I. Cultural Property Agreement with the U.S.
On February 27, 2013, the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Belize entered into a bilateral agreement (PDF), or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), to protect categories of archaeological material from the Pre-Ceramic Period to the late Colonial Period, from 9,000 B.C. to 250 years ago. A notice regarding this MOU was published in the Federal Register on February 28, 2013 (PDF).
U.S. Ambassador to Belize Vinai Thummalapally and Belize’s Minister of Tourism and Culture, Manuel Heredia, Jr. signed the MOU in a ceremony that took place at the Government House in Belize City. Ambassador Thummalapally welcomed the opportunity to reiterate America’s commitment to the preservation of cultural heritage. He stated that the agreement aims to discourage looting and trafficking of Belize’s rich archaeological heritage and makes it illegal to import protected items from Belize into the United States unless they are accompanied by specific permits issued by Belizean authorities. This restriction will help reduce the incentive to pillage such objects. The agreement with Belize will also serve to strengthen the protections for Central America’s cultural heritage already in place through existing bilateral agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
II. Summary of the Basis for the Agreement
The U.S. action is in response to a request from Government of Belize seeking protection of its cultural heritage made under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (PDF).
The import restrictions are intended to reduce the incentive for pillage and illicit trafficking in cultural objects. Reports from Belize indicate that despite the strict provisions of its national heritage legislation, the monitoring by its national and community authorities, and the efforts of its law enforcement officers, archaeological sites have been and continue to be vulnerable to pillage, causing serious jeopardy to the cultural heritage of the country. The cultural heritage of Belize represents a rich and unique history of indigenous Maya, Spanish, and British occupation, with numerous archaeological sites that are under threat of pillage. The archaeological material of both the pre-Columbian era and the Colonial Period of Belize is protected under the Memorandum of Understanding. The agreement is consistent with the recommendation of the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee.
III. Categories of Objects Subject to Import Restriction
The categories of archaeological materials covered by the import restriction include archaeological material originating in Belize and representing Belize’s cultural heritage that is at least 250 years old, dating from the Pre-Ceramic (from approximately 9000 B.C.), Pre-Classic, Classic, and Post-Classic Periods of the pre-Columbian era through the Early and Late Colonial Periods; including categories of sculpture, vessels, and other objects made of materials such as stone, metal, ceramic, bone, shell, wood, and glass.
A detailed description of the object types covered by this agreement may be found in the Designated List (PDF), published in the Federal Register by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of the Treasury.
IV. Import Restrictions
Objects from categories described in the Designated List may enter the U.S. only if they are accompanied by an export permit issued by the appropriate authority in the Government of Belize, or by verifiable documentation indicating that they left Belize prior to the effective date of the restriction: February 27, 2013.
V. For More Information
United States: Cultural Heritage Center (email@example.com)
Belize: Institute of Archaeology
National Institute of Culture and History
Museum Building, Culvert Road
Belmopan City, Belize
Learn more about the agreements countries have signed with the U.S. to protect cultural artifacts.