Thursday, May 3, 2018

Any MOU with Ecuador May only Authorize Import Restrictions on Archaeological and Ethnological objects.

Here is my statement at yesterday's CPAC meeting regarding Ecuador's request.  More later:

Thank you for this opportunity to speak on behalf of 4 different organizations, the Committee for Cultural Policy, a non-profit educational organization, Global Heritage Alliance, an advocacy group, and two numismatic trade associations, the International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild.   I would direct your attention to their two separate papers, one by CCP and its sister organization GHA, and one by IAPN and PNG.  In the interests of time, I am speaking on behalf of all these organizations here, but each have distinct personalities and interests.

            What they share is concern about this proposed MOU, particularly the lack of sufficient public notice and the apparent breadth of the request, which includes cultural goods that are neither archaeological nor ethnological in character.   According to the public summary, Ecuadorian law only applies to objects 100 years old, but the request includes objects only 50 years old.   So, there even appears to be a serious disconnect within the Ecuadorian request itself.

            More to the point, however, CPAC—which has an obligation to follow the Cultural Property Implementation Act—should be hard pressed to recommend any restrictions on items that are neither archaeological nor ethnological in character such as “Colonial and republican period coins; medallions more than 50 years old …manuscripts more than 50 years old; and certain works by modern artists.” 

            This should be clear from the CPIA itself which defines archaeological objects as being over 250 years old and normally discovered as the result of digging and which defines ethnological objects as the products of tribal or non-industrial societies.  The Legislative history, also quoted in our papers, makes clear that Congress understood the term “ethnological” to encompass only what is considered “primitive” or “Tribal art” and not any object that is repetitive in nature.

            These limitations on archaeological and ethnological material should preclude restrictions being placed on coins and medallions.  While the State Department has—over the objections of the numismatic community and prior precedent—placed import restrictions on ancient and other early coins, the Spanish Colonial and Republican era coins at issue here cannot lawfully be restricted because they are neither archaeological nor ethnological in character.  More than that, however, they are as much a part of US culture as they are of Ecuadorian culture.  Large swaths of what is now the US was formally part of Spain’s Empire and even the United States itself—due to the shortages of hard currency at the time—used such coins as legal tender until 1857.  Indeed, such coins were so popular that the term “two bits” entered into our language as meaning 25 cents.  Moreover, references to “pieces of eight” and “gold doubloons” abound in our storytelling, including Melville’s Moby Dick and countless yarns about pirate treasure. 

            Before recommending a MOU, CPAC must also consider what self-help measures Ecuador has undertaken, including the funding Ecuador has devoted to cultural heritage protection.  Congress has recently included reporting language as part of its funding of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs that underscores this requirement.   Although it is unclear what Ecuador spends on protecting its cultural patrimony, according to Ernesto Salazar, an academic who has written on the subject, the situation in Ecuador is far from perfect.   

            In sum, we request CPAC take steps to ensure that any designated list excludes coins and any other objects that do not meet the definition of archaeological or ethnological objects found in the CPIA.  We also ask CPAC to gauge Ecuador’s self-help measures, including efforts to ensure archaeological site workers get a fair living wage for work done on behalf of foreign archaeological missions.

            Thank you.   

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