Mexico denounces the “looting” of its heritage after a sale in Paris

The mobilization of five Latin American countries was not enough. Wednesday November 10 in Paris, 139 pieces of pre-Columbian and Taino art were put on sale by the Christie’s house. The day before, the joint press release from the embassies of Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Peru, however, called for the event to be canceled, denouncing the “Illegal trade” of their historical heritage. A cultural struggle limited by French legislation which refers to the goodwill of collectors.

“This type of transaction encourages looting, illicit trafficking and the laundering of property perpetrated by organized crime”, castigates the press release from the five embassies in Paris. The auctions took place in the very chic salons of Christie’s, located avenue Matignon, bringing in more than 3 million euros. The highlight of the sale was a 34 cm Mayan ax, made between 550 and 950 in Mexico, depicting a contorted man with a snake in his arms. The metamorphic rock piece was purchased for 692,000 euros, three times its initial estimate. 71 other Mexican coins were auctioned on Wednesday.

“Cultural heritage is not a commercial object”, declared to World the Mexican Minister of Culture Since October, his government has been calling for the sale to be canceled. “We demand the return of the parts. Their place is in a museum because they represent the identity of our ancient civilizations, some of which are still very much alive today. “ Mexico has 68 indigenous peoples, who represent about 10% of its 126 million inhabitants.

Legal puzzle

“These sales are illegal”, denounces Alejandra Frausto, who recalls that a federal law, passed in 1972, protects the pieces found in the archaeological zones of Mexico. The Minister wrote two letters to Christie’s in October and November. “They replied that the sale respects French law which recognizes as owner the one who owns the property, promoting the right to property to the detriment of the protection of foreign cultural heritage”, she regrets. Consequently, it is up to the litigant to prove the illegal nature of the items sold. “However, it is very difficult, with illegal trafficking, to identify when they left Mexican territory. Not to mention that many collectors acquired works before our law of 1972. ”

A legal puzzle that Mexico City has faced time and time again. His outcry in 2019 against two sales organized by Millon and Sotheby’s had also ended in failure. Since then, the disappointments have multiplied. Paris and Mexico, however, signed on 1is July, a “declaration of intent to strengthen cooperation against illicit trafficking in cultural property”. And Alejandra Frausto to explain: “The declaration which strengthens the vigilance of the two countries is a step in the right direction. But the approach does not relate to parts acquired in the past. “

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Mexico denounces the “looting” of its heritage after a sale in Paris