of Understanding Between
The United States Cultural Property Advisory Committee
Pre-Hispanic archaeological sites in El Salvador represent three millennia of occupation, from 1500 B.C. to A.D. 1550, beginning with a culture that produced some of the earliest known Mesoamerican pottery. Pre-Hispanic archaeological objects include stone sculpture, ceramic polychrome vessels, figurines, stamp seals, drums and effigies. As a result of the extensive looting that the region has experienced, irreplaceable chapters of El Salvador's archaeological record have been destroyed. By 1987 looters had dug more than 5,000 pits in the Cara Sucia region alone, damaging or destroying burials, remains of structures, and other archaeological features which could have contributed to the knowledge of the region's pre-history.
The first bilateral cultural property agreement within the framework created by the U.S. Cultural Property Implementation Act and the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was signed on March 8, 1995, between the United States and El Salvador. This agreement restricts importation into the U.S. of El Salvador's pre-Hispanic archaeological objects unless accompanied by an export permit issued of the Government of El Salvador. The agreement demonstrates a will on the part of El Salvador to take measures that will improve domestic protection of its heritage and increase public understanding of the heritage that is unique to Salvadorans. It calls upon both countries to use their best efforts in furthering long-term strategies to protect these non-renewable cultural resources.
In December 1997, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee conducted an interim review of the subject Memorandum of Understanding, or agreement, pursuant to Section 306(g) of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act ("Act") and to Article IV of the agreement. The Committee had the opportunity to review this agreement preliminarily on the occasion of a historic joint meeting held October 1996 with the ministers of culture of Central American countries during which presentations were made by the delegation from El Salvador. [Note: This group of ministers forms the Coordinacion Educativa y Cultural Centroamericana, