Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Ecuador's Request for Import Restrictions; Time to Put the Brakes on More Culture Creep!

Ecuador's Socialist-leaning government of President Lenin Moreno has asked the United States to impose import restrictions not only on the usual list of pre-Colombian, Colonial and Republican era archaeological and ethnological objects, but also on "Colonial and republican period coins; medallions more than 50 years old...manuscripts more than 50 years old; and certain works by modern artists.”  Public summary at 1.  See https://eca.state.gov/files/bureau/ecuadorrequest2018_publicsummary_04.05.2018.pdf  (last visited April 9, 2018.)  Imposing import restrictions on these categories of cultural artifacts would be yet another example of "culture creep" that has steadily expanded the list of what types of collectibles are effectively embargoed from entry into the United States. 

Of course, none of these objects neatly fit within the definitions of "archaeological" or "ethnological"objects that forms the threshold for them to be subject to import restrictions under the Cultural Property Implementation Act.  However, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee and State Department Cultural Heritage Center, which these days are both dominated by the anti-private collecting views of the Archaeological Institute of America and other archaeological advocacy groups, have pushed the envelope before and may do so again here.

If so, collecting old coins, medallions, manuscripts and modern art from Latin America may very well be at risk.

If you are interested in these collecting areas, please comment.  You still have until April 15th to post your views here.   While we can't be sure your comments will really matter, we should all be concerned that government decision makers will consider silence as acquiescence.

Comments are to touch on the following four determinations:  (1) that the cultural patrimony of Ecuador is in jeopardy; (2) that the requesting nation has taken measures to protect its cultural patrimony; (3) that U.S. import restrictions, either alone or in concert with actions taken by other nations, would be of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage; and (4) import restrictions would promote the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural and educational purposes.

For Ecuadorian coins, manuscripts and modern art, determinations 3-4 come into play.  Why should the U.S. Government place restrictions on American collectors given internal markets for these items within Ecuador itself and the fact that other countries have not imposed similar restrictions on the ability of their own citizens to trade in such objects?  Under the circumstances, restrictions will only hurt the ability of Americans to learn about Ecuadorian culture.

The key issue, however, remains  that such coins, medallions, manuscripts and modern art the Ecuadorian government seeks to restrict do not easily fall within the statutory definitions for archaeological or ethnological objects.  Moreover, Ecuadorian coins, like their Spanish and Spanish Colonial counterparts, circulated world wide, first as items of trade and then as collectibles.  Indeed, such coins were legal tender in the United States until 1857.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Let CPAC Know What You Think About a Renewal of the MOU with the People's Republic of China

The US Cultural Property Advisory Committee is soliciting comments concerning the proposed renewal of import restrictions on cultural goods, including coins, down to the end of the Tang Dynasty.   The time to comment is exceptionally short, ending on April 15, 2018.

This renewal should be of particular interest to collectors who specialize in Chinese coins. 

Comments are to touch on the following four determinations: (1)    that the cultural patrimony of the requesting nation is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological materials; (2) that the requesting nation has taken measures to protect its cultural patrimony; (3) that U.S. import restrictions, either alone or in concert with actions taken by other market nations, would be of substantial benefit in deterring the serious situation of pillage, and (4) import restrictions would promote the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.

For Chinese coins, the key points relates to determinations 2-4:  Why should the US Government place restrictions on American collectors given the huge internal market in ancient Chinese coins within China itself, particularly when China and other countries have not imposed similar restrictions on the ability of their own citizens to deal and trade in such coins?   Under the circumstances, continued restrictions will only diminish the ability of Americans to learn about and appreciate Chinese culture from "hands-on" experience with Chinese coins without any impact on the huge trade in Chinese coins abroad.  Other issues are that Chinese cash coins circulated widely outside China, including E. Africa, Japan, Indonesia, etc. and that it is difficult for all but experts to tell "restricted" Tang Dynasty and earlier cash coins from later "unrestricted" ones.  

Finally, there is a question of reciprocity.  U.S. collectors have had to deal with a veritable avalanche of fake U.S. collectors' coins produced in China.   If China is going to do nothing about it, why should the U.S. "help China" secure its "cultural heritage?"

To comment on the renewal, use the regulations.gov portal here:  https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=DOS_FRDOC_0001-4477 and click on the “comment now” button.  Note you are commenting on the China MOU renewal as CPAC is also accepting comments regarding another proposed MOU with Ecuador. 

The Department of State requests that any party soliciting or aggregating comments received from other persons for submission to the Department of State inform those persons that the Department of State will not edit their comments to remove any identifying or contact information, and that they therefore should not include any information in their comments that they do not want publicly disclosed.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

State Department Rushes Through China MOU Renewal as Well as New MOU for Ecuador

The US State Department has announced a CPAC meeting to discuss the renewal of a major MOU with China as well as a proposed new MOU with Ecuador.

