Chinchero — Lost in the Clouds of Poor Engineering, Bad Finance

By Nicholas Asheshov ✐

It seems President Kuczynski is to lay the First Stone of the new Chinchero Airport in Cusco this coming week. If so, it will be the third first stone for this sad project. Presidents Toledo and Garcia have preceded him. Some locals say Presidents Belaunde and Fujimori were others. We have to hope President PPK’s stone suffers the same fate. Chinchero is a disaster waiting to happen.

This week top regulatory officials in Lima resigned in protest at the illegal contracts for the financing for Chinchero. But crooked finance contracts are the least of of what has always been a rotten project.

The Cusco city fathers say they need a new airport. This is incorrect. Their object is to grab the valuable building land of the present airport. But even if Cusco needs  a new airport, Chinchero is easily the worst of the alternatives. The Pampa de Anta, nearby, is incomparably better. Anta is dramatically lower in height and is already runway flat.

Chinchero is outside Cusco  at an oxygen-less 500ms higher, on the road to Machu Picchu.

It started off, as these projects do, with funny money. Four years ago the Cusco Regional Government, run then by ‘Humala associate Jorge Coco’ Acurio, paid $70 million for a 330-hectare string of potato fields on the rolling, cold, cloudy massif of Chinchero.

The lucky owners of the fields were the 426 members of a couple of Chinchero’s comunidades. They received $230,000 for each hectare, making them by far the most expensive potato fields in the world. You can buy a hectare of potato field in Idaho, the world’s biggest potato region, for $5,000 per hectare. In expensive southern England, in Devon and Somerset for instance, the same potato field might cost GBP 10,000, one-twentieth of the Acurio Chinchero price.

The Chinchero potato fields are good for potatoes, beans, a couple of sheep and a burro.  They make a lousy airport. Difficult in fact to find a worse location. The average height of this ancient farmland is 3,700 m.a.s.l. The only commercial airport in the world that is higher is El Alto, at 4,000 m.a.s.l., the airport for La Paz. El Alto can be used only for local one-hour , max 90-minute hops down to Cochabamba and Tarija and Santa Cruz. Arica is a ski-jump away, Lima a hop up the coast. But that’s it. El Alto never will be commercial because planes cannot take off at these altitudes with a full load of fuel and passengers.  You can have either a full tank and just a few tourists or lots of tourists and a few gallons of fuel, enough to get down the hill. In the case of Chinchero, that means Lima. As Newton said, apples fall down for free. Bolivia’s international airport is at Santa Cruz at 400 m.a.s.l. Passengers to and from La Paz to Rio, Buenos Aires, Miami and even Lima go via Santa Cruz. Check the timetables.

It will be the same for Chinchero. The bureaucrats and politicians in Cusco and in Lima, at ProInversion and the Ministry of Transport, have taken to calling it the ‘International’ Cusco airport. This is a lie propagated by the under-funded concessionaire, Kunturwasi.  Flights between Chinchero, if this idiot, foggy project goes ahead, will continue to go via Lima, as they do today and till the next century. With one difference. The tickets will cost $300 more than they do today.

Fog, hailstorms, normal in high mountains, add to the Chinchero danger. The glaciers and snowfields of the Cordillera Urubamba, at 6,000 m.a.s.l., loom over Chinchero. They are just a few miles to the north of the Chinchero potato fields. Picturesque, dramatic. Dangerous.

Technological advances in aviation are focused on electronics and nano materials. But Newtonian physics will not change, whatever the Cusqueño powerbrokers seem to think.

It could not get worse? Yes, it does.

The Chinchero massif is a limestone base. For engineers, this means sinkholes. For instance, the Inca terraces at Moray close to Chinchero at the same height, are sinkholes.  The Chinchero lakes of Piuray and Huaypo reflect the same geology. Engineering studies reflect no deep drilling to assess this risk. A 200-ton airliner will one day  land at Chinchero and open a massive instant hole. Not good.

