Training Panamanian Customs to Prevent Cultural Property Smuggling

July 1, 2021


Ancient ceramic vessel from El Caño, Panama. Objects like these are often looted and trafficked. (Source: Carlos Mayo, Parque Arqueológico de El Caño)
Trafficking stolen, looted, or forged art, antiquities, and other cultural objects benefits criminal organizations and terrorist groups, erodes the legal art market, and harms our relationships with foreign partners and allies. The Cultural Antiquities Task Force (CATF) supports training for international law enforcement officials, heritage site managers, museum personnel, and others to counter cultural property trafficking and protect sites and collections.

Latin America continues to be a hot spot for trafficking in cultural property in addition to drugs, counterfeit goods and other contraband. To help Panama protect its heritage and the heritage of the wider region, the CATF supported a recent virtual training for Panamanian customs officer by the Container Control Program (CCP) of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Customs Organization (WCO). The CCP builds capacity in countries seeking to improve risk management, supply chain security, and trade facilitation in seaports, airports, and land border crossings to prevent the cross-border movement of illicit goods.

The WCO delivered its specialized Preventing Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Heritage (PITCH) training online from May 31 to June 4, 2021 for 32 customs officers from the Air Cargo Unit at Tocumen International Airport and the Port Control Units in Panama. Trainers included experts from the Ministry of Culture of Panama, the Ministry of Culture of Peru, Spanish National Police, UK Border Force, and INTERPOL. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a CATF interagency partner, also provided training support. The PITCH training included modules on the identification and documentation of cultural objects, the use of international and national databases, interagency cooperation, and customs techniques for smuggling identification and prevention.

This training is part of a larger initiative supported by the CATF through the U.S. Embassy Panama and in coordination with UNODC, WCO, and the Government of Panama to enhance law enforcement capabilities to detect and suppress illicit trade in cultural property that contributes to the revenues of organized crime groups. There will be an additional training in the near future.


About the Cultural Antiquities Task Force

Created by the State Department in 2004 at the direction of Congress, the CATF comprises federal agencies that share a common mission to combat antiquities trafficking in the United States and abroad. Since its creation, the CATF has supported more than 100 domestic and international cultural property training programs. CATF is a law enforcement focused working group of the Cultural Heritage Coordinating Committee. Both are managed by the State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center.