Saturday, March 3, 2012

Radio America: Virgilio Paredes Reassures Copan

More than a week before the signing of an accord that gave the municipality of Copan Ruinas unprecedented control over what by law in Honduras is a shared cultural patrimony, Radio América interviewed Virgilio Paredes, the otherwise silent bureaucrat who has been managing the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, about what was then a crisis under development. The transcript of that interview provides a window into just how the Institute let the situation escalate, ending up with a cabinet minister imposing an unprecedented agreement that guts the mission of the Institute itself.

Here's our translation of the most relevant parts of the interview, with commentary added:
Emmanuel Tercero, journalist in the booth: Carlos Rivera tells us that there are problems between the alcalde (mayor) who does not want archaeological pieces to be taken with the permission of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia, to take important pieces for an exhibition in a museum in the US. Carlos Rivera from the west of the country...

Good afternoon. This morning we spoke as well with Virgilio Paredes of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia who told us that the Maya-Chorti community is in agreement that original archaeological pieces will be transported to Pennsylvania, US, for an exhibition.

[Comment: it seems that Paredes is here arguing that the Maya Chorti do have a right to have their opinions heard, and that they had agreed to the exhibition.]
... but the Alcalde of Copan Ruinas, Helmy Giacoman, who is also preoccupied, is in communication, a brief summary of what is happening, go ahead, Alcalde...

Statement of Helmy Giacoman, Alcalde of Copan Ruinas: Good afternoon, the truth is that the town of Copan is extremely preoccupied by what has been being given these days, the truth, with the exhibition of these pieces at an international level and the truth is that we are very preoccupied... the people also found out about this and the truth is that the local media well, there has been circulating a lot about this business, because there are very disastrous antecedents for the patrimony of Copan Ruinas, when pieces have been taken outside the country and were lost in foreign territory, so it is explicable, completely explicable, to think that the town is very preoccupied, because these pieces have an incalculable value since the value that they have for what is the patrimony of Honduras, and the truth is that we are really preoccupied.

[Comment: What Giacoman is referring to is an incident in 1999 when a jade object from Copan, part of a traveling exhibition that was originally in Venice, went missing in Mexico, where the second site for the installation, the Colegio de San Ildefonso, simply did not have appropriate security. This theft, and others at the site and elsewhere, have been cited since at least 2004 in arguments by the municipality of Copan Ruinas claiming a voice in management of the pieces excavated from the site, and in proceeds from visitation there.]
Well, thanks to the Alcalde of Copan Ruinas, Helmy Giacoman, for letting us glimpse this concern, now that they propose to transport archaeological pieces to Pennsylvania, US for an exhibition, but what will Virgilio Paredes of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia say on this point.

Well, thanks Carlos, as it happens we have Virgilio Paredes, director of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia, how do we take away this concern of the Alcalde and the people there in Copan Ruinas, about this idea or this intention that there is, is it a reality, for how many pieces, what guarantees it, the process, the respective guarantees, the inventories so that there will not be losses of the same, Virgilio Paredes, we are listening on Radio America...

Declarations of Virgilio Paredes: Good afternoon, we want to say to you that the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia has been working on this exhibition for approximately a year, to undertake an arduous process of analysis, to see which pieces can be transported, under what conditions and in the framework of the Ley de Patrimonio Cultural de la Nacion, to establish that the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia is who will have these pieces in custody, and that in the care and restoration of these pieces, and in the framework of the same Law they also will establish the processes to loan archaeological pieces.

As you will know the Archaeological Park of Copan is patrimony of humanity, World Heritage, it isn't just national heritage, so it is in this framework in which we have Agreements... we try to promote tourism, to promote the tourist portion of all that is Maya archaeology...