Cusco road, sewage and electricity services are already pathetic. There’s talk, but no plans exist for new transport between Chinchero and Cuzco, nor Urubamba. Power cuts are almost daily in Urubamba, the province in which poor Chinchero is located, thanks to state-owned Electro Sur Este.

What to do with the 7 million tourists a year promised by President Kuczynski?  Machu Picchu is already at a standing-room-only 5,000, sometimes 7,000 visitors a day. A study commissioned by the government says the max daily entry cannot pass 5,400/day. Call it 2 million per year.

Cuzco thinks, says, it needs a new airport. The present one, Velasco Astete is at 3,250 m.a.s.l., 500ms lower than Chinchero, which is a big difference at these delicate heights.  Velasco Astete, run and owned by Corpac, the government airport authority, consists of 240 hectares of good flat land which could easily and cheaply have its runways extended and expanded, with new terminals and, above all, new electronics. The A219 and A320 used by Latam and Avianca can fly in on self-drive computers as they do routinely, of course, in Europe and North America where the weather, though for sure not the height, is much worse than Cusco ever is.

But the Cusco shakers, the chambers of commerce and the local politicos have other plans for Velasco Astete’s 240 hectares of land, which is only a few minutes from downtown. As building land it is worth already today $1,000/m2, $2,000/m2 before the end of the decade. Use your own fingers to work out how much this free gift of land will be worth to the imperial city’s top dogs.

In theory, the central government (all Peruvians) is owner of the land,  and indeed this is how it should be. But, no, the Cusqueños have already bought it. Under a quiet agreement with former President Humala, the $70mn it paid the Chinchero comuneros is being handed over to the central government in exchange for the 240 Corpac hectares of Velasco Astete.  Acurio was later thrown out of the regional president job by the Cusco Supreme Court for one of several instances of corruption. Acurio is one of the Humala-Heredia team being investigated by state prosecutors for corruption linked to the jailed Mr. Belaunde Lossio for thousands of millions of dollars in state construction contracts.

So Chinchero is shrouded in big money corruption, and should be stopped, investigated on these grounds alone. This apart from its technical stupidity, a characteristic of corrupt projects.

There is a good way for the Cuqueños to have their cake and eat it too. They can do the sensible thing and build a new airport on the Pampa de Anta, closer than Chinchero to their downtown and flat as a tortilla. It needs a few million bucks worth of drainage but none of the expensive earthmoving of Chinchero. Its approaches are no more dangerous than Cusco itself, better actually.

What height is Anta? Same as Velasco Astete, 3,225.

What is the Region Cusco to do with its world-record expensive potato fields, burro grazing at Chinchero? Forget it. The money has long gone on pick-up trucks and on a forest of dreadful cinderblock highrises.

Chinchero is a traditional Andean village with a fine cultural tradition in textiles, with superb views of the cordilleras reaching over to Machu Picchu. Leave it as it is. No airport means tourists will retain as fine a view as any in the Andes. The bells of the charming colonial church will continue to float out over the Inca ruins, the primary schools and the workshops of the internationally recognized weavers.

Nick Asheshov was editor of the Andean Air Mail & Peruvian Times during the 1970s and 1980s, and of The South Pacific Mail, Santiago during the 1990s.  He was Latin America Editor of Institutional Investor, New York over the same period.  He lives in Urubamba, where he writes a blog and where he has been prominent in the hotel and railway business.

This article appeared in the Peruvian Times on  January 26, 2017

We all like Chocolate, and it’s good for you

By Nicholas Asheshov

Peru could and should be one of the great chocolate-producing countries, and a new Chocomuseo in Calle Berlin, Miraflores is aiming to push this idea a step further.

