Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Endangered Archaeology from El Salvador Protected by Renewed MoU with the United States

Maya mask subject to
renewed import restrictions
with El Salvador.
The United States has agreed to renew a bilateral agreement with El Salvador, which offers protections to cultural heritage in danger. The Central American nation is rich with history, including ancient Maya culture.

The State Department Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs has “concluded that the cultural heritage of El Salvador continues to be in jeopardy from pillage of Pre-Hispanic archaeological resources,” according to the Federal Register. As a result, the U.S. government has extended import controls on endangered archaeological material from that country through March 8, 2020. The terms are cataloged in a renewed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

Few offered comments about the MoU when the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) considered the renewal.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP)* backed the renewal, explaining that looting continues in El Salvador and that “numerous El Salvadoran objects that would be protected under the MOU are currently listed on ICOM’s Red List of Endangered Cultural Objects of Central America and Mexico.” LCCHP added that “El Salvador has long played an active role in safeguarding its property through legislation, enforcement, education, creation of inventories, and international cooperation.”

The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), meanwhile, opposed the MoU. In what may be a trend for the organization, the group complained that “El Salvador has benefited from more than 27 years of import restrictions by the United States and in that period … there does not appear to be a significant reduction in looting that can be linked to those restrictions.” The AAMD argued that “El Salvador is one of the best examples of why the current system of simply renewing MOUs is ineffective and inconsistent with the CPIA. The absence of a significant legitimate market in the United States for El Salvadorian Prehispanic objects has apparently had little or no effect on looting in El Salvador.”

The U.S. and El Salvador first entered a bilateral agreement—authorized by the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA)—twenty years ago, following American-imposed emergency import restrictions on endangered artifacts from the Cara Sucia region in 1987 and 1992. The MoU between the two nations has been renewed every five years since 1995.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of State
*The author is a board member of LCCHP.

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