María Paula Álvarez
This article introduces the idea that political and social realities have an important impact on conservation practice and sustainability for cultural heritage. This concept is illustrated through three case studies from my work at archaeological and historical sites in Colombia. The first case study is the Fuente de Lavapatas, an important pre-Columbian site in the archaeological park of San Agustín, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Despite great public interest in the site and careful research to inform a long-term management plan, a political decision was made and no further resources were allocated for its preservation. The second case study discusses how community involvement can positively transform a site and contribute to its conservation. It presents educational, research, and conservation efforts in the archaeological park of Facatativá, a nature reserve that includes rock shelters with pre-Columbian pictographs. The third case study relates to monuments in public spaces in Bogotá. While social conditions are negatively impacting monument conservation, recent political decisions have been made that have led to better conservation and outreach community practices. Considering these projects and events, it is clear that the preservation of cultural heritage is not only driven by deterioration factors such as the environment and human and biological activity, but also subject to deterioration factors resulting from the social context. Preservation is also highly vulnerable to political decisions. Understanding the impacts of decisions made in those contexts and the ability to anticipate the outcomes of these decisions can lead to better heritage management and the implementation of more sustainable conservation projects.