The Miraflores Chocomuseo follows the Numero Uno Chocomuseo in Cuzco, a roaring success. I have been to the Cuzco one a couple of times, the latest earlier this week, and it’s full all the time. Here, in an old building in the centre of town just off the Plaza Recojijo, you can watch them roast and grind the cacao beans, known as nibs and add organic sugar produced in Piura, and a score of fillings, from corn and aji to sauco, lucuma, maracuya ,ahuaymanto, raisins, nuts, coconut . There are a few tables where visitors can eat thick, sweet, rich chocolate paste with a touch of aji –a Maya idea– and hot tea made from the husks of the cacao beans.

One of the liveliest features of the Chocomuseo here in Cuzco is the two-hour course in how to make chocolates. You start learning about how and where cacao orchards do best, which is down in the hot-house end of the jungle anywhere it is well over 21º C. and where there’s plenty of water and humidity A couple of hours later you walk away with a simpatico bag of little chocolates that you yourself made by pouring warm paste into moulds where you have put your favorite fillings. Good deal for S/.70 and the tourists love it.

The Cuzco ChocoMuseo was set up by Alain Schneider, a 27-year-old Frenchman, and his partner Clara Isabel Dias, also French. After studying engineering at universities in France and working for Air France, Alain and Clara went to Nicaragua where, after doing NGO work, they set up the first ChocoMuseo in Granada, a colonial town. Then came Cuzco two years ago and, later, Antigua Guatemala, and now Miraflores with more to come in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and El Salvador, and doubtless, elsewhere.

Over a cup of, naturally, chocolate, here at the Cuzco Chocomuseo, Alain, told me something of what he has learned about the cacao and chocolate business in Peru, in which he is today an important player.

Alain is one of those charmingly lively French boys, who is also well-organized enough to be running an international network.

“Every three days we have a Skype conference with the managers of each of the Chocomuseos where we go over the figures and discuss what’s working and what’s maybe not,” he says

So here we have the Internet, French chutzpah and talent, and Wall Street producing a charming, lively useful money-spinner which is sure to provide the basis for new businesses, perhaps chocolaty and perhaps not. There’s home-made beer, for instance.

Alain mentions, too, a friend who is setting up a Pisco Museum –we used to call it a bar, but these days it has to be called, something toney.

One of the things that Alain and Clara Isabel have found is that in Peru getting their hands on a steady supply of good cacao beans is not that easy. “An early lot we had from Quillabamba was fine. But the next lot we had to throw away, no good,” he says.

Here in Urubamba, I have had the same experience. The other day I bought a bar of chocolate-cacao paste under the brand name of COCLA, but it was so bad that it went into the rubbish. Cocla is the big coffee and cacao purchasing group based in Quillabamba. This has produced an unusual and certainly unwanted situation. The Cuzco Chocomuseo buys no cacao from down-the-road La Convencion, where a lot of cacao is produced. Instead, Alain Schneider is buying it mostly from a supplier in Tocache, a pueblo on the banks of the great Rio Huallaga, well to the north and downstream, of Tingo Maria. It is here that cacao and chocolate takes on one of two important political roles. As everyone knows tocache is a centre for coca plantations and the cocaine industry and at least until last year, an operations focus for Sendero Luminoso, both feeding off each other. Now USAID and others have been pushing cacao as an alternative to coca, and have introduced a hybrid variety, CCN51 which is a good producer but the flavor, Alain Schneider tells me, is nowhere near as good as the traditional ‘chuncho’ native Amazon varieties.

I first visited Tocache in 1982, riding upstream from Juanjui in a powered canoe that was doing a bus service up and down this great river. Then Tocache was still a sleepy village. Three years later it had a Banco de Credito branch where locals would take in bagfuls of $100 notes and receive, in exchange, Credito bearer certificates of deposit. Twin-engined planes bound for Colombia buzzed across the dawn skies, ushering in an uncomfortable three decades of wealth and violent death.

But today Alain Schneider buys his six tons of cacao beans from Tocache, indicating a much more positive future for one of Peru’s pleasantest and most bountiful regions.

