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Art theft and restitution, interview with Tania Mastrapa

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This painting was looted by the Castro regime from the Marmol family home in Miramar, Havana. Sotheby's sold it on 17 May 1995 for US $145,000.

This painting was looted by the Castro regime from the Marmol family home in Miramar, Havana. Sotheby’s sold it on 17 May 1995 for US $145,000.

Miami, 22 July 2013, Art Media Agency (AMA).

Tania Mastrapa directs Mastrapa Consultants, which focuses upon the privatisation and confiscation of art works from Cuba. Each December, she organises a conference entitled “The Art of Looting”, which takes a look at some of the most controversial issues surrounding the theft or misappropriation of cultural goods. Art Media Agency met Tania Mastrapa to find out more about her work:

Can you give us some information regarding your background? When did you first start investigating art theft?

My academic background is in international relations and comparative politics. I had two professors in my masters program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy who were Hungarian exiles. They both encouraged and supported my work in the field of post-Communist property restitution. As movable property emptied out from confiscated properties, artworks were a natural subfield in the greater property scheme. My doctoral dissertation dealt with property confiscation in Sandinista Nicaragua and Czechoslovakia and their later restitution schemes ; both as lessons for Cuba. While I was a doctoral student several Cuban exiles approached me to help them research their confiscated property in Cuba. As we looked through their old photos I asked if they knew what had happened to their artworks. Many people believe these items are lost forever, but they eventually turn up in the art market. From there I started digging deep for old news articles, catalogs and museum collections to unravel the trail of theft.

What motivated you to work in the field? Why do you think it is an important field to support?

Every totalitarian regime quashes private property rights in order to enrich themselves and control their populations. Every property and individual is looted. That is, residences and offices are generally emptied out and individuals are searched and stripped of their belongings – no matter the monetary value. The latter is done simply to humiliate the individual. When people flee Communist regimes they are forbidden from taking any of their personal items with them, especially sentimental ones in order to punish them for  “betraying the homeland.”  After regime officials select items for their own enjoyment, the rest is put up for sale – often in auctions. Foreigners are always available to purchase these items – like vultures. If the property is not returned then the confiscation is legitimised. This is applicable to all theft in any country by any regime….



Posted in: No Trespassing
Tania C. Mastrapa

About the Author:

Tania C. Mastrapa is a Research Professor at The Institute of World Politics (IWP) in Washington, D.C. She is the founder of Mastrapa Consultants, a firm specializing in claims on property confiscated by the current Cuban regime. She also advises prospective foreign investors in Cuba to avoid trafficking in confiscated property. Dr. Mastrapa speaks frequently throughout North America and Europe on property restitution and privatization and has published extensively on post-Communist property reform, looted artworks, transitional justice and exile studies. She previously served as the Vice President of Cuban Cultural Heritage (CCH) and as Secretary of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE). Dr. Mastrapa is a contributor to the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research (SFPPR) and writes the blog No Trespassing for the Journal of Property Rights in Transition for which she is also the Editor-in-Chief. Dr. Mastrapa was educated at Boston College, Carroll School of Management (B.S.), Tufts University, The Fletcher School (M.A.L.D.), and University of Miami, Graduate School of International Studies (Ph.D.).

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