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Mexico's culture minister has hit out at foreign auctions of pre-Hispanic artefacts from the Latin American country, saying her nation's heritage "is not for sale."
In an interview with AFP, Alejandra Frausto lamented that "cultural heritage has become an object of commerce," despite being part of "the identity of peoples."
Two French auctions of pre-Hispanic pieces are the latest to anger President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's government, which says the items were obtained "illegally."
"We made an appeal to the auction houses and they told us they were certain that the ownership is legitimate," Frausto said.
"According to Mexican law, any piece of national heritage that is permanently outside the country, not temporarily for an exhibition or cultural cooperation, comes from an illegal act," she added.
Since Lopez Obrador took office in 2018, 5,800 pieces have been returned to Mexico and are now on display in the country's museums, she noted.
Italian general Roberto Riccardi was recently awarded the Aztec Eagle, the highest distinction granted to a foreigner in Mexico, for his work in the recovery of archaeological pieces.
Such objects are not luxury items or home decorations but part of what "makes us a cultural nation," Frausto said.
That is why "heritage is not for sale," she added.
Mexico had called for the cancelation of the auction of 40 objects by the Artcurial house in Paris that nevertheless went ahead this week, as well as another planned next week by Christie's.
In July, Mexico and France signed a declaration of intent to strengthen their cooperation in the fight against trafficking in cultural property.
Frausto said her country now had more tools at its disposal to tackle the problem.
"We broke the inertia," said the minister, who also plans to stand up for indigenous weavers in a row over what Mexico calls cultural appropriation by international fashion houses.
In recent years Mexico has been trying to recover artefacts in the hands of private collectors around the world, with only partial success.
In February, Christie's auctioned 40 pre-Hispanic pieces in Paris for a total of around $3 million.
"We appeal to the ethics of collectors. We appeal to those who may think that acquiring this as a luxury item does not violate the culture and identity of a country," Frausto said.
"Recovering these fragments of the history and cultures of Mexico helps us to recover an identity" that some people wanted to take away, she said.
The illicit trade in cultural goods generates nearly $10 billion each year, according to UNESCO.