March 31st, 2010 by ejalbright
[Editor’s note: A full-length article on the sale can be found HERE.]
The public reaction to the state of Yucatan’s purchase Monday of much of the ancient city of Chichen Itza from Hans Jurgen Thies Barbachano is decidedly mixed, depending upon whose ox has been bettered or gored.
Among the rank and file of INAH, the federal agency that oversees ruins throughout Mexico, the reaction to the announcement that Yucatan had bought Chichen Itza for $220 million Mexican was decidedly pessimistic. An informal survey of archaeologists and other INAH employees in nearby Quintana Roo by the newspaper El Universal revealed many thought that Chichen Itza will now be host to even more shows and concerts, such as this Saturday’s performance by Elton John.
Executive management of INAH, by comparison, is optimistic. Adriana Velazquez Morlett, INAH general director in Quinatana Roo, thought that the sale will result in greater control of the site and the services offered, to preserve it in the best possible conditions.
One of the loudest groups shouting for the government to take Chichen Itza has been New Kukulcan, the association of vendors who everyday invade the archaeological zone to sell trinkets and handicrafts to tourists. Yet, despite apparently having their demand granted and received assurances from state authorities that they will have a seat at the table with regard to Chichen Itza’s future, comments about the sale have been disparaging.
Villevaldo Pech Moo, who formerly ran Chichen Itza for INAH, now represents the vendors as a legal adviser. He told La Jornada that the state has announced its intention to move the vendors out of Chichen Itza and to space provided for them at the Museum of Maya Culture that has been proposed for Yaxuna, 11 kilometers away from the archaeological zone. “The change of ownership continues to be risky, because of the history of repression that has characterized other governments of Yucatan, as were the cases of evictions in 1996.” In 1996 soldiers used teargas to drive vendors out of Chichen Itza.
Pech Moo pointed out that the state only bought 200 acres, and that the site of Chichen Itza is much larger, potentially as much as 4,000 acres. He also complained that the Barbachano family still owns more than 1,600 acres [NOTE: Most of this is a different branch of the family from Thies Barbachano].
“Artisans, merchants are not against expropriation,” Pech Moo said, referring to the legal process of a government taking property against the owner’s will, “but of the sale.”
Details of the Transaction Emerge
Expropriation, however, was not going to happen. According to La Jornada, “Experts in the field agree that it was the lack of political will and legal expertise of INAH” that resulted in expropriation from even being attempted. And because INAH failed to act, “the ownership of the land occupied by Chichén Itzá is virtually in the hands of the PRI government of Yucatan, with all the economic benefits that this implies including site usage as a stage for concerts,” the newspaper concluded.
In 2006-7, INAH attempted to negotiate to purchase Chichen Itza or better, swap it for property elsewhere in Mexico. By federal law, the most the federal government could offer for the property was $8 million Mexican, or less than 4 percent what the state of Yucatan eventually agreed to. Officially, the head of INAH reported that the agency never received an answer to its proposal; however, according to one official account, the head of INAH told another official that upon presenting the offer, “se rieron de nosotros, se rieron” (“they laughed at us, they laughed”).
On Monday, the state of Yucatan paid Thies Barbachano $80 million Mexican, and promised the remainder within six months. The state is currently seeking bank financing for the remaining $140 million, which will be paid over 15 years. The loan will be repaid from Chichen Itza related revenues, according to Sergio Cuevas Gonzalez. a legal adviser to the state government.
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