From time to time Machu Picchu gets a mention in the national and international news, after all it is one of the world’s major tourist attractions, but recently a news story emerged like none before.
According to a news report ran by U.S. Spanish-language TV affiliates of the Telemundo network, 2 Peruvian sisters claim that they are the legal owners of Machu Picchu, and are pursuing the Peruvian government for US$ 100 million in compensation as well as future profits generated from tourism.
Roxana and Victoria Abril claim that they are the rightful owners of the ancient Inca site of Machu Picchu, and are dismayed that they have to pay an entrance fee to enter their own land. They claim that their great-grandfather – Mariana Ignacio Ferro – legally purchased the land before it was re-discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911.
A spokesman for Peru’s Ministry of Culture categorically rejected their claims, saying that they had no legal basis to claim the land, nor the compensation that they are seeking. Lawyers for the government said that the sisters are facing a lengthy 10 year legal battle.
Although from the outset their claims may seem absurd, they are not as ridiculous as you might think.
It is claimed that the great-grandfather of the 2 sisters owned a 22,000 hectare farm which encompassed land that Machu Picchu occupies. In-fact when the American explorer Hiram Bingham arrived at the site in 1911, it was on the orders of their great-grandfather that 40 of his labourers helped Hiram Bingham clear the site. Hiram Bingham even acknowledges this in his records.
The story of Machu Picchu and the 2 sisters was first covered in a book written by the Sergio Vilela, a notable Peruvian journalist. The book called – El Útlimo Secreto de Machu Picchu: Quién es dueño de la ciudadela de los Incas (The Last Secret of Machu Picchu: Who is the Owner of the Inca Citadel), co-written by State University historian José Carlos de la Puente details the plight of the sisters claim.
Over the last few years the story has also been covered by prominent news organisations such as the Telegraph, NPR and the New York Times.
From the outset the story does seem rather absurd, but it does seem that the 2 sisters aren’t just plucking these claims out of thin air, and that actually there is some foundation to them.
Their battle against the Peruvian government for recognition as rightful owners will be a long and drawn out affair, as Peru’s legal system (and just about all systems in Peru) is a bureaucracy minefield and hopelessly flawed.
Can one of the world’s greatest ruins and a UNESCO World Heritage site actually be privately owned? Surely, it belongs to the country as a whole, the Peruvian people, right?
If (in some strange bizarre twist) I was put in the same position, I don’t think that I could have the shamelessness to say “Hey! Although there is an epic Inca Ruin on my land, this land is mine, and I want serious money to be happy.” After all, what would anyone want US$ 100 million for? In my mind that is just pure greed, when a great deal of the population live below the poverty line. I too would probably want to pursue the claim, but perhaps only for recognition for my great-grandfather and my family (and maybe US$ 1 million!).
Let us know your thoughts; we would love to hear them.