He also buys some in Piura which, although it is on the Coast, is just a couple of degrees south of the equator.

Cacao has another positive political characteristic. It is naturally an Amazon tree and, like coffee, needs shade from higher canopy-style trees, like mango, avocado, and orange. This means it is ecologically better than most other jungle farming, like cattle, soya, sugar and oil palms. All these, like coca for that matter, see the forest razed and replaced with boring mile upon mile of mono-culture, only marginally less damaging to the world than a layer of cement. Under a canopy is how the good cacao, rather like coffee, is cultivated anyway: Other places that produce good cacao include Ecuador and the Caribbean coasts of Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica where the plantations are often right on the beach. Brazil’s Atlantic coast around Salvador de Bahia is also a famous producing area. The big West African and Southeast Asian plantations are pretty awful, however.

Amazon and Central American cacao from the native chuncho criollo and trinitario varieties has a noticeably better flavor and is used for the best Swiss, Belgian and French chocolates. This is partly, it seems, because if it is done properly, the fermentation of the cacao seeds, gives them a flavor that cannot be equalled by the hybrids either here or in Africa.

The fermentation is carried out in boxes with the fruity pulp and then the seeds are dried out in the sun on concrete or hard earth. The seeds are then transported to the United States, Europe, or to chocolate-makers like, now, the Chocomuseo. .

Peru chocolate has been getting a publicity lift from Astrid Acurio, glamorous wife of Gaston, Peru’s maestro chef, under the brand name Melate.

“Our new Chocomuseo in Calle Berlin will, we hope, make Peruvians more conscious of just how good their chocolate can be,” Alain Schneider says.

Also, chocolate is good for you. Studies carried out in universities and health research places in England and elsewhere have proved, it seems, that chocolate is awes choice for couples seeking to increase the quality of their relationship. More research, clearly, needed.


First published in Caretas in Spanish, the week of September 20, 2012

Planes, Trains and Boutique Hotels

By Nicholas Asheshov

July and August are always the top weeks of what has become a year-round rain-or-shine season for the Cuzco tourism industry though things have been slow following powerful flash floods in January. Global-warming rains suddenly quintupled the volume and speed of the monsoon water in the Rio Vilcanota, the one that wraps around Machu Picchu, slashed out big slabs of the narrow-gauge railway line that chugs tourists from Cuzco over the mountains and down a dramatic canyon to the ruins.

Machu Picchu Cut Off! Tourists are increasingly coming to see other things like the Manu and Iquitos jungles, the Nazca Lines, Lake Titicaca. Whatever: no Machu Picchu, no tourists.

The railway, a concession run by Orient-Express Hotels, OEH, is, six months later, not fully operational but the last 25 miles is open again with crawl-along speeds on the recently-repaired bits. But, hey, who cares if it takes a half-hour extra to get to such a stunning destination. Presumably by next year it’ll be back to rock-a-bye normal where on the only straight stretch top speed at the best of times is 25 mph.

This year, on this evocative little line another change is taking place. The Orient-Express monopoly is ending, a subject on which I am a world authority as a founding Director of Andean Railways Corp, the feisty challenger. We led a ferocious three-year regulatory battle against the PeruRail –Orient Express– monopoly. Today it’s all smiles, a bit guarded for sure, but those of us, starting with Bob Booth himself, who remember the glory days of airline regulation and outrageous protectionism, need no elbow-jogging to know the lengths to which monopolies will rise to keep the bacon to themselves.

