Technical Articles

International Journal of Auditing – April 2005

Auditing Peru’s Cultural Heritage Assets

Peru is a country rich not only in the diversity of its natural resources, but also in the multicultural heritage represented by its paleontological, archaeological and historical artifacts. Its heritage is also reflected in its living contemporary culture—expressed through dance, music, languages, and culinary arts—and the manifestations of identity, culture, experiences, and customs found in the country’s different regions and ecological zones: the desert, the Andes Mountains, and the rainforests of Amazonia.

Peru’s National Institute for Culture has defined our country’s cultural heritage as the tangible and intangible assets that our ancestors have left to us over the centuries. These assets help us forge an identity as a nation and enable us to know who we are and where we have come from, thus allowing us to strengthen our personal and societal development. The state has a special responsibility to protect these assets so that they can be admired, valued, and used in a sustainable way by today’s citizens and maintained for future generations.

According to UNESCO, culture and development cannot be separated, either in terms of economic growth or as a means of access to a satisfactory intellectual, affective, moral, and spiritual existence. Development involves the capabilities that allow groups, communities, and nations to plan their futures in an integral and integrated way. Thus, culture can be seen as a cross-cutting factor in economic, social, and environmental development.

The illegal trade in cultural assets is an ever present enemy of Peru’s cultural heritage. It includes the buying and selling of archaeological, artistic, or historical artifacts and objects (most of them stolen from archaeological sites, churches, and temples in towns such as Cuzco, Puno, and Huancayo), even though such trade is prohibited by law. The principal offenses connected with this illicit trade in cultural objects are black-market trading and taking goods out of the country without authorization. As many experts have observed, this illegal trade would not exist if there were not a market for the goods, primarily composed of unscrupulous wealthy collectors in Peru and abroad.

In this context, the Peruvian Congress passed a law giving the comptroller general of the Republic of Peru the authority to carry out audits of the environment, natural resources, and cultural heritage assets. In order to carry out these audits, the government’s cultural policy must be explained and specific tools must be developed to enable government institutions to implement the policy at the national, regional, and local levels in accordance with the powers granted by law. However, there is an inherent risk that these policies will not be viable for the public institutions responsible for cultural affairs because of the limited financial resources assigned to strengthening their management capabilities and promoting effective action.

Inventory, Registration, and Cataloging

Cultural heritage audits evaluate the way in which the public sector manages three operations fundamental to preserving the assets that constitute the cultural heritage: inventory, registration, and cataloging. These three operations are phases of a dynamic, specialized, technical process that makes it possible to clearly identify the features, condition, and location of a specific cultural heritage asset. This process contributes to the knowledge of each asset’s origin and history and any changes it has undergone, helps prevent its loss, and, where necessary, helps facilitate its recovery, even on an international level. These three operations are applicable to our archaeological, historical, and contemporary cultural heritage.

Because of decentralization in Peru, regional governments and local municipal authorities have now assumed many functions relating to the preservation of cultural heritage assets. This adds to the complexity of the audits since numerous participants are involved.

Cultural Heritage Audit in the Lake Titicaca Area

In 2002, the SAI of Peru began to incorporate the cultural heritage variable when planning its environmental audits, giving rise to the environmental and cultural heritage audit. This effort was prompted by current legislation and the presence of many archaeological sites and cultural manifestations linked to the country’s cultural heritage. The first of these audits was in the area of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake (situated at 3,800 meters—12,500 feet—above sea level) and the cradle of the Inca and earlier Tiahuanaco civilizations. Several population centers and communities in the area have preserved their centuries-old culture.

Based on its initial experience, the SAI of Peru determined that these audits should be similar to management audits, linked to the three “Es”–efficiency, economy, and effectiveness–with a minimum of regularity auditing procedures, which would allow the SAI to assess the degree of compliance with legislation. Table 1 summarizes the results of this initial audit effort.

Table 1: Environmental and Cultural Heritage Audits in the Lake Titicaca Area


Cultural Heritage Audits in 2003

In 2003, the SAI of Peru carried out environmental and cultural heritage audits in three environmental and cultural areas: the Chan Chan Archaeological Zone, the historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu, and the Río Abiseo National Park. This effort encompassed 14 audits of government institutions.

Chan Chan, the capital of the Chimú (pre-Inca) kingdom, reached its zenith in the 15th century and was the largest city in pre-Columbian Latin America. It was also the largest adobe city in Latin America, and its layout reflects a political and social strategy marked by the city’s division into nine citadels or palaces forming autonomous units. It meets the cultural criteria of a UNESCO World Heritage site and provides exceptional testimony of a vanished civilization.

The historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu is one of the two World Heritage sites in Peru that meet both the cultural and natural selection criteria. It is situated at an altitude of 2,430 meters (7,972 feet) above sea level in surroundings of outstanding natural beauty. In relation to the cultural criteria, this archaeological site was founded by the Tawantinsuyu (Incas) and is thought to have been a royal residence. It is considered a masterpiece of human creative genius and the most splendid urban creation of the Tawantinsuyu. As a natural asset, it is an outstanding example of the evolution and development of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal, and marine ecosystems and their animal and plant communities.

The Río Abiseo National Park is the second location UNESCO declared a World Heritage site on natural and cultural grounds. The park is designed to protect a representative sample of the cloud forests and high rainforests, conserve the cultural resources—in particular, the Gran Pajatén and Los Pinchudos archaeological complex—and preserve its scenic beauty and the species of flora and fauna in their natural state.

A summary of these audits is shown in table 2.

Table 2: 2003 Environmental and Cultural Heritage Audits

The SAI of Peru has been developing systematic guidance to implement cultural heritage management audits. As demonstrated in the reports, the audits have made it possible to implement recommendations improving the management of those government institutions charged with overseeing the nation’s environmental and cultural heritage work. These audits are being replicated in urban and rural areas where cultural assets are being removed and plundered and also in areas that are critical because of potential environmental pollution. All these efforts are designed to defend and protect biodiversity and the nation’s cultural heritage while promoting the general welfare of the population through economic, social, environmental, and cultural development. In the end, this will also advance the necessary sustainable development of the country.

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