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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Press Relations Office > Press Releases (Other) > 2001 > June
Media Note
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
June 21, 2001


Seized Pre-Columbian Objects Repatriated

The U.S. Department of State is pleased to announce that the U.S. Customs Service in San Francisco has recovered and returned archaeological objects representing the rich cultural heritage of El Salvador. Valued at approximately $100,000, the Pre-Columbian polychrome ceramics, dated from approximately 1700 B.C. to A.D. 1550, were seized by U.S. Customs officials during an import attempt at the San Francisco port of entry in October 2000. These objects were forfeited and repatriated to El Salvador on June 19 in a ceremony at the Organization of American States headquarters in Washington, DC.

The first involving the cultural patrimony of El Salvador, this recovery and repatriation took place under a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding between the governments of the United States and of the Republic of El Salvador enacted in 1995 and amended in 2000. In the Memorandum, the United States promises to promote preservation of cultural patrimony and restricts the import of certain items that do not have an export permit issued by El Salvador. The appendix of the 1995 Memorandum lists and thoroughly describes the items it covers, which include all pre-Columbian archeological materials (terracotta, figurines, carved statues, etc.) dating from 1700 B.C. to 1520 A.D.

Representing El Salvador at the repatriation ceremony were Minister of Foreign Affairs Maria Eugenia Brizuela de Avila, Ambassador to the United States Rene Leon, Ambassador to the Organization of American States Margarita Escobar, and president of Consejo para la Cultura y el Arte (CONCULTURA) Gustavo Herodier. Representing the United States were U.S. Customs Assistant Commissioner for International Affairs Douglas Browning and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Dr. Helena Kane Finn.

Dr. Finn said, "We hope that the example of this recovery will send a message that the United States does not condone pillage and restricts the importation into the United States of pillaged objects. We hope this recovery will be a disincentive for further plundering, While recoveries and returns are cause for celebration, it is vastly more important that sites remain undisturbed until proper archaeological research can occur."

The cooperation between the governments of the United States and El Salvador is carried out under the terms and in the spirit of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Both countries are party to the Convention, which aims to reduce pillage of archaeological sites that causes an irretrievable loss of historical information about the origins and development of cultures.

The State Departmentís Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) promotes cooperation with other countries to reduce the threat of pillage of irreplaceable cultural heritage, thereby creating opportunities to develop long-term strategies for protecting cultural property through training and conservation, museum development, law enforcement, and public education. Further information about international cultural property protection and other work of ECA is available at http://exchanges.state.gov, or contact Catherine Stearns at (202) 203-5107 or cstearns@pd.state.gov.


Released on June 22, 2001

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