The tourist industry in Cuzco has improved enormously in just a few years. Orient Express, a decade ago, brought five-star hotelier skill and style to their Monasterio, Cuzco and Mach Picchu Lodge and, using their panache and marketing zap, completely up-heaveled Cuzco. They quickly trained their amiable but one-star personnel to international levels and raised the comfort bar, with breath-taking prices to match. Good for them and today there’s a lively range from $10 to $1,000. No one in Cuzco, pre-OEH, knew even how to spell croissant. Today the Brescia-Libertador group, together with Starwood, are opening, next door to my own adobe riverside, woodland home, a spiffy $52mn Luxury Collection spa, lovely views of river and snow-peaks up-valley from MaPi itself. Marriott is putting up a new Olde Inca tambo in cobbled Cuzco, and there’s half-a-dozen charming luxury-boutique hotels already open. They meld in well with a daily roster of religious processions and up-the-workers down-the-politicians rallies.

There’s suddenly a flurry of snazzy restaurants with names like “Jack’s” and “Chicha” offering Novo Andino guinea-pig aux fines herbes and carpacho de alpaca. And, Dios mio! Starbucks is opening next to the Catedral. Cuzco’s been a 24/7 party since the beat-bearded ’70s so it’s just getting better. Even Barry Walker’s Cross Keys pub, which recalled the gun-slinger saloon in Star Wars, is in new, non-creaky quarters just off the Plaza de Armas with Manchester xxxx-ale and loos that work.

Today LAN is running 14+ flights a day to Cuzco, using A319s, TACA two (A319,A320), Star Peru two, and Cielos de Peru, a start-up, two more. No night flights, thank goodness. I can remember when CUZ, 11,300ft asl, would get one or two DC-3s and DC-4s wing-tipping it between the glaciers below the summits.

One example of the new upper-crust tourism involved the other day none less than Pedro Heilbron, COPA’s CEO, and Matias Campiani, CEO, Pluna, Montevideo, leading a lively bunch of top Young Presidents from all over: I had pleasant chats with South Africans, Greeks, Mumbai Indians, Francaises and most other breeds. Pedro, together with Alberto Beeck, the Peruvian financier, had asked me to tell them in a fireside chat How to Find a Lost City, an interest of mine since my National Geographic days. I told them that the way not to do it, about which I know a lot, is to look for a blank spot on the map and say, Aha! that must be where El Dorado is. I told them about people, including friends, who had come to a sticky end doing this, and that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are about to shoot a movie in Bolivia about Col. Percy Fawcett, the Lost World Brit who disappeared into the Mato Grosso in 1925.

My new computer-controlled hydraulic Parker-Cummins-powered DMU-autowagons, vaguely reminiscent of a San Francisco tram painted with parrots, is called, of course: The Machu Picchu Train –The Lost City Traveller. They have cost me and my partners slightly less than late-model Dreamliners with the advantage, I suppose, that if they run out of gas at least we can push them home.

Letter from Urubamba, July 23, 2010

Hemingway, Mancora and the World’s Greatest Fish

By Nicholas Asheshov

Last week saw me trolling the warm chop over the Mancora Bank at a brisk eight knots in a 28′ Phoenix Express fisherman hoping to hook a giant marlin, the king of the sea.

The boat belonged to Jose Luis Martinez, the international big game fisherman. Jose Luis, a jolly young Lima construction mogul, catches 30 or 40 marlin a year here.

I had six rods out with the lures between 20 and 40 yards aft a few feet below the surface, each of them glittering spoons aimed at attracting the attention of a curious, perhaps not too bright fish.

From the bridge we spotted a couple of marlin dorsals and spun round to trail the lures before their noses. No marlin takers today though we were to return to base at Punta Sal in the evening not empty-handed.

We cruised past a score of sperm and humpback whales, had a school of charming dolphins for company and a dozen artesan Kankas and Mancora fishermen long-lining in the distance for tuna and mero.

The temperature gauge showed the water at between 24 and 26 degrees centigrade. The Humboldt Current to the south is typically at 18 degrees and lower and the meeting of the cold north-flowing and warm south-flowing waters just here is what makes this the Piccadilly Circus, the Copacabana Beach of the oceans.

The depth sounder varied between 100 metres over the Bank, down to two, three and even five hundred metres.

A reel screamed.

