Tuesday, June 26, 2018

State Department Propaganda Magazine

The US State Department's Propaganda Magazine

The current (June 2018) issue features an 8 page article about the Cultural Heritage Center

Cultural Heritage Center
Preserving and Protecting the World's Historic Treasures

By Erin Concors

The following is an extract from the article:

Protecting Cultural Heritage for Future Generations

In addition to the Cultural Heritage Center’s oversight of more than 130 active Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation projects worldwide, the Center manages 17 bilateral cultural property protection agreements.

The United States is one of approximately 134 states party to a 1970 UNESCO convention on cultural property that facilitates collaboration to prevent the theft of culturally significant archaeological and ethnological material. Such theft deprives nations of their cultural identity and encourages unscientific digging that destroys the archaeological context in which the cultural materials are found. In 1983, in support of the convention, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). Under this legislation, countries may request that the U.S. government work with them to protect their
archaeological and ethnological items through agreements that impose import restrictions at ports of entry to the United States on cultural objects without export certifications. 

Such agreements also benefit bilateral relationships by supporting economic development through tourism, increasing local skills and employment, and enhancing law enforcement cooperation.

The first actions taken under CPIA protected cultural property from El Salvador, Bolivia, Peru and Guatemala. All of these countries suffered from catastrophic looting and violence that fed the international art market in the 1980s. Over time, the situation in these countries improved, as incentive to loot was reduced and nations took steps to protect their own heritage. However, other regions suffer increasing threats. In 2016, in response to rampant looting of its cultural sites at a time of political upheaval, Egypt became the first country in the Bureau
of Near Eastern Affairs region to sign a bilateral cultural property agreement with the United States. AFCP also supports several tangible and intangible conservation projects in Egypt including the preservation of wooden coffins at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the restoration of the 13th-century al-Imam al-Shafi’i
Mausoleum in Cairo’s “City of the Dead”—the prominent burial place of Sunni Islam’s foremost moderate figure and the founder of one of its schools of jurisprudence.

Similarly, in Cambodia, U.S. government support to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the ancient temple of Phnom Bakheng reflect a holistic approach to protecting cultural heritage that includes conserving these sites for future generations.

The Phnom Bakheng temple was built between the ninth and 10th centuries in the ancient Khmer city of Angkor, now an archaeological park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prior to receiving U.S. government support, it was at risk of destruction by erosion and humidity. As urban development has rapidly
accelerated in Cambodia’s urban centers, the risk of looting and trafficking of precious heritage items has become a growing problem—thus the country’s cultural patrimony is protected through the important restrictions enforced by the bilateral agreement that was first signed in 2003.

Libya became the most recent partner country when it signed a bilateral cultural property agreement Feb. 23 in Washington, D.C. The Department first began partnering with Libya through a 2005 AFCP project grant that preserved the archaeological and photographic collections of Cyrene, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since then, the Department has significantly increased and expanded its support for conservation and capacity-building in Libya by providing training to diverse groups including Libyan law enforcement and leaders of the Libyan Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

State Boosts Interagency Training Efforts to Combat Looting and Trafficking

While AFCP and the cultural property agreements often address the problems of looting after the fact, another program administered by the Cultural Heritage Center addresses the prevention side of antiquities trafficking. 

The Cultural Antiquities Task Force (CATF), established in 2004 by Congress and integrated into the CHCC in 2016, supports a results-oriented “One Government” approach to countering the criminal networks that traffic in cultural property. Chaired by the Cultural Heritage Center, the CATF supports hands-on training for both domestic and international law enforcement and cultural heritage professionals. One country of focus for such training is Peru.

Looting of cultural heritage sites poses an ongoing threat in Peru, as thieves target churches for their Colonial-era paintings, icons and religious items, and search for pre-Columbian and Inca pottery and textiles at other sites. In recent years, with the support of the CATF, the U.S. Embassy in Lima has cooperated with the Peruvian Ministry of Culture and archdioceses to train priests, nuns and lay persons in local laws for cultural heritage protection and in preventative measures against theft and trafficking. CATF-sponsored trainings have increased awareness among lay persons and law enforcement officials about the problem of cultural antiquities trafficking and its links to criminal networks. A partnership between the Department, DHS and the Smithsonian Institution, led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement–Homeland Security Investigations, has trained hundreds of law enforcement officers on cultural property investigative methods and proper documentation and handling of artifacts.

As the threat to cultural heritage worldwide increases, the work of the Cultural Heritage Center becomes even more important to advancing foreign policy goals. Through the center’s efforts, the United States is able to promote stability, economic development and good governance in partner countries, while denying critical financing to terrorist organizations and other criminal networks that engage in illicit trade.

Erin Concors is a strategy and outreach officer in the Cultural Heritage Center


To really understand the pervasive anti-collecting and anti-trade bias that saturates every aspect of the Cultural Heritage Center and its activities, it is essential to read this sort of propaganda very carefully.

  • ... the Center manages 17 bilateral cultural property protection agreements.
Nowhere does this presentation indicate that such agreements were very clearly defined as being last-resort emergency measures intended to provide temporary relief from "rampant looting of ... cultural sites."

The 1983 CCPIA (the authorizing law for the Cultural Heritage Center and its activities) provides that each such agreement must be periodically reviewed:
"Agreements are in effect for five years, and may be extended, following a statutory process that includes a review by the Cultural Property Advisory Committee."

See A. Section 303 (19 U.S.C. § 2602): Authority to Enter into Agreements

These import restriction agreements have however been converted by the Cultural Heritage Center into ongoing programs, each of which is "managed" as though it will go on forever without any prospect of ever being discontinued. In fact, no "cultural property protection agreement" has ever been allowed to lapse. Renewal has in reality become an automatic process that follows a pro-forma ritual whose outcome has been predetermined.
  • ... another program administered by the Cultural Heritage Center addresses the prevention side of antiquities trafficking.
Nowhere does this presentation indicate that there is a licit international trade in antiquities, nor does it indicate that antiquities collecting is an important aspect of "cultural heritage." The presentation instead refers only to "the problem of cultural antiquities trafficking and its links to criminal networks," without ever indicating that the great majority of "cultural antiquities" transactions are licit exchanges between responsible, ethical collectors and the licit trade that supplies them. This presentation instead suggests that international "cultural antiquities" transactions are "illicit" criminal activities.