In defense of the Brazilian National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN)
12th May 2020

Docomomo Brazil shared with Docomomo International the letter concerning the future of the National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN).

“The FORUM OF ENTITIES IN DEFENSE OF THE BRAZILIAN CULTURAL HERITAGE, comprising several social entities that gather professionals and researchers from different areas engaged in preserving cultural heritage, together with IPHAN Council Members Representatives of the Civil Society, and IPHAN former Presidents, expresses its concern with the Brazilian Government’s actions on the National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN).

Since 2016 and, more critically, after the beginning of the current Brazilian government, in 2019, Brazil underwent a period of many setbacks in the social, environmental, and cultural fields, with the extinction or political interference in institutions, ministries and participatory councils. IPHAN’s administrative structure has suffered several attacks during this period, which weaken its historical performance regarding society’s plural realities of heritage.

The more striking of these attacks has happened recently, on May 11th, when the government nominated to the Presidency of IPHAN a person without the necessary training and professional experience in the field of cultural heritage preservation, in a blatant action of delegitimating the scientific and technical knowledge which has alway been a characteristic of the institution. This nomination for the most important position within IPHAN comes in a sequence of several others, which happened in the last months, for the key positions of IPHAN’s Superintendences in the Federal District (Brasília), and in the states of Goiás, Minas Gerais, Paraíba and Rio de Janeiro. In all those cases, were ignored the criteria and the minimum professional profile required to perform duties, as established by Decree no. 9.727/2019.

Furthermore, the operational nature of these positions requires their occupants to have academic training and previous professional experience in heritage conservation, as established by the aforementioned decree. The lack of the necessary technical knowledge at key positions puts at risk the entire functioning of our country’s heritage preservation structure.

Another reason for concern regards the vacancy in some of the technical
positions within IPHAN’s managerial structure, which are determinant for the appropriate management and preservation of the Brazilian cultural heritage. Positions occupied by acting managers may mean opportunities to facilitate political nominations, without respect to the criteria and necessary qualifications for the positions. Examples of these acting manager’s positions are at the National Center for Archaeology (CNA) and the General Coordination for Environmental Licensing, where all of the environmental licensing processes are evaluated, as well as the positions of State Superintendents and Technical Coordinators at several State Superintendences, as well as heads of Technical Offices in several cities.

This growing technical and scientific weakening within the institution occurs at an extremely delicate moment, following irreparable losses to the Brazilian cultural heritage, such as:
– The fire in 2018 that devastated the National Museum, in Rio de Janeiro, which, besides the destruction of the listed building, resulted in the loss of millions of historic, archaeological, paleontological, ethnographic, zoological and botanical artifacts and specimens, as well as the museum’s documentation, all this as a direct consequence of low investments in its maintenance and conservation;
– The menaces to the Amazon’s ecosystem biodiversity, as a result of the relaxation, since 2016, of the environmental policies, of the protection of the peoples of the forest and of the whole environmental licensing process. This ensemble of legal protection mechanisms, when properly used, is supposed to be a guarantee of the study and preservation of the archaeological heritage in the region, before the implementation of big infrastructures;
– The destruction of dozens of architectural monuments and historical and archaeological sites resulting from the socio-environmental disasters in the Doce River basin, in 2015, with the rupture of the Bento Rodrigues dam, which killed 19 people; and in the Paraopeba River basin, in 2019, with the Brumadinho tragedy, which resulted in the death of 254 people, both in the state of Minas Gerais.
– The lack of investment in safeguard policies and the relaxation of protection
laws and inspection of indigenous and quilombola (maroon) lands have put the life and intangible heritage of traditional peoples and communities at risk.

IPHAN, founded in 1937, is one of the oldest institutions dedicated to preserving
cultural heritage in the world. Its 83 years of existence represents a long tradition of preservation knowledge and practices that gained recognition and became a paradigm for several countries and international organizations, such as Unesco.

As a federal public agency, it provides important services to the Brazilian society. Throughout history, professionals with adequate technical skills and solid academic training have conducted policies for preserving cultural heritage in Brazil across the country, complying with complex requirements and leadership in administrating the institution. Thus, the credibility of IPHAN’s practices and decisions is based on the undeniable and historical competence of its technical team in preserving and conserving our country’s cultural heritage.
It should be reiterated that IPHAN is responsible for protecting the archaeological heritage of Brazil, as well as the Brazilian cultural assets listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, such as Brasília; the historic centers of Diamantina, Ouro Preto and Goiás; the Bom Jesus de Congonhas Sanctuary; the Valongo Wharf Archeological Site; the cultural landscape of Rio de Janeiro; and the newly listed Pampulha Modern Ensemble, naming only sites under the responsibility of Superintendencies in which the recent appointments for key positions disregarded the guidelines befitting the importance of IPHAN’s mission.

This concerns are complemented by the budgetary cut of around 70% made by the current government, which hinders IPHAN’s proper management and performance.

CULTURAL HERITAGE, comprising the organizations listed below, together with IPHAN COUNCIL MEMBERS and IPHAN FORMER PRESIDENTS, all subscribed here bellow, denounces the risks these actions represent for IPHAN’s good performance and for protecting and preserving the Brazilian cultural heritage, requiring that appropriate measures be taken, and that such harmful and damaging acts to the public interest and to the national and international historical, cultural and artistic heritage be reversed.”

Download the full letter:
In defense of IPHAN (EN) [English]
Manifestação IPHAN 12-05-2020 [Portuguese]