Showing posts with label Venezuela. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Venezuela. Show all posts

January 8, 2018

Venezuela has returned nearly 200 pre-Columbian stone and ceramic archaeological artifacts to Costa Rica

Image Credit: Ernesto Emilio Villegas Poljak,
Minister of Culture, Venezuela @VillegasPoljak
As a welcome start to 2018 repatriations, Venezuela has returned 196 pre-Columbian stone and ceramic archaeological artifacts to Costa Rica created by the indigenous cultures and peoples who once populated the Americas.

The pieces, some 96 crates in total, weighing in at a whopping 5,000 kilos, had been trafficked illegally.  The repatriated cargo includes two of the incredibly mysterious pre-Columbian spheres sculpted from gabbro, the coarse-grained equivalent of basalt, believed to have been created by the Diquís civilization, as well as pottery, vases, human figurines, zoomorphic ocarinas (musical instruments), and metates (grain-grinding stones).

The ancient cargo arrived to Port Moin in Limón, Costa Rica by boat on Tuesday, January 2, 2018 and concretized Guatemala's promise to return plundered goods, once part of a controversial private collector's extensive collection. 

Found deep in the jungles of Costa Rica, the Las Bolas petrospheres (literally "the balls") of the Diquís civilization date back to the Aguas Buenas Period (300–800 CE) and Chiriquí Period (800–1550 CE).  Some researchers believe the round stone balls, varying in size from a few centimeters to over two meters in diameter, may possibly have served as landmarks, though their exact significance remains uncertain. 

The Las Bolas were discovered in the 1930s when Companía Bananera de Costa Rica, a branch of the United Fruit Company, began clearing portions of the nutrient-rich jungle delta in preparation for banana cultivation.  They are unique to Costa Rica. 

In October 2016, La Nacion published a special report titled "Memoria Robata" which revealed a longstanding network of Costa Rican traffickers supplying the illicit market of global archaeological art.

Beginning in 2014 Venezuela began making significant progress in its fight against illicit trafficking in cultural property. One of the country's most important cases included the seizures of archaeological pieces from Case Männil, also known as the Casa de los Jaguares (the House of the Jaguars), a property which belonged to the alleged Estonian Nazi collaborator Harry Männil. 

After the Second World War, Männil, also known as Harry Mannil Laul, spent most of his life in Latin America, and until a few years before his death resided in Venezuela.  During his lifetime he was considered to be one of Venezuela's powerhouse businessman serving as one of the founders of the country's ACO, C.A., a holding company for an umbrella organization of over eighty companies engaged in a wide variety of industries throughout the country.  

Despite being listed as the 10th most wanted Nazi criminal by the Simon Wiesenthal Center for crimes against jews while working for the political police in 1941–1942 during the German occupation of Estonia, Männil was awarded the Order of the Star of Carabobo and the Order of Francisco de Miranda by the Venezuelan government.

As a philanthropist and art collector, Männil was also owner of one of the world’s largest and most coveted private collections of art.  In 1997 his collection of pre-Columbian art, modern Latin American art, and art of the South American Indigenous people influenced Artnews to list him as one of the 200 most important private collectors in the world. 

Despite that art market accolade, the possession, trade and trafficking of pre-Columbian art has been severely banned in Costa Rica since 1982 and the country's laws state that all discovered historic objects from specific periods must be relinquished into the hands of the state.

Costa Rica's national laws define cultural property as: 

National archaeological heritage in Costa Rica is defined as:

As a result of national law, the National Museum of Costa Rica filed a formal complaint against both Harry Mannil Laul and his son Mikhel Mannil D’Empaire, for the “illegal trade in archaeological property” laying claim to significant portions of the family's collection.

After Mannil passed away on January 11, 2010, Costa Rican authorities raided his farm in San Rafael de Heredia on July 22, 2010 and seized 108 pieces of pre-Columbian art, including fourteen additional Bolas. Officials at that time stated that the pieces had been obtained through illegal purchase which broke the country's law against trafficking in archaeological artifacts.

Pre-Columbian pieces seized in 2010 in the San Rafael de Heredia, Costa Rican
home of Harry Mannil. Image Credit: La Nacion
In 2010 fifty-six pieces of Männil’s collection were seized by the Customs Police and the Institute of Cultural Heritage of Venezuela, when the family tried to export the Pre-Columbian objects to the United States.

In 2014, a second seizure of objects was made, this time at Männil's Caracas home, the Casa de los Jaguares (House of the Jaguars). Archaeologist Marlin Calvo, head of the Department of Protection of Cultural Heritage Museum National, traveled to Caracas and surveyed the historic remains recovered during that raid as well as immovable pieces which remained on the property and determined that many of the pieces were from pre-Columbian cultures and originated in Costa Rica.  This including jaguar metate, whose heads had been decapitated and embedded into masonry walls as decorative elements, lending their name to the collector's residence. 

Image Credit: La Nacion

How Männil exported these pre-Columbian pieces from Costa Rico to Venezuela was not clear. 

Image Credit: Museo Nacional de Costa Rica
The Pre-columbian Chiefdom Settlement where the Stone Spheres Las Bolas of the Diquís in Costa Rica were found was inscribed to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2014.

