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World - Americas

Peru moves against artifact smugglers

September 11, 1999
Web posted at: 1:14 p.m. EDT (1714 GMT)

LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- The Peruvian government is fighting to secure its cultural heritage in the face of a growing international trade in stolen artifacts.

Authorities say the illegal trade in ancient and colonial relics is now only surpassed in scale by the drug trade and they suspect international gangs are involved, as demand for the pieces grows around the world.

On the streets of the nation's capital, Lima, street peddlers can be seen openly hawking stolen artifacts.

The growing gap between rich and poor in the country has served only to exacerbate the problem, say officials.

"Lately, because of the drop in the standards of living in some social sectors and the demand from the wealthier sectors, we've had a sudden increase in this activity," said Jaime Mariazza, director of the National Heritage Commission.

Religious leaders have also become involved in the fight to preserve Peru's cultural heritage, with churches serving as a repository of many of the nation's treasures.

"We are trying to protect this great treasure of sculptures and painting which belongs not only to the church but to the country and to the culture of the world," said the Rev. Armando Nietoof the Episcopal Commission for the Preservation of Cultural Artifacts.

Correspondent Frida Ghitis contributed to this report.


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