin America would like to avoid. Over three days of presentations and workshops, conference participants exchanged stories and experiences, looking for ways in which they can collaborate and cooperate to fight this traffic. Some common obstacles were mentioned across the region. Many participants noted the lack of sufficient legislation and sanctions, or loophole-ridden legislation, for crimes against patrimony. But even in countries with laws and tough sanctions on the books, officials say, traffickers benefit from a culture of impunity, because they often hail from the elite social classes and have a certain level of access to and influence in government circles. In addition, unlike France and Italy, where there are specialized units for art and antiquities, law enforcement authorities in the region are on the whole poorly equipped to distinguish artifacts from replicas.

"It is easy to deal with drug trafficking, anyone can identify drags. It's a lot harder to work with artwork," comments Jean-Pierre Jouanny of Interpors Works of Art Unit in France. And of course underneath it all lies the common problem of poverty. …


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