While legal mechanisms are currently in place to protect Costa Rica's archaeological heritage and to control the traffic in antiquities, the looting of sites by huaqueros (grave robbers, nighthawks) has been and to a lesser extent still is a significant problem which results in the destruction of archaeological evidence and the loss of knowledge about Costa Rica’s past. 

Between 1983 and 2016, 519 complaints of trade, transport and illegal export  in archaeological material were filed in Costa Rica, 386 of which  resulted in seizures.  

By:  Lynda Albertson

October 30, 2014

Thursday, October 30, 2014 - ,, No comments

Caracas, Venezuela: Recovered stolen painting displayed next to forgery that masked theft

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA blog Editor

In "Quirky Matisse exhibit rekindles art mystery in Venezuela" (Reuters, Oct. 28, 2014) Alexandra Ulmer reports on the exhibition of the Henri Matisse painting "Odalisque in Red Pants" next to the "sloppy copy that was put in it's place when the original was stolen" from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art sometime between 1999 and 2001:
The theft went unnoticed for months or even years because the robbers replaced it with a forgery. To this day, no one has been charged with the crime nor have its exact circumstances been established.
The Matisse painting was returned to Venezuela in July.  The FBI recovered it in 2012 and kept it for two years according to the Miami New Times.

September 2, 2014

Miami New Times' Michael E. Miller reports FBI delayed return of Stolen Matisse to Venezuela over 'hole in its history'

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

According to the FBI, the Henri Matisse painting “Odalisque in Red Pants" stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas (MACCSI)) in Venezuela in December 2002 was recovered in an undercover operation in Miami on July 16, 2012. Two men were arrested and later convicted (see USDOJ here and the ARCA post here). Four days ago, Michael E. Miller reported (Aug. 28) in The Miami New Times that the "FBI Delayed Returning Stolen Matisse Painting to Venezuela Over Concerns It Was Looted by Nazis":
"There was a concern that it may have been subject to Nazi looting," says Special Agent Robert Giczy, a member of the FBI's art crime unit and one of the agents involved in the odalisque investigation. "There was a hole in its history from 1931 to 1959," he said. "The Third Reich was 1933 to 1945. So we had a responsibility to ensure the status of the painting was [kosher]." "It was like trying to find the hole in a donut: something that just wasn't there," Giczy said. With assistance from the Getty Research Institute in California, the Art Loss Register in London, and the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) in New York, the FBI determined in April of 2014 that the painting had not been stolen by Nazis but had been privately owned in London and America during that period. "That freed the painting so that it was available for repatriation," Giczy said.
Miller wrote a longer article on the theft in "Chavez, Matisse, and the Heist that Shook the Americas" (August 27, 2014). 

July 9, 2014

Matisse's "Odalisque in Red Pants" (1925) returned to Venezuela after FBI recovered it in 2012 in Southern Florida

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Officials in Venezuela welcomed the return on Monday (July 7) of the Matisse painting, Odalisque in Red Pants (1925), believed to have been stolen in 2000 when it was substituted with a forgery at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Caracas (Laura Rojas, July 8, The Art Newspaper ("Stolen Matisse painting returned to Venezuela after more than a decade"):
The Art Newspaper reported last October that the US authorities began repatriation proceedings after the work was certified by a Venezuelan authentication committee and later confirmed by the director of the Henri Matisse Archives in Paris, Wanda de Guébriant.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recovered the painting in Southern Florida in July 2012 and arrested Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman, 46, of Miami, Florida, and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo, 50, of Mexico City, Mexico, for transporting and possessing the stolen painting.
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, this case was the result of an FBI undercover investigation. According to the allegations in the complaint affidavit, Marcuello negotiated the sale of the Matisse painting, which had been previously stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas (MACCSI)) in Caracas, Venezuela in December 2002. The painting is valued at approximately $3 million. Marcuello allegedly admitted to the undercover agents during a meeting that he knew the painting was stolen and offered to sell the stolen painting for approximately $740,000.00. As part of the negotiations, Marcuello further agreed to have the painting transported by courier to the United States from Mexico, where the painting was being stored. The courier was subsequently identified as co-defendant Ornelas. According to the affidavit, on July 16, 2012, Ornelas arrived at the Miami International Airport from Mexico City, Mexico, hand-carrying a red tube containing the painting. On July 17, 2012, defendants Marcuello and Ornelas met with undercover agents and produced the Matisse painting titled “Odalisque in Red Pants” from inside the red tube. Upon inspection by the undercover agents, the painting appeared consistent with the original Henri Matisse painting reported stolen from the MACCSI museum. At the conclusion of the meeting, Marcuello and Ornelas were arrested.
In January 2013, Marcuello and Ornelas were sentenced to "to 33 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Maria Ornelas was sentenced to 21 months in prison, to be followed by three years supervised release. The defendants pled guilty on October 30, 2012 to charges relating to the transportation, possession and attempted sale of the stolen Henri Matisse painting."

The head of the FBI's Art Crime Squad, Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, had discussed this case at Art Recovery International's symposium at NYU in June. You can read more about the FBI's Art Theft Program here in a presentation by Magness-Gardiner.