Thank you, Ambassador Santos.
Today, we celebrate the FBI’s return of over two dozen trafficked items of Colombia’s cultural heritage to their rightful owners, the Colombian people and their government.
I had the opportunity to see photos of the items before this ceremony, and three thoughts came to mind.
First, I appreciated the incredible diversity of the history of the Colombian people who made these items and others.
Our two countries share important cultural heritage through our African, Indigenous, and European roots.
These connections are weaved into our present-day collaboration on cultural exchange and initiatives that promote racial and ethnic equality.
Second, I understood the vulnerability of Colombia’s cultural heritage.
These items are so small and easy for a criminal to slip into a suitcase or shipping box.
The temptation is clear for organized criminal organizations to take advantage of these items and others like them to launder money or to sell them to finance other criminal activities.
Finally, I know these small objects represent something much bigger.
Looters ripped these objects from the burial and archaeological sites of ancient Colombian people with no regard for the sanctity of human graves or the vast information that archaeologists might recover from sites through scientific excavation.
Although we cannot return these items to their original context and recover that information, I am extremely pleased that the United States can return them today to Colombia due to the close cooperation between our two countries.
Just a couple of hours from now, the FBI will return 11 more items in Bogota on the opening day of a workshop and exhibit co-sponsored by the Department of State and Colombia’s Ministry of Culture.
The exhibit will celebrate years of collaboration between our countries since we first entered into a bilateral cultural property agreement in 2006 to protect archaeological and Colonial ecclesiastical materials from Colombia.
The concurrent workshop will bring together U.S. and Colombian law enforcement, cultural officials, and civil society to discuss strategies to increase protection of cultural heritage sites and objects.
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Cultural Heritage Center is happy to support this workshop through the Cultural Antiquities Task Force.
This is a program that focuses on training law enforcement and customs officials, as well as supporting local governments, museums, and preservationists around the world in the protection, recovery, and restoration of cultural antiquities.
Since its creation, the Task Force has supported more than 75 international and domestic cultural property training programs, including the seminar opening in Bogota today.
The Task Force represents our “One Government” approach to combatting cultural property trafficking; it includes six different federal agencies that share a common mission to combat trafficking in antiquities in the United States and abroad.
The work of the FBI that led to the repatriation today exemplifies this approach.
It is our hope that increased law enforcement and repatriations like this one will deter collectors in the United States from purchasing Colombian cultural material without the proper provenance information.
Reduced demand in the art market should reduce the incentive to loot cultural heritage sites in Colombia and elsewhere.
The United States is proud to partner with the Government of Colombia to fight looting and trafficking of cultural property.
Today’s ceremonies here and in Bogota and the corresponding exhibit illustrate the positive results we can achieve when we all work together toward a common goal.