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.


Ed S said...

I have not been able to determine what is meant by "Republican era" for the purpose of the MOU. The Wikipedia article suggests the Ecuadorian Republican era began in 1830 and is their current era.


Cultural Property Observer said...

The public summary that is linked notes Ecauadorian law covers any item over 100 years old. This would thus include Ecuadorian coins dated before 1918. Of course, as the blog post notes there is a serious question whether US law applies to them because they are neither archaeological nor ethnological objects.