“Es grande,” Alex, the captain, said.

I gripped the rod, My arms ached. My hands ached.

Then the fight was over. It was a Dorado, green and wet gold. It had a big head and big eyes.

I could hardly lift it. It was a big fish.

So might Ernest Hemingway, who fished these same waters six decades ago, have described my own fish, caught that day last week, a 50-pounder.

Anglers anywhere could be proud of a 50-pounder but in these exuberant waters it’s small beer. Hemingway himself brought in a massive 910lb black marlin here in 1956.

In the 1950s and 1960s the Cabo Blanco Fishing Club, founded by my old Cambridge chum Enrique Pardo, was the spectacular heart of international big game fishing.

Today, Jose Luis tells me, the best he can expect to catch, even with his state-of-the-art tackle, is 500 or 600 lbs., the size of a pony, terrific but half, even just one-third of the giants of half a century ago before the vast shoals of over-fished anchoveta disappeared.

Marlin are no good to eat. “Every one I catch we just bring it alongside, unhook the hooks, tag it and let it go.

*Sometimes after a big fight it’ll be exhausted so we stroke its bill and pull it along a bit to re-oxygenate it and then, suddenly it’ll flip and it’s off.”

Like salmon and whales marlin are world travellers. “My tags turn up in Australia or Hawaii,” Jose Luis says. The International Game Fishing Association, of Dania Beach, Fla. requires its members to fill in a form for every fish that’s taken.

The story of game fishing at Cabo Blanco, between Talara and Mancora, 250 miles south of the equator, is dramatic. A report by Doug Olander in World Record Game Fishes is headlined:

Cabo Blanco, The Rise and Fall of The Greatest Blue Water Big-Game Fishing The World Has Ever Known.

Olander talks of “colossal black marlin” and “huge bigeye tuna”. It was not just the size of the fish but their “amazing abundance”.

The rods in those pre-tungsten and carbon fibre days were of bamboo and the line not of tough stretch plastic but of ashaway linen.

“The biggest change has been in the reels with their gearing and braking systems,” Jose Luis tells me.

Olander describes a couple of epic all-day battles in Black Marlin Boulevard, as Cabo Blanco Club members called it, just three or four miles offshore.

The most famous of them came on August 4 1953 when Alfred C. Glassell Jr., a Houston oilman, brought in the biggest black marlin that has ever been caught and no one today doubts that it will remain the record forever. The fish is on permanent display in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. The photograph of Glassell, a tall 180lbs or so, standing with his rod dwarfed by the marlin hanging from a rope round its tail, is a famous one. It has “1,560 lbs.” whitewashed on its side.

Astoundingly, beyond serendipity, a Warner Bros film crew, down in Cabo Blanco shooting The Old Man and The Sea, starring Spencer Tracy, registered the whole of Glassell’s fight in epic widescreen Technicolor. The battle lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes, shorter than many, and the film caught this massive animal, the size of a bull, leaping 49 times.

The Hemingway story, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize, was, of course, about a Cuban fisherman in the Gulf Stream but now you know that the fish and the sea are all from up here on the north coast of Peru.

My own 50 lb. Dorado the other day was caught for posterity on the cell phone camera of Jose Luis’ wife, my daughter Kitty. FIN

Published in Caretas Magazine the week of February 14, 2009



Bingham didn’t dig up the Yale huacos –he just bought them

By Nicholas Asheshov

Here in Urubamba Hiram Bingham’s reputation has taken a knock in the run-up to the centennial of the discovery in 1911 of Machu Picchu.

The revisionists are saying that Bingham was not just a persistent explorer but also, frankly, a humbug.

Bingham’s economical use of the truth has been compounded by the poorly-advised refusal of Yale University and its Peabody Museum of Natural History to return, as promised, what Bingham’s Yale expeditions dug up in the Vilcabamba 1912-15.

The Peruvian government is taking Yale to court but they’re not pushing it.

