The Puebla government has detected “systematic looting” among a range of other problems at 21 cultural institutions including the UNESCO-recognized Palafoxian Library.
Culture Minister Sergio Vergara Berdejo told a press conference on Tuesday that damage to the state’s cultural heritage had been detected at museums, the Palafoxian library in the historic center of Puebla city and other cultural institutions.
There has been “systematic looting,” he said, explaining that a large number of historical pieces that appear in the institutions’ inventories cannot be located.
Among the missing pieces is a pre-Hispanic cylinder seal that is part of the collection of the José Luis Bello and González Museum but was on loan to the Cholula Regional Museum when it disappeared. It was replaced with a fake, Vergara said.
He also said that parts of antique pocket watches made out of valuable materials such as silver and gold have been stolen and that original paintings have been replaced with copies.
Puebla Governor Miguel Barbosa, who appeared alongside Vergara at the press conference, said that books, maps and other objects at the Palafoxian library, the oldest public library in the Americas, have been damaged and stolen.
The culture minister attributed the irregularities to deficient control and poor management of Puebla’s historical collections.
Vergara said authorities will continue to check museum inventories and compare them with their collections to identify other missing pieces. Criminal complaints related to looting that has already been identified have been filed with the federal Attorney General’s Office and the Puebla anti-corruption prosecutor.
The Puebla government has also detected irregularities in the expenditures by some museums. One unidentified museum spent 60 million pesos (US $2.9 million) on an antique dining room suite that was later appraised at 4 million pesos.
The government said it had identified that the International Museum of the Baroque, which opened in Puebla city in 2016, was using a 300-million-peso trust to purchase artwork at inflated prices from dubious sources including “non-existent” antique houses.
In addition, construction defects have been detected at some new museums, including the Evolution Museum in Tehuacán and the Museum of the Automobile in the state capital. Barbosa said the faults were identified shortly after the buildings were completed, adding that the government will seek to hold unscrupulous contractors to account.
“An audit has to be done to determine responsibility,” the governor said. “… It cannot go unpunished.”
Source: El Universal (sp)