Sunday, June 24, 2007

Eliane es loca y infeliz.

Today's New York Times Magazine features an engrossing cover story on a dispute between Yale University and the Peruvian government over the ownership of thousands of Inca artifacts excavated at Machu Picchu in 1912 by American explorer Hiram Bingham and now housed at Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History. The article will be of particular interest to those who follow Peruvian politics - and perhaps also to my novitiate classmates - on account of the prominent role in the story of Peru's controversial former first lady Eliane Karp.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, I should pause here to attempt to explain who Eliane Karp is. Born and raised in Paris and educated in Brussels and Jerusalem, the cosmopolitan Karp met and married future Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo while both were engaged in doctoral studies at Stanford (Karp in anthropology, Toledo in economics). Though he would become the first Peruvian of indigenous descent to win election as the country's president, Toledo was a thoroughly Westernized academic who showed little interest in or attachment to indigenous culture. Not so Eliane Karp, who made up for her foreign roots by embracing Andean traditions with a zest that many Peruvians found unusual and even embarrassing. As the NYT's Arthur Lubow writes, "Even though it is her husband who is a cholo, or indigenous Peruvian, Karp-Toledo far outdoes him in her ardor for the native customs and religious beliefs. Because she is of European origin, she was derided by her many enemies as la gringa and dismissed as the particular sort of gringa who latches onto indigenous styles in a sentimental and condescending way."

Karp was also dogged by allegations of corruption, which made daily headlines during the time I spent in Peru last summer. One newspaper headline that stands out in my mind comes from a tabloid story on a row between Primera Dama de la NaciĆ³n Eliane Karp and Laura Bozzo, a TV talk-show host who was quite controversial in her own right. The headline for the story read something like this: "Laura: Eliane es loca y infeliz." I remember being struck by the editor's decision to use the verb ser instead of estar, suggesting that the First Lady's alleged craziness and unhappiness were somehow innate to her being rather than passing emotional states.

Anyway, those with an interest in Eliane Karp's career will undoubtedly be entertained by the NYT article's description of her role in the ongoing dispute between Yale and the Peruvian government. The article includes an account of a 2002 meeting in Peru's presidential palace between the country's first couple and two Yale-based anthropologists. When Toledo expressed support for a proposed exhibition at Yale of artifacts from Machu Picchu and stated his desire to attend the opening, Karp apparently "raised her finger and said, 'You're not going anywhere,'" after which the President "started to fix his tie" and hastily left the room, saying, "I have to go back to my cabinet meeting. I have left all cultural matters in Eliane's hands." Later on, the article quotes Karp regarding her husband's 2001 presidential inauguration at Machu Picchu, "a place we know and care about and that is part of Alejandro's heritage." The ceremony included some traditional Inca religious rituals which Karp apparently "joined in enthusiastically" - but which her husband avoided. To read more of the story, click here. AMDG.


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