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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Archaeologists: Culture Institute has neglected council charged with protecting island patrimony


An archaeologist asserted that the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture “has forgotten that the legislative amendments approved in 2009 do not eliminate the Council’s duties and prerogatives concerning resources of terrestrial archaeological interest in Puerto Rico.”


By THE STAR STAFF


The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (ICP) is ignoring its duty to keep the Council for the Protection of the Terrestrial Archaeological Patrimony of Puerto Rico operational, two archaeologists charged Wednesday.


University professors and archaeologists Ivor Hernández Llanes and Maritza Torres Martínez told a House Art and Culture Committee hearing that since 2009 different governing administrations have ignored the fact that the Council has legal power to monitor and conduct inspections of potential archaeological sites. The ICP said those duties were transferred to another entity.


“Currently, we see that the primary interest of the ICP is to address the granting of permits in collaboration with the Permit Management Office [OGPe by its Spanish acronym],” Hernández Llanes said. “Until 2009, the Council had those duties and powers related to the granting of permits, which the ICP now does with its archaeology experts.”


Torres Martínez argued that the ICP “has forgotten that the legislative amendments approved in 2009 do not eliminate the Council’s duties and prerogatives concerning resources of terrestrial archaeological interest in Puerto Rico.”


“The Council, according to the law that creates it, must safeguard and protect the Puerto Rican terrestrial archaeological patrimony; take an inventory and maintain a permanent record of all materials, structures and terrestrial archaeological sites found; promote archaeological, historical and cultural research; and promote the dissemination and teaching of archaeological research topics … through the media, among others,” said Torres Martínez, a professor at the Center for Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.


The two archaeologists, each with more than 20 years of experience as experts on the subject, highlighted the need for Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia and the executive director of the ICP to prioritize obtaining funds to guarantee the operation of the Council.


“In the past, the Council had a secretary, an administrative assistant, different directors, even a driver and a fleet to get to any place where our expertise as archaeologists was needed,” Hernández Llanes recalled.


Also during the public hearing chaired by Rep. Deborah Soto Arroyo, ICP Executive Director Carlos Ruiz Cortés, Deputy Director Freddy Vélez García and the ICP legal team gave assurances that the agency complies with the law.


Ruiz Cortés highlighted that through Article 19.6 of Law 161-2009, the powers, duties and obligations of the Council were transferred to the OGPe, which is an arm of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, and the ICP.


“Any allegation that there is currently no forum that evaluates and authorizes permit applications that involve excavations and that could affect our archaeological historical heritage is unfounded,” Ruiz Cortés said.


Requests for construction works that require excavations are processed by the OGPe and by the ICP through its Archaeology and Ethnohistory Program.


In response to questions from Puerto Rican Independence Party Rep. Denis Márquez Lebrón about what the ICP was planning to do to strengthen the functions of the Council, Ruiz Cortés replied that “this matter has been evaluated for more than a year.”


The legislator told the ICP officials that “the country needs to strengthen its instruments with greater expertise in the protection of our heritage and history.”

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