To combat the looting of Belize’s archeological sites, the Government of Belize has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States government to place restrictions on the illegal importation and exportation of archeological material.
U.S. Ambassador to Belize H.E. Vinai Thummalapally and Minister of Tourism and Culture Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr. signed the agreement at the House of Culture in Belize City on Wednesday.
In his address Ambassador Thummalapally said, “If you can address the market and protect and keep people from buying stolen goods, that’s how you make progress towards preventing them from stealing in the first place.”
Eric Hayden, public relations officer for the U.S. Embassy told the Reporter that the signing of the MOU relates to specific areas of the 1970 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property.
The Reporter spoke with the director of the Institute of Archeology for National Institute of Culture and History (NICH), Dr. Jaime Awe, who drafted the agreement.
He explained that the signing of the agreement was the culmination of years of work dating back to 2008 when he began drafting the proposal to send to the U.S. government. He said the proposal was submitted in 2010, was reviewed and sent back for minor modifications in 2011.
He also explained that to ensure broad-based protection of Belize’s cultural property, he made a comprehensive list of articles to be safeguarded under the agreement, including articles made of bone, stone, shell, clay, ceramic, wood and metal. The list is not limited to Mayan artifacts, but includes all cultural property linked to Belize.
He went on to say that with the signing, U.S. law enforcement personnel such as Customs and Homeland Security agents can arrest and charge offenders found with illegal Belizean artifacts. He emphasized that this was not possible prior to the signing. He concluded by sharing that the signing is only a part of a much larger campaign to protect Belize’s archeological sites from looting and that NICH will be mobilizing a public awareness campaign later this year.