So what the Law establishes has been followed, and what the Law sets up are the following processes: the Institute comes, verifies the pieces, speaks in this case with the University of Pennsylvania, with which there has been communication for approximately a year, and the pieces are identified that are going to be loaned to promote Honduras and Copan Ruinas outside the country, unfortunately we have been hearing a lot of bad news about what happened in the prison, the deaths and so many bad things about Honduras that are being promoted, this is one piece of good news for Honduras.

[Comment: notice the confusion between what properly is the role of the Institute of Anthropology-- the protection, interpretation, and sharing of information about Honduras cultural patrimony-- and what should be the work of other government agencies, like the Institute of Tourism, or even private enterprise. Most of the dialogues about Copan seem to end up really being about income that can be generated from Copan. And of course, the role of the Institute should be more than promoting Maya archaeology, since that is only one part of Honduras cultural heritage. It is also shocking to see the contrast drawn so starkly: the massive deaths caused by the prison fire in Comayagua are unfortunately "being promoted" and in contrast, the proposed US exhibition is "one piece of good news" for Honduras.]

After asking who makes up the Consejo Directivo for the Institute, the reporter asks if the proposal was discussed and "socialized", e.g., debated with the relevant public stakeholders. Paredes responds:
It has been discussed, it is approved, so that everything is in order, we came and it was approved in conformity with the Law, this passes to the President of the Republic, the President and his Attorneys determine the processes, if everything is in [agreement with the] Law, of all the enumerated pieces photos and everything.

Emmanuel Tercero: How many pieces are we talking about? Paredes: 74 pieces.
Tercero: What benefits is this going to bring? Paredes: There are various benefits, first the University of Pennsylvania, which is the warrantor that we are going to have, is going to promote Copan Ruinas, there will be publicity internationally, it is a museum that will be open for all the US, in the framework of 2012 it will come to assist in training, in institutional strengthening, in assistance for conservators, in all the team that is necessary where we do not have resources.

Tercero: Is there a guarantee that [the pieces] will return intact, then? Paredes: The guarantee is the Law itself, in our vaults there are pieces, these 74 are already classified, they are photographed, and we have the list already, they are already authorized by the President, with their photos, that is what we are going to do ourselves, and that I wanted already today to deliver formally and officially to the Alcalde, it is a shame that I could not see him, since the official note with the photos and the list, with those photos and the list the Alcalde was asked for a representative.

Then within three weeks that the insurance is approved, the boxes and everything, then I will need a representative of Civil Society and a representative of the Municipality, so that they can come and see and verify each one of the pieces when they are going to be packed, so that those that have the documentation can verify what it is that is leaving the country, there will be representatives of the DEI and they will close everything and it will go to the US, in February of the next year when the pieces arrive, I will need both the Institute with the Civil Society and the Alcalde's office to sit down, we will open each box and verify that all that went is exactly what came back, that it isn't replicas that come, and it will guarantee that all that left the country is exactly what it is.

Tercero: Well, here we should ask something don Virgilio, [the mayor?] said "well, we are also bringing tourists, so if they take away all the pieces or even just a part, well then the tourists that come here aren't going to see anything?" Paredes: Look, we have more than 5000 pieces, so 74 is nothing in comparison, the problem that we have is a grave problem notice that we do not have a museum with the international standards of climate control, of environment, of lighting and of security to be able.. the good news that we have for the Honduran people is that via the Government of Japan there is now being given us approval to build a museum of international level in Copan Ruinas.

Tercero concludes: Well, Alcalde Municipal Helmy Giacoman of Copan Ruinas and Virgilio Paredes, Director of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia, about these pieces that are going to be removed and that this is in keeping with agreements and in accordance with the Law and that it is going to be approved by the Executive branch, and that [Paredes] is going to meet there with the Alcalde to clear up doubts.

[Comment: about ten days later, an accord signed by the Alcalde and, on behalf of the government, the minister of the interior, but not by Virgilio Paredes, conceded to the people of Copan Ruinas not only the degree of participation in packing and unpacking proposed here; but much more besides. Not involved in these negotiations: the Minister of Culture, who should have been the representative of the Executive branch in this case.]

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