Thursday, February 2, 2017

The newly fashioned Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC), with all eleven members appointed or reappointed by former President Barack Obama shortly before leaving office in January, is expected to review extensions of bilateral agreements between the United States and Belize, Mali, and Guatemala during a meeting in Washington, DC beginning on March 21. It will be CPAC's first announced meeting after President Donald Trump's inauguration last month.

Maya ruins in Lamani, Belize
CPAC advises the president or his designee on countries' requests for protection of cultural heritage under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

Longtime Washington insider Evan Ryan used to be the president's designee as Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, but she left the State Department last month to enter the private sector. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Mark Taplin, who is a career official, temporarily fills the vacancy now.

The bilateral agreements, also called Memoranda of Understanding (MoU), authorize US import restrictions on endangered cultural heritage originating from the three nations. The agreements have a five year life-span under the terms of the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA).

Belize first entered an agreement with the US in 2013. It is set to expire in February 2018.

Mali, meanwhile, received help in 1993 when the US erected  emergency import restrictions on cultural material in September that same year. The two nations signed a formal bilateral agreement in 1997 and have renewed their MoU every five years thereafter. The last renewal was in 2012, and the next renewal comes again in September 2017, on the heels of a recently issued International Council of Museums Red List, which flags an artifacts trafficking emergency confronting Mali's cultural heritage, and this past fall's International Criminal Court conviction of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, who destroyed cultural and religious heritage in the African nation.

The American MoU with Guatemala expires in September 2017, and there have been import restrictions on designated cultural property from that country since 1991. The last renewal took place in 2012 when the White House expanded the import protections to cover ecclesiastical objects from approximately 1524 to 1821 A.D., in addition to Pre-Columbian archaeological artifacts dating from 2000 B.C. to 1524 A.D.

Photo credit: Shmuel Shoshtari/

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