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Presidential Plane to the Rescue of Colombia’s Lost Artefacts

Since leftist Gustavo Petro took office in Colombia last August, his presidential plane has criss-crossed the globe collecting archaeological artifacts in foreign hands, and bringing them home.

The effort, also aided by the naval flagship Gloria, has seen at least 560 pre-Columbian relics returned from countries such as the United States, Spain, Britain, Belgium, Germany and Mexico, according to the government.

In just over a year, the presidential jet has taken Petro on more than 30 official trips abroad that have returned with artifacts — an exercise the government has described as “an efficient use of resources.”

And it has hailed the haul on Petro’s watch compared to the former government’s repatriation of 18 artefacts in four years.

Carla Medina is one of the archaeologist working on restoring the pieces for posterity.

“It is a great responsibility and a great privilege,” the 41-year-old told AFP in her laboratory at the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History (ICANH), which works with the foreign ministry on the recovery and restoration project.

While the ICANH has a proposed budget for 2024 of about $2.3 million, the budget proposed for defense and policing — under which the presidential plane and Gloria are funded — is almost 600 times higher.

For Catalina Ceballos, director of cultural affairs at the foreign ministry, the repatriation project is part of a process of “decolonization.”

Most of the pieces were taken from Colombia at a time there was legal ambiguity about trafficking in artifacts.

Colombian law has since 1997 recognized the state as the legitimate owner of archaeological heritage.

But recovering lost treasure was never a priority during decades of fighting between the armed forces, guerrillas, paramilitaries and criminal gangs — a civil conflict the country is just now emerging from.

Most of the recovered artifacts were voluntarily returned by private collectors — a process that has required diplomatic intervention in each country separately.

Most of the objects are ceramics, which along with textiles, paper and wood objects offer a glimpse into Colombia’s past from as many as 7,000 years ago to the arrival of Columbus in the Americas in 1492.

Source: Barrons