I. Cultural Property Agreement with the U. S.
On March 14, 1989, the U.S. placed an emergency import restriction (PDF) on antique Aymara textiles from Coroma, Bolivia. On May 5, 1993, the emergency import restriction was extended for an additional three years. The emergency restriction has expired, but should there be future unauthorized movement of these textiles into the United States, other U.S. laws may be applicable in their recovery, because they are now documented.
On December 4, 2001, the U.S. and Bolivia entered into a bilateral agreement (PDF), or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), to impose import restrictions on pre-Columbian archaeological objects and Colonial and Republican period ethnological materials.
On December 4, 2006, the MOU with Bolivia was extended for an another five-year term; on December 2, 2011, the MOU was extended for an additional five-year term.
II. Summary of the Basis for the Agreement
The Agreement is in response to a request from the Government of Bolivia made under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention (PDF).
With respect to the 1989 emergency action to protect certain antique Aymara textiles originating in Bolivia, it was found that the United States was a major market for these objects. Handed down from generation to generation, some dating from the 15th century, these textiles are held communally and play a prominent role in the social, political, economic, and religious life in the Andean village of Coroma. Over the course of the 1980s, dealers traveled to Coroma and, through middlemen, acquired and exported nearly half of its ceremonial textile assemblage, in violation of Bolivian export and ownership laws. The Bolivian middlemen were prosecuted, and the community elders took strong steps against local citizens involved in the theft and illicit transport of these materials. Coroma's elders issued pleas to U.S. collectors and museums not to acquire their ancestral textiles and to return those already acquired. Two major repatriations occurred (PDF).
With respect to the 2001 agreement, it was found that the pre-Columbian people of Bolivia achieved a high degree of technological, agricultural, and artistic achievement, but the culture as a whole remains poorly understood. Further, it was found that the archaeological evidence necessary to interpret the early history of Bolivian culture is in jeopardy from pillage. The pillage is widespread, on-going, and destroying the archaeological record of Bolivia.
Ethnological materials from the Colonial and Republican periods were also found to be subject to pillage. These objects play an essential and irreplaceable role in indigenous Bolivian communities; they are vested with symbolic and historic meaning, and have an important place in ceremonial practices. These objects testify to the continuity of pre-Columbian cultural elements in modern life, and evince pride among members of a society that is largely indigenous.
The import restrictions are intended to reduce the incentive for pillage and illicit trafficking in cultural objects.
In addition to providing protection through import restrictions, the bilateral 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 artifacts through various collaborative means.
III. Categories of Objects Subject to Import Restriction
A. 1989 Emergency Action to Protect Aymara Textiles from Coroma (expired May 5, 1996)
Restricted materials date from before 1500 to about 1850 A.D. Categories include tunics, ponchos, mantles, head-coverings, and shawls woven from camelid fiber and sheep wool.
The object types protected by this action appear in the official Designated List (PDF) published in the Federal Register notice of March 14, 1989.
B. 2001 Agreement to Protect Archaaeological and Ethnological Materials
The Designated List (PDF) describing object types covered by the import restrictions was published in the Federal Register by the Department of the Treasury on December 7, 2001.
The restricted archaeological materials range in date from approximately 10,000 B.C. to A.D. 1532, and include objects of ceramic, textile, featherwork, metals, stone, shell, bone, wood and basketry; as well as human remains.
The restricted ethnological materials range in date from A.D. 1533 to 1900 (Colonial and Republican Periods), and include objects of indigenous manufacture and ritual use related to the pre-Columbian past, such as masks, musical instruments, textiles (including but not limited to textiles similar to those from Coroma), featherwork, ceramics; and objects used for rituals and religious ceremonies, including Colonial religious art, such as paintings and sculpture, reliquaries, altars, altar objects, and liturgical vestments.
IV. Import Restrictions
A. 1989 Emergency Action (expired May 5, 1996)
Although the import restriction expired, unauthorized removal and transport of the Coroma textiles into the U.S. may be cause for invoking Section 308 (Articles of Stolen Cultural Property) of the Convention on the Cultural Property Implementation Act (PDF), or other applicable laws. Each of the textiles has been photographed and documented.
B. 2001 Agreement
Bolivian objects of types described in the Designated List may enter the U.S. only if they have an export permit issued by the Bolivian government, or documentation that they left Bolivia prior to the effective date of the restriction: December 7, 2001. The Agreement was extended and amended effective December 7, 2006; and extended again effective December 2, 2011.
C. 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. only with an export license issued by the country of origin or verifiable documentation that they left the country of origin prior to June 1, 1973.
V. For More Information
United States: The Cultural Heritage Center (email@example.com)
Bolivia : Viceministerio de Desarollo de las Culturas
Calle Ayacucho esquina Potosí
La Paz, Bolivia
Telephone: + 591 2 220 0910 / 220 0949
Fax: + 591 - 2 – 220 0948
Learn more about the agreements countries have signed with the U.S. to protect cultural artifacts.