Friday, August 5, 2011

CPAC Hearing on Bolivian MOU: State Department Responds to Narrow Special Interests

The AIA has posted a summary of CPAC's hearing on a proposed renewal of an MOU with Bolivia on its website. See

US relations with the anti-American leftist government of Evo Morales are so poor that each country has recalled its ambassador. See
However, does anyone believe this will impact yet another renewal of import restrictions on Bolivian artifacts? See

What is stiking though is really how small is the group that benefits most from such restrictions. Indeed, according to one speaker, no more than 40-50 archaeologists are currently at work in the entire country!

And, of course, the tangible public support for such restrictions is even more limited. Only 25 members of the public commented at all on the restrictions. And while most of these comments were in support, many of these appear to be from members of the AIA's leadership. See;dct=FR+PR+N+O+SR+PS;rpp=10;po=0;D=DOS-2011-0092 (Docket No. DOS-2011-0092) Hardly a ringing endorsement by the American public in favor of giving away something for nothing once again to an unfriendly nation in the name of archaeology!

Also of interest is the fact that the Bolivian government apparently at least tolerates indigenous collectors (wonder how connected they are to the local power elite?). According to another speaker, a local collector was convinced to put his collection into a museum rather than put it up for international sale. This is all fine and good, but if so, why should Americans be put in legal jeopardy for buying such material when Bolivians are allowed to collect it?

The Bolivian Government is no friend to our Government. Our Government is awash in red ink. President Obama has claimed he is against over regulation. Yet, if history is any guide, the State Department will renew this MOU yet again to assuage the demands of archaeologists, and likely do so without any conditions whatsoever that require Bolivia to do something in return for our trouble.

Why? Are such agreements worth the costs involved to the US taxpayer, to museums and to those interested in collecting such material, particularly given the very narrow special interests such agreements actually serve?


Anonymous said...

Just a couple of quick corrections:

Dr. Alconini stated that there was about 40 to 50 trained Bolivian archaeologists with higher degrees working in Bolivia at any one time. Her number excluded non-Bolivian archaeologists and all students. That is a pretty decent number of people to achieve a high degree of professional standard in the poorest country in South America...especially since the country has only had an archaeology degree since the early 90s. Education is slowly improving in Bolivia and the formidable number of practicing archaeologists is proof of that.

Also, Bolivians are not allowed to collect antiquities in the way you are thinking. According to Bolivian law, a Bolivian can *house* an antiquity, with government permission, provided they register the object and do not try to clean/modify/restore it in any way. They are not the owner of the object (they can't be according to Bolivian law) they are just the temporary caretaker. The Bolivian government established ownership of all Bolivian archaeological material in 1906 and has not relinquished that claim. American collectors owning any Bolivian object are automatically in legal jeopardy because, by Bolivian law, Bolivia owns all archaeological material...they just have to prove which is hard/impossible most of the time. The MOU doesn't change that risk, the risk that has existed since 1906.

Finally, the only museum rep at that meeting spoke in favor of the MOU, with some slight modifications (which, frankly, aren't very possible under long-standing Bolivian law). No one spoke against it: no one from the dealing or collection side showed up. We are all stakeholders in this and your interests should be served in this process as should mine...but it is hard for your case to be substantiated when absolutely no one bothered to make it. Why don't you speak next time?

Cultural Property Observer said...

On you last point, I have spoken previously on issues of interest to me. And others have commented too. 70% of the public comments were againt the Greek MOU, but that was approved anyway. Approximately 2000 commented against the Italian MOU or its extention to coins (with only 100 in favor-- and a mere 13 public comments in favor of import restrictions on coins.) Yet, such restrictions were imposed anyway. What a farce. A special interest program for archaeologists and little more.