Peru’s booming tourism industry has been a cornerstone of the South American country’s economic growth. This makes the destruction in July of one of the twelve 4,000 year-old pyramids in the El Paraiso archaeological complex all the more grim. Besides the known culprits, real-estate developers, there’s an additional and unlikely cause: Machu Picchu.
That citadel of the Incan Empire is the country’s flagship tourist destination. A recent survey named Machu Picchu as the third most popular tourist destination in South America.
However, the Peruvian government is unfortunately not giving the same care and priority to other archeological centers as it gives to Machu Picchu.
Reports explainthat the developers – Inmobiliaria Alisol S.A.C. and Provelanz E.I.R.L. — used heavy machinery to harm and subsequently burnt one the pyramids at the El Paraiso complex, located not far from Lima. “[These people] have committed irreparable damage to a page of Peruvian history,” saysMarco Guilen, the director of an excavation project at El Paraiso. When the developers arrived to destroy one of twelve pyramids located there, the center was not guarded. They argue that they had legallypurchased 50 hectares of landwhere the El Paraiso site is located and planned to build a housing complex. After the destruction of the pyramid was made public, guards were deployed to prevent further damage. Meanwhile,Peru’s Ministry of Culture, in charge of overseeing the conservation of archeological sites, has started a lawsuit against the developers.
Worryingly, the destruction of the El Paraiso pyramid is not an isolated event. An example of similar unsalvageable archeological destruction occurred in May in Belize. There, a construction company destroyed an ancient Mayan pyramid at the site of theNohmul (meaning Big Mound)in order to build a road.The archeological center isat least 2,300 years oldand is (or was) the most important site in northern Belize. But the loss of one of the twelve El Paraiso pyramids serves as a stark reminder that some sites receive more priority by authorities when it comes to conservation and protection initiatives. Both Peru and Belize have laws that protect archeological sites, but such laws are useless if they are not properly and actively enforced. If only for financial-related reasons, Peruvian authorities should protect archeological sites around the nation due to their contribution to tourism and local economies.
Tourism in Peru benefits from a plurality of archeological centers and historical attractions in the county’s highlands, such as the Valley of the Incas, the Sacsayhuaman fortress and the cathedral in the city of Cuzco. Most of these sites date back to the Incan Empire and pre-Incan cultures, and have made the region a paradise for tourists, archeologists, and even television producers — a Brazilian soap opera, calledAmor a Vida, filmed several episodes in Cuzco this past April.
It should be remembered here, as well, that tourism to Machu Picchu is growing — and so is concern that the massive flow of visitors to the citadel will put the safety of the ruins in jeopardy. Furthermore, authorities are also concerned that the expansion ofAguas Calientes, a nearby town, could affect the ruins. In May 2012, specialists from theUnited Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)visited Machu Picchu and provided suggestions to local authorities on how to protect the citadel. The Peruvian government, specially the Ministry of Culture, needs to listen — and apply those suggestions nationwide to protect its wealth of cultural history.