Saturday 25 February 2012

Ancient Mayan Artifacts in US Stolen from Guatemala

ICE Agents have seized another bunch of illicit antiquities from Guatemala, and once again (apart from the hackneyed comparisons with Hollywood's Indiana Jones), the Disneyland media are going on about "repatriation". No wonder the local coineys over there are confused. The US public is once again are fed the usual feelgood report of the handing-over ceremony with the usual international hugs and kisses and the usual sanctimonious speech-making:
The eight artifacts were recovered by U.S. immigrations and customs agents. Six of the artifacts were discovered after they were flown into Houston, Texas and then abandoned when customs agents started asking questions. The other two made their way to an auction house in Boston, Mass. that co-operated with agents after import documents were not found. Friday, they made their way to the Guatemalan Embassy in Washington, D.C. “There are far too many art and antiquity thieves who know no bounds to immorality and are more than willing to go and loot and steal,” ICE Director John Morton said.
In the eyes of the Americans, it's all the brown folks' fault again isn't it? NOT, of course the US louts who bought them and tried to import them or trade them without the proper paperwork, why, they are just "blameless" innocents, aren't they?
The total value of the pieces was appraised at $20,000. [...] No arrests in the smuggling cases have been made, although federal agents say investigations are ongoing.
The same old story; the people who are financing the looting and keeping the smuggling channels open by buying stuff like this no-questions-asked (the USA has a bilateral cultural property MOU with Guatemala) are very probably going to get away scot-free, ready to buy some more dodgy artefacts. Perhaps the next few times, they will not get caught. In theory the penalties are severe under US law, those involved in the illicit trafficking of cultural property, art and antiquities can face prison terms of up to 20 years, fines and possible restitution to purchasers of the items. The US authorities boast that "since 2007, HSI has returned more than 2,500 artifacts to 23 countries including [...] artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq", and how many of the people trying to commit an illegal act with these 2500 artefacts are now in jail? .

Alex DeMetrick, 'Stolen Ancient Mayan Artifacts Being Returned To Guatemala', WJZ Eyewitness News, February 25, 2012

UPDATE 24.02.12:
ICE News Release: 'ICE and CBP return illegally exported cultural artifacts to Guatemala'.

The artifacts were seized following a 2011 investigation conducted by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Boston and a 2009 inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Houston.[...]
The ICE case began in January 2011, when the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture contacted HSI to request investigative assistance pertaining to objects at an auction house. The ministry had identified several antiquities at the Skinner Auction House in Marlborough, Mass., that they believed were the cultural property of the people of Guatemala. HSI also received leads from Interpol and the Department of Justice regarding a pending sale of the objects at the auction house.

On Feb. 4, 2011, HSI special agents served a summons requiring the auction house to turn over copies of all documents concerning four objects in question and to produce the objects for examination. Upon examination of the documents, HSI special agents discovered that there was no paperwork documenting the lawful importation into the United States or lawful exportation of the objects from Guatemala.

On Feb. 15, 2011, Dr. Charles Golden of the anthropology department at Brandeis University in Boston determined that, of four suspect artifacts, two Maya pre-Columbian ceramic pottery cylinders were genuine articles of antiquity of Maya origin from Guatemala.

HSI's investigation concluded that the two antiquities were removed from Guatemala in violation of Guatemalan law and brought into the United States in violation of U.S. customs laws and regulations. Specifically, the objects had been removed in violation of a bilateral agreement coordinated by the U.S. State Department, enacted in 1997, between the United States and Guatemala prohibiting the importation of pre-Columbian artifacts into the United States without proper export documents. HSI special agents seized the objects on June 16, 2011, and on Oct. 6, 2011 administrative forfeiture proceedings were officially concluded.

The CBP case began on Aug. 30, 2009, when a passenger arrived at Houston Intercontinental Airport from Guatemala with six artifacts that were declared as figurines. The person declaring them stated he had toured Maya ruins in Guatemala and purchased the artifacts. He explained that the local people in the villages were selling the artifacts to tourists and was told by his tour guide that they were legal to purchase. The passenger abandoned the artifacts which were seized by CBP.

Vignette: John Morton is White, he says its the Brown skinned foreign thieves that are the problem.

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