Argentina will be returning four-and-a-half thousand ancient indigenous artifacts to Latin American neighbors Peru and Ecuador.
Outgoing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, announced that her government will be returning the artifacts on Saturday.
The plan to repatriate the archaeological artifacts was unveiled as part of a ceremony for the inauguration of 18 new rooms in Argentina’s National Museum of Fine Art in Buenos Aires.
— EmbPerú en Argentina (@EmbPeru_Arg) August 22, 2015
The Argentine Embassy tweeted the opening ceremony.
Kirchner’s speech was attended by both the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Ambassadors, with her pledge marking the continent’s first large-scale effort to return important historical and cultural items.
Reflecting on the quantity of items set to be voluntarily returned, Kirchner claimed Argentina was “doing something almost unheard-of, not just in Latin America but in the world.”
At the ceremony, according to the AFP, Kirchner said the artifacts in question had been stolen and that in returning the items Argentina is “doing something unusual, really special.” Kirchner went on to say; “it is an honour and a pleasure to restore the cultural wealth of countries such as Ecuador and Peru in a world where such wealth has so often been taken away.”
Recuperación de piezas patrimoniales por parte de la Embajada del Ecuador en Argentina. pic.twitter.com/Yyg09Tqvvt
— Embajada EC en ARG (@EmbajadaEcuARG) August 22, 2015
“Recuperation of heritage artifacts by the Argentine Embassy.” A tweet reads.
Despite talking at length about returning the artifacts, the Argentine President did not go into specifics about the transfer of items.
However, according to news agency teleSur, the repatriation of artifacts is the result of an ongoing, fifteen-year-long Argentinian police operation, which seized items illegally purchased on the black market from private buyers, shops and fairs.
The lion’s share of artifacts, some 3982 items, belong to Peru with a further 518 belonging to Ecuador.
Listen to Kirchner’s full speech (Spanish only) here.
Peru fights for its past
Last year, Peru was also reunited with thousands of Incan artifacts, though much less voluntarily, after a long-running legal dispute with Yale University.
The collection was taken from Machu Picchu in 1912 by American explorer Hiram Bingham and was only relinquished by the Ivy-League school after Peru filled a lawsuit in 2008.
Despite the successful return of the Yale collection, Peru currently finds itself embroiled in a further dispute over 400 artifacts with New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Officials in Peru claim the items were stolen in the 1960’s and ended up in the Met’s collection.
Experts predict this to be a slow process as Peru has at times struggled to house artifacts. Archaeologist Walter Alva, speaking to Peruvian daily El Comercio, said: “we can appeal to the goodwill of the American government, but we also need to build a museum that would justify our efforts.”
$6 billion industry
Roni Amelan, a spokesperson for the United Nations Educational Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO), told Fox Latino News: “Latin America, along with the Middle East, is a major region for archaeological digs and also for this type of trafficking.”
According to a UNESCO report, the cost of illegal global trade was around $6 billion USD annually with Europe, the US and Asia the main markets. Peru’s government estimates the cost to be $18 million annually, while Saving Antiquities For Everyone (SAFE) reported more Andean artifacts were taken during the 1980’s and 1990’s than in the previous four centuries.