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SEPT. 29, 2020

Chile and USA present bilateral agreement to fight illicit trafficking of archaeological heritage

A crucial step in protecting cultural heritage, the Memorandum of Understanding imposes restrictions on importing Chilean archaeological property to the United States and, in the event of confiscation, requires its return. The instrument, which comes into force internationally tomorrow, was presented at an event organized by the Chilean Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Culture Ministry and the US Embassy.

The Chilean Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry, Foreign Affairs Ministry and the US Embassy held an online event to present and further the scope of the new bilateral agreement between the Chilean and US governments to fight illicit trafficking of archaeological heritage.

The governments of the United States and the Republic of Chile signed the instrument, entitled Memorandum of Understanding relating to the imposition of restrictions on the importation of certain categories of archaeological materials, in early May 2020. It enters into force tomorrow, September 30, 2020.

“This bilateral agreement is a crucial step in the effort to protect the cultural heritage that lends shape and identity to our country and its communities. This heritage is as valuable as it is irreplaceable. It is part of our memory and our past and that knowledge enables us to project ourselves into the future. The measures to prevent and fight against illicit trafficking of heritage property also safeguard the history, values and traditions that these pieces represent, with which we build our memory”, said Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Consuelo Valdés.

The bilateral agreement establishes a regulatory framework under which the two governments will collaborate to coordinate cross-border actions that reduce incentives for robbery, theft, looting and illicit trafficking of Chilean archaeological heritage protected under Law No. 17.288 on National Monuments. The Memorandum restricts importation to the United States of certain archaeological materials without Chilean authorization or a license to leave. These materials may include objects made of ceramic, stone, metal or organic fibers, which are dated from approximately 31,000 A.C. to 250 years ago that are on the Designation List issued by the United States. The United States will offer to return any material or object confiscated under this framework to Chile. The agreement will also generate opportunities to collaborate on other heritage protection matters.

Ambassador Alex Geiger Soffia, Director for North American, Central and Caribbean Affairs at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, valued the step in bilateral relations that this agreement represents: “This Memorandum of Understanding, which will soon come into effect internationally, is another step in our bilateral relationship with the United States, providing due and greater protection for Chile’s archaeological richness.”

Similarly, Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy, Richard Glenn, noted: “The agreement allows us to further strengthen our broad bilateral relationship, which spans many years and encompasses different areas of our nations’ work, but above all, it brings our people closer. Under the agreement, we will now work together in a more coordinated manner to prevent criminal networks from removing Chile’s archaeological artifacts, valuable heritage and ancestral materials from the country.

Representatives and area experts from the USA, Chile and Guatemala participated in the event. Allison Davis, Executive Director of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee at the US State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center, presented the characteristics and scope of the Memorandum. Lina Nagel, Coordinator of the Fight against Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Heritage Property Unit at the Chilean National Cultural Heritage Service, addressed the country’s progress on the matter and challenges. The anthropologist and representative of the Chilean Archeology Society before the National Monuments Council discussed the types of property protected under the agreement. Finally, Guatemalan Culture and Sports Ministry representative, Eduardo Hernández, shared the comparative experience of other countries that have implemented this agreement with the United States.

The Memorandum of Responsibility in Chile, signed by the Chilean Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Cultures, Arts and Heritage Ministry, is part of the framework of the commitments, obligations and cooperation established in the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which Chile signed in 2014.

Once all the procedures required by law have been conducted and the agreement enters into force internationally, it will be fully incorporated into our internal legal system.

It is worth noting that Chile has signed bilateral agreements on this issue with other countries essential in this complex network, including Mexico, Ecuador and China.