Peru: privatization of archaeological sites seen

Public sector workers in Cuzco, Peru, held a rally in the historic city Sept. 30 to protest plans by the national government to allow private administration of cultural and archaeological sites. The Cuzco regional government, whose territory includes such famous sites as Machu Picchu, Saqsaywaman and Ollantaytambo, has already announced its refusal to comply with the new policy. The national Culture Minister Diana Álvarez-Calderón says President Ollanta Humala's new Legislative Decree 1198 does not affect the fundamental nature of state properties but would help attract capital "in order to transform them into a point of development in its area of influence." She emphasized that many sites are currently unprotected and vulnerable to artifact thieves and traffickers, and environmental erosion. But Wilfredo Álvarez, leader of the Cuzco Departamental Workers Federation (FDTC), warned, "If the private sector administrates the archaeological centers, it will bring income for millionaries" rather than Peru's people. He said the FDTC would give Humala a "prudent" period to revoke the decree before undertaking an "indefinite" strike. (La Republica, Oct. 1; Peru This Week, El Comercio, Sept. 29; Andina, Sept. 28; La Republica, Sept. 27)

Activists in Peru and elsewhere in South America have already been protesting what they call the "financialization of nature" through such technocratic rainforest-preservation schemes as carbon trading. This new measure can be seen as the financialization of archaeology (or, in the case of dinosaur remains and the like, paleontology). The notion that a nation's cultural and ecological heritage must be commodified and made to "pay its way" in order to survive rather than being protected for its intrinsic worth has obvious dangers. The failure of the government to secure these sites against tomb-raiders and the like sets up privatization as the only responsible solution. Peru's government has sought no alternatives to either turning the sites into tourist spectacles or abandoning them to the traffickers and the elements. 

Peru is a poor country, and the marketing of its spectacular scenery and archaeology to those with money to burn is almost inevitable. But for the local poor, it can only be seen as adding an extra layer of humiliation to their already agonizing economic condition.