Here’s why. None of the good pieces in the Yale Machu Picchu collection were actually dug up by Yale archaeologists.

Instead they were bought by Bingham from Cusco collectors and huaqueros and smuggled out of Peru. Under U.S. law Yale is the legal owner. If Yale people had dug them up, it would be Peru that had the legitimate claim.

The out-whiffling from Peru of the Yale Machu Picchu huacos is much as Luis Valcarcel, an iconic Peruvian archaeologist, maintained noisily nearly a century ago when he and his Cusco Historical Institute took Bingham to court as a grave-robber. Bingham fled, never to return.

The first of at least two major consignments of Inca pottery bought by Bingham and today the pride of the Yale collection consisted of 366 primo pieces purchased by him from Tomas. A. Alvistur who, Paolo Greer, the archivist extraordinaire and systems whiz, tells me was a son-in-law of Carmen Vargas, owner then of the Huadquiña hacienda, just below Machu Picchu.

“Both the Vargas family and Alvistur had well-known collections in Cuzco,” Greer says.

Alvistur had asked Bingham for $2,200 though on top of that, Alvistur warned Bingham in a letter, he would have to add “a great sum to allow the collection to leave, for, as you know, the exportation of ancient objects is prohibited.”

Most of the 5,000-odd items that Yale dug up at Machu Picchu consisted of broken potsherds and bones. One, Richard Burger, of Yale, told me, turned out to be a piece of tough 1915 camp bread mistakenly labelled and coded by a zealous student.

Bingham had quickly realised that others had beaten him to it: Machu Picchu was well-known in Cuzco and had already been sacked. But it didn’t suit either him or Yale to say so. Greer tells me that Bingham visited in 1913 the Berlin Ethnologic Museum to study the collection sold to it in 1882 by Jose Mariano Macedo who, along with Ricardo Palma and other Lima luminaries of the day was a partner of the German adventurer August R. Berns.

Bingham forced Alvistur to lower the price on his 366 best pieces: “I realize that the material is worth more than this, and I wish I could pay more, but this is as much as I can possibly offer you.”

Alvistur himself put his collection through customs and onto a ship for Panama. Bingham later thanked the shipping agent for helping to make “Yale an efficient place in which to learn about Peru ancient and modern”.

My source for all this is Christopher Heaney, who I met in the Instituto Bartolome de las Casas in Cuzco a few years ago. Heaney, who consulted with Greer, did a fine job of putting the Bingham smuggling evidence together and published it in The New Republic, D.C., in October, 2006.

Heaney adds that while waiting in Lima in August 1915 for a steamer to Panama, Bingham paid for another “interesting lot of Peruvian antiquities … provided the owner would ship them out of the country.” The owner had them consigned to a fictitious character, “J.P. Simmons, New York.”

Heaney says that Bingham invested $25,000 in purchases, plus costs, of huacos which all went to Yale-Peabody. Bingham, famously, had married money.

If Yale had had any sense it would long ago have returned to Peru the boring bits of academic bones and pottery that its people actually found.

But it’s hard for Lima politicos to acknowledge that all the good stuff is protected by a statute of limitations.

Heaney quotes Richard Burger, the Peabody’s curator of anthropology and co-curator of Yale’s Machu Picchu exhibition, as saying that Peru’s bilateral agreement with the United States on antiquities “recognizes the impossibility of disentangling these historical cases and only applies to antiquities that entered the [United States] after 1981.” He also noted, “Private collections were widely bought, sold, and exported early in the 20th century, and museums in Europe and the USA are full of them.”

Heaney quotes a 1953 commentary on the looting of Machu Picchu. “…but where can we admire or study the treasures of this indigenous city? The answer is obvious: in the museums of North America.”

The comment, preceded by quiet thoughts to the effect that no one is to blame, comes from the Diaries of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. FIN

Published in Caretas Magazine the week of Aug 1, 2009