Cuzco – Celebrations to mark the 100-year anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu by U.S. explorer Hiram Bingham kicked off here Wednesday, although the festivities have been marred in recent days by complaints about local corruption and an exodus of tourist revenue to other parts of Peru.
The government is going all out to make the occasion a memorable one and serve up a worthy tribute to the 15th-century Inca citadel, the country's biggest tourist attraction with close to 800,000 visitors in 2010.
Authorities have made Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Inca empire and the gateway to Machu Picchu, the focal point of the celebrations and spruced up that city of 450,000 inhabitants accordingly, even recommending that taxi drivers sport a suit and tie beginning Wednesday.
Activities also have been scheduled to highlight the most traditional aspects of Andean culture, from festivals showcasing typical dances to exhibits of Andean camelid species.
The main event will be a spectacular light-and-sound show Thursday night at Machu Picchu, although plans for that spectacle have provided one of the biggest headaches for organizers.
The commission responsible for the festivities had been mulling the possibility of staging a large concert at Machu Picchu for months, with Paul McCartney and Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flores named as possible headliners.
But the government subsequently opted for a less ambitious event with fewer guests after UNESCO, which supervises World Heritage Sites such as Machu Picchu, expressed concerns about possible damage to the famed ruins.
With the change, the guest list for Thursday's night main extravaganza will be restricted to government officials and members of state-run media outlets, which will distribute photographs and video footage of the event to the rest of the journalists.
But Fernando Astete, head of the Machu Picchu Archaeological Park, which protects more than 38,000 hectares (almost 95,000 acres) around the citadel, told Efe it is the area surrounding Machu Picchu - not the ruins themselves - that is under threat.
"There are local authorities and each of them does what he feels like. There are also legislators who pass laws to build highways without consulting anyone and things of that sort. The problem is one of governability," Astete said.
Another source of local frustration is the fact that, although the Inca citadel accounts for 70 percent of Peru's tourism revenue, according to National Tourism Chamber figures, that money is not invested in infrastructure and other projects that would benefit that area of southeastern Peru.
A delegation of authorities from the surrounding province of Urubamba traveled this week to Lima to urge the national government to solve problems stemming from last year's heavy rains in the region, including bridge collapses that cut off several communities.
"Urubamba's population has not benefited from the revenue from tourist admissions to Machu Picchu, which contributes almost 300 million soles ($108 million) a year to the national treasury (yet) there's nothing for the region," an Urubamba provincial delegate to Cuzco's regional government, Marcos Concha, told Efe.
Machu Picchu, which is located high in the Andes mountains of southeastern Peru, was declared one of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's World Heritage Sites in 1983.
Bingham (1875-1956), a lecturer at Yale University who later went on to become a U.S. senator, discovered the ruins in July 1911 and in two subsequent expeditions in 1912 and 1915 took a large batch of artifacts back to the New Haven, Connecticut-based university.
Peru maintained they were merely lent to Yale for a few months and in recent years President Alan Garcia's administration launched an international media campaign to demand the return of all the antiquities and sued the Ivy League institution in U.S. federal court.
An agreement was finally reached late last year to return the entire collection of 46,332 objects and fragments, a first batch of which has already arrived and been delivered to Cuzco.