There is as yet no Federal Register notice with a link for public comment, but it appears that a short  comment period will end on April 15th and that only an hour will be reserved for public comment before CPAC on May 2, 2018.

It's unclear why there is such a rush to hold a CPAC hearing for a MOU that will not expire until January as well as for yet another MOU with yet another Leftist Latin American country that has opposed U.S. foreign policy in the region.

Could it be the State Department bureaucracy wants to push through the Chinese renewal and a new  MOU with Ecuador to benefit its friends and allies in the archaeological establishment before anyone in the Trump Administration starts asking too many questions about whether such MOUs really benefit America as a whole?

If so, hopefully the embarrassing revelation that more than one-half of the "Terracotta Warriors" in the Franklin Institute's popular exhibit from China were replicas will prompt some soul-searching as to the so-called benefits of such "cultural exchange" that builds in expensive loan fees paid to Chinese interests.  Such fees, of course, are then passed along to the American public who pays top dollar while being led to believe that it is seeing the "real thing."

Surely, America deserves a better deal, one where China at least lives up to its promise of providing  loans of real, ancient artifacts at no or low cost, along with allowing for the legal export of ancient artifacts of the sort that are legally available to Chinese collectors.

If China is not living up to its end of the deal, the Trump Administrations should simply scrap it.

Update (4/5/18):  The regulations.gov website is now taking public comment on the China renewal and new MOU for Ecuador through 4/15/18.  To comment, see this link:  https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=DOS_FRDOC_0001-4477

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Oral Argument in ACCG Forfeiture Case

Last Thursday, I partipated in an oral argument before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond on behalf of the ACCG in its long running forfeiture case.  As was confirmed by the tenor of the Court’s questions, it remains an uphill battle against the government whose actions too often are afforded great deference.  We will see what happens!

Monday, February 12, 2018

ICOM Red Lists-- Far More Transparency Needed

The Art Newspaper has reported on the unveiling of  the latest ICOM/US State Department Bureau of Cultural Affairs "Red List," this time for war torn Yemen.

If recent history is any guide, the US State Department funded list will now be used to help justify and frame US State Department promulgated "emergency import restrictions" on anything and everything of a type identified as "Yemeni" with the aim to suppress collecting any such artifacts in the near future.

As an ICOM official stated, "We are now strongly advising collectors to avoid the objects on the list altogether, or at least to be extra cautious and thoroughly check the legality of provenance,” says France Desmarais, the director of programmes and partnerships at Icom.  Only the Yemeni government is authorised to issue documents for the export and import of cultural goods, so how likely is it that collectors will be able to obtain such licences? “It’s difficult, but not impossible,” Desmarais says. “It is important to respect the sovereignty of nations, so if it is required by law, we must abide.”

Given the stated intent of such lists, their proliferation and their US Government funding, there needs to be far more transparency about how these lists are created, who creates them, their funding, and how they relate to US law which reserves US "independent judgment" in such matters.

Moreover,  publication of the Yemeni Red List raises particular questions whether such objects that may be seized by Customs authorities should be returned to a country in the midst of a civil war or offered "safe harbor"and whether artifacts of Yemen's displaced Jewish community should be returned at all.

Efforts to seek more specifics about these lists were met with a dismissive reference to an accompanying press kit.  The International Council of Museums is a NGO with ties to UNESCO. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Archaeological Lobby Silent as Turkey Bombs Hittite Cultural Site

Turkish warplanes have bombed and evidently badly damaged the Iron Age temple of Ain Dara in Northern Syria as part of their campaign against Kurdish separatists.

Far from expressing outrage, the major archaeological lobbying groups including the AIA, ASOR and the Antiquities Coalition have remained silent. 

But why?  A cynic might think these groups are more concerned about angering the Turkish government than in maintaining a consistent message. 

After all, the Turkish Government  offers archaeologists associated with these groups valuable excavation permits for archaeological sites within the country. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"Blood and Treasure"

According to Variety, CBS has given a straight-to-series order to a new action-adventure series titled “Blood & Treasure.” The report continues, "The series centers on a brilliant antiquities expert and a cunning art thief who team up to catch a ruthless terrorist who funds his attacks through stolen treasure. As they crisscross the globe hunting their target, they unexpectedly find themselves in the center of a 2,000-year-old battle for the cradle of civilization.   The network has ordered a 13-episode first season of the one-hour series, which is set to be broadcast in summer 2019."  Executive Producer Marc Vlasic, an Antiquities Coalition Associate, evidently views the series as "social impact TV."  In contrast, CPO considers the series as yet another effort to confuse  "entertainment" with "news" to promote an anti-collecting crusade.  CPO has criticized CBS for promoting "fake news" about values of ISIS loot. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

New Metal Detecting Blog

John Howland has initiated his own blog.  It may be accessed here.   John is a frequent commentator on this blog and has long contributed to Dick Stout's own metal detecting blog.  John has lots to say.  And quite a sense of humor.  So enjoy!