Wednesday, July 14, 2010

CPAC Meets on MOU with Nicaragua

You might not think so based on the controversies related to the MOU's with Cyprus, China and Italy, but in fact most MOU's don't attract much attention. Such is the case with the MOU with Nicaragua, which was first agreed to in 2000 and extended again in 2005. Not that there was no room for debate. Though it will presumably be extended again, if the AAMD has its way, there will be some necessary changes.

There were only two speakers at today's public session, Alcides Montiel from the Embassy and Josh Knerly, representing the AAMD. Surprisingly, though some representatives of the archaeological community were present, none testified about the MOU.

It was left entirely to Mr. Montiel to argue for the renewal. He testified that the MOU should be renewed because artifacts continue to be smuggled out of the country, particularly to Spain. He also mentioned that 800 artifacts had recently been seized within the country from an illicit storehouse. He further indicated that draft legislation is being prepared for additional protection of cultural patrimony and that a dedicated police force is in the works.

CPAC Member Korver (trade representative) asked Mr. Montiel if given the worldwide recession, his country will seek relief from any of its obligations under Art. II of the current MOU. Mr. Montiel indicated he would need to confer with the authorities at home about this issue. In response to a question from CPAC Member Sandy Boyd (museum representative), Mr. Montiel indicated there are registered collectors in his country.

Josh Knerly questioned whether the MOU should be renewed at all, but seemed resigned to the fact that it will. He first asked whether the concerted international response requirement of the CPIA can really be met given the limited nature of the market in Nicaraguan cultural artifacts.

He next urged that Article II be modified to contain specific requirements. He found it troubling that Nicaragua was apparently just starting to address its promises of years past.

He also issued a challenge to the State Department to provide greater transparency about what restrictions are being considered. Although the Federal Register indicated that CPAC would consider expanded restrictions on ethnological artifacts, no additional detail was provided. Mr. Knerly indicated such secrecy makes formulating a response virtually impossible.

Based on recent expansions of the designated list for other Latin American countries, Mr. Knerly nonetheless guesses that Nicaragua seeks additional restrictions on religious art. If so, Mr. Knerly argues that such an extention would only reward Nicaragua for its failure to create a proper inventory of such religious art. Such inventoried artifacts are already barred from entry without the need to impose restrictions on all such art.

Finally, Mr. Knerly also explained that it is difficult to tell restricted pottery from Nicaragua from unrestricted pottery from Costa Rica. He urged CPAC to ensure there are efforts to create an accurate designated list that will make such distinctions clear. CPAC member James Willis (representing trade interests) mused that it might be impossible as a practical matter to create such a list.

While I expect the MOU to be renewed, it is possible it will receive greater scrutiny because diplomatic relations with Nicaragua's current government are not all that good.

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