SAN JOSE – Costa Rica’s government hailed on Wednesday the arrival of 196 pre-Columbian artifacts that Venezuelan authorities had confiscated and safeguarded – a collection that represents the largest repatriation of its kind in the Central American country’s history.
The collection arrived in Costa Rica on Jan. 5 and some of the pieces were displayed Wednesday at a press conference attended by President Luis Guillermo Solis, Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez, Culture and Youth Minister Sylvie Duran and National Museum of Costa Rica Director Rocio Fernandez.
“Today Costa Rica is more complete ... It’s as if the republic had a little more substance because we’ve recovered expressions of talent, of science, of the cosmovision of our pre-Columbian peoples,” Solis said.
He lamented, however, that the collection had been outside Costa Rica for so many years and had been mishandled by “those who illegally appropriated this important part of our history.
Costa Rica’s government also thanked Venezuela for having safeguarded the pieces and cooperated in their successful repatriation.
Because of the size and weight of the pieces, authorities believe they were taken out of the country by sea in the 1970s by a family of Estonian origin with the surname Mannil, who still own property in Costa Rica.
Venezuelan authorities initially seized 57 pieces of the collection in 2009 at the La Guaira customs office, near Caracas, when they were about to be shipped to the United States.
The remaining artifacts were confiscated in 2014 and 2015 at a house owned by the Mannil family in Caracas.
The pieces from indigenous areas across Costa Rica include two stone spheres, stone statues, clay vessels, ocarinas (ancient wind musical instruments), mealing stones (for grinding corn), as well as different figures representing men, women and animals such as the jaguar and harpy eagle.
The National Museum of Costa Rica said a single stone statue could fetch at least $40,000 on the international black market.