Embassies of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Peru in France call on Million, a Parisian auction house, to stop sale of almost 150 artefacts while vowing to defend their cultural heritage.
A number of Latin American embassies in France have denounced a local auction house for trying to sell artefacts dating back to pre-Columbian times, calling for auction to be stopped and artefacts repatriated, with Mexico insisting 83 of the 148 items belong to the country.
Embassies of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Peru in France condemned Parisian auction house, Million, calling it to cease the sale.
"We deplore the fact that, once again, practices of illicit trade in cultural goods that undermine the heritage, history and identity of our peoples continue," they said in a joint statement.
Million, however, told ARTnews that it will push ahead with the auction and suggested that Mexico's calls for restitution are "often unsuccessful because they are based on unfounded facts".
"The sale of all the objects is maintained because all lots have an irreproachable origin and answer perfectly to the criteria fixed by UNESCO's convention ratified by Mexico and France," it said.
Million said France is "one of the most rigorous countries in terms of laws governing the art market and the traceability of the provenance of objects and the Millon auction house, founded in 1928, is the guarantor of the law."
The April 3 auction "The Empires of Light (IV) European Private Collections of Pre-Columbian Art" lists 148 pieces of different sized statues, a range of vases, masks and axes for auction.
According to a statement from Mexico's Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and the Ministry of Culture, some 83 objects are archaeological monuments that are protected by Mexican law.
The highest estimated price is for the figure of the 'God of Maize' which is described as having a "zoomorphic appearance" and dates back to the earliest Mesoamerican civilisation of the Olmecs and hails from Veracruz between 900-600 BC. It is estimated to fetch between $43,482-$76,093.50
According to the INAH, there are a number of anthropomorphic figurines, ceramic vessels and votive axes that date between the Middle Preclassic period [1200-400 BC] to the Mesoamerican Postclassic period [900-1300 AD].
READ MORE: Netherlands hands back over 200 pre-Hispanic artefacts to Mexico
Equal to no 'commercial interest'
Mexico's Ministry of Culture and the INAH said they have filed a complaint with Mexico's Attorney General of the Republic and have also informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Criminal Police Organization [Interpol] to undertake "the necessary actions and procedures, within the scope of their powers, for the repatriation of said assets."
Mexico's Secretary of Culture Alejandra Frausto Guerrero has also made a request on behalf of the Mexican government to the art house, noting the "historical, symbolic and cultural value of the goods that comprise it is superior to any commercial interest"
According to Colombian newspaper, El Tiempo, it's not the first time Million has carried out this type of auction. Last year, on December 12, it reportedly put up 85 pieces for sale.
In October 2021, a private art collector returned a Mayan artefact to Guatemala after plans had been made to auction it in 2019.
The Latin American embassies argued the sale of artefacts encourages looting and illicit trafficking and laundering of assets by international crime grants.
They said it threatens modern archeology, driving illegal excavations to extract objects, impacting knowledge-building about previous societies and undermines cooperation between states for the protection and conservation of cultural heritage.
The embassies said they are committed to diplomatic measures to defend their heritage via "legal channels, bilaterally with the French government, and multilaterally, mainly via UNESCO."
The Latin American embassies have called on the owners of the artefacts "to return them to their place of origin so that they can be studied in their context as elements of the living memory of the Latin American peoples."
In March this year, Mexico received 43 items from Italian authorities while in December the Netherlands returned 223 pre-hispanic artefacts to Mexico.
READ MORE: Benin Bronzes: The UK’s first institutional return of looted artifacts