Treasures at risk: Citigroup's exit from Mexico raises fears about country's cultural heritage
Citigroup announced on Jan. 11 that it is putting Citibanamex, owner of a vast collection of Mexican masterpieces, up for sale.
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Located in the heart of Mexico City, The Iturbide Palace houses one of the most valuable art and antique collections in Mexico. The center, better known as Fomento Cultural Citibanamex, belongs to Banamex, the country's oldest financial institution, owned by the American multinational investment bank, Citigroup.
However, on Jan. 11, Citigroup announced that it is putting its Mexican division up for sale, endangering the valuable cultural heritage of the collection.
The collection houses not only thousands of art objects that trace Mexico's history up to independence from Spain in 1821, but also some of the most significant works by José María Velasco, Clausell, Ángel Zárraga, Orozco, Diego Rivera, Dr. Atl, Frida Kahlo, Siqueiros, Remedios Varo and Manuel Felguérez. The collection also includes a remarkable real estate collection and a prestigious compilation of popular art.
"This remarkable conjunction allows us to admire more than 5,000 pieces of popular art, created by more than 800 great masters from the 32 states of the Mexican Republic. We can appreciate Mexico's varied handicraft production, which has been transformed according to the regions, ethnic groups, materials or techniques used in any of the 347 incorporated localities," writes Mexican journalist Ángeles González Gamio in La Jornada.
The collection includes artisan works from numerous ethnic groups that inhabit rural areas of Mexico — Mazahua, Otomí, Nahua, Rarámuri, Huichol, Mayo, Tzotzil, Maya, Mixtec and Zapotec, among others — "that lead us to know the cultural plurality, geographic, ethnic and linguistic diversity that exists in our country."
Since Citigroup announced the sale of Citibanamex on Jan. 11, Mexican media havs been screaming to ensure that the collection remains intact and, above all, does not leave Mexico.
That, however, will not be so easy, as many of the works of art in Fomento's collection are protected by Mexican federal laws that require objects of national cultural importance to remain in the country.
At a press conference on Jan. 13, Citibanamex Corporate Director Alberto Gómez Alcalá sought to allay fears that Fomento's treasures could end up abroad, stressing that its assets "will be an integral and indivisible part" of Citibanamex's "divestment and sale."
Meanwhile, several potential buyers of Banamex have been speculated, such as Mexican billionaire Ricardo Salinas, HSBC Bank or Brazilian financial technology startup Nubank.
On Jan. 26, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said in his daily morning press conference that the bank should be owned by Mexicans and that his Treasury department was crunching numbers on the exact value of its assets.