Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Privatize Copan? Why Not.

Copan Ruinas asks for its rights over the archaeological park.

That headline in El Tiempo on Monday caught our eye.

What "rights", do you ask?

The newspaper reported Monday that in a town meeting over the weekend, the residents of Copan Ruinas (the town adjacent to the Maya archaeological site) voted to demand that the Institute of Anthropology and History turn over 50% of the gross revenues generated by the archaeological park.

Congress member Julio Cesar Gamez Interiano will reportedly introduce legislation to this effect. The legislation reportedly would enable the town of Copan Ruinas to sell tickets outside the country, keeping all of that revenue, although it leaves undefined the mechanism for these direct sales to foreign tourists.

This is exactly what was predicted in a letter from the Union of Employees of the Institute of Anthropology and History on June 8, 2011. As we said then, the consequences of such a shift in distribution of income from this national monument would be disastrous, both for the archaeological site itself, and for the Institute of Anthropology and History.

Why? Copan's income is currently the main source of funding for preservation of the cultural patrimony in Honduras.

That includes Copan. In fact, most of Copan's income is dedicated to preserving that very site.

The former director of the Institute of Anthropology and History, Dario Euraque, demonstrated in his book El golpe de Estado del 28 de junio de 2009, el Patrimonio Cultural y la Identidad Nacional that funds generated by admission to the archaeological site of Copan are used almost entirely in the maintenance and administration of Copan.

The article in El Tiempo includes no arguments to justify this grab by the town, no explanation for why the town thinks it has the right to the income from admissions to the site.

It's not like it isn't already receiving economic benefits from visitation to the site.

The government pays taxes on the land to the town every year; about 500,000 lempiras according to the El Tiempo article.

And of course, the town derives income from all the visitors who come and stay in the hotels, eat in the restaurants, and buy things in the stores. Anyone who remembers sleepy Copan Ruinas in the 1970s and visits today can see the economic growth there fueled by proximity to the archaeological site.

The call to take 50% of the revenues used to maintain the national monument is nothing more than a plan to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs for the town of Copan Ruinas.

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