I. Cultural Property Agreement with the U.S.
On September 11, 1987, the U.S. took emergency action (PDF) to impose import restrictions on pre-Hispanic objects from the Cara Sucia region of El Salvador. This was the first import restriction imposed under the terms of the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. (PDF) This restriction was in force for an initial five-year period, and was extended in 1992 for an additional three year period.
On March 8, 1995, a bilateral agreement (PDF) or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), was entered into by the United States and El Salvador placing import restrictions on all of El Salvador's pre-Hispanic archaeological materials, and continuing without interruption the protection of the Cara Sucia archaeological material. The MOU was extended for a five-year period and amended (PDF) effective March 8, 2000. On March 8, 2005, the MOU was and amended (PDF) and extended for an additional period of five years. The MOU was extended for another five-year period and amended (PDF), effective March 8, 2010. The MOU was again extended for another five-year period and amended (PDF), effective March 8, 2015
II. Summary of the Basis for the Agreement
The agreement is in response to a request from the Government of the Republic of El Salvador made under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. (PDF)
With regard to the emergency restriction, it was found that by 1987, looters had dug more than 5,000 pits in the Cara Sucia region alone, damaging and destroying burials, remains of structures, and other archaeological features, the scientific excavation and study of which could have contributed substantially to knowledge of the region's prehistory.
With regard to the 1995 MOU, it was found that the situation of looting had become widespread beyond Cara Sucia, into archaeological areas around the country, and posed a significant threat to the extraordinary and understudied resources of El Salvador.
The import restrictions are intended to reduce the incentive for pillage and illicit trafficking of cultural objects.
In addition to providing protection through import restrictions, the Agreement also advances the agenda of the Summit of the Americas, where governments in the Western Hemisphere have pledged to enhance appreciation of indigenous cultures and cultural objects through various collaborative means.
III. Categories of Artifacts Subject to U.S. Import Restriction
The categories of Salvadoran object types covered by the import restrictions are described in the Designated List (PDF), published by the Department of the Treasury in the Federal Register on March 10, 1995; included are pre-Columbian stone sculpture, ceramic polychrome vessels, figurines, stamp seals, drums, effigies, and other items, including the previously protected materials from Cara Sucia. Most categories are illustrated in the El Salvador section of the Image Database.
IV. Import Restrictions
Objects from categories described in the Designated List may enter the U.S. only if they have an export permit issued by authorities in El Salvador, or documentation indicating that they left El Salvador prior to the effective date of the restriction: September 11, 1987, for pre-Hispanic material from Cara Sucia; or March 10, 1995, for pre-Hispanic materials from all areas of El Salvador.
Under the 1973 Pre-Columbian Monumental or Architectural Sculpture or Murals Statute (PDF), monumental or architectural sculpture or murals may be imported into the U.S. with an export license issued by the country of origin or documentation that they left the country of origin prior to June 1, 1973.
V. For More Information
United States: The Cultural Heritage Center
El Salvador: Secretaría de Cultura
Edificio A-5, Plan Maestro
Centro de Gobierno San Salvador,
El Salvador, C.A.
Telephone: + 503 2281 0100
Learn more about the agreements countries have signed with the U.S. to protect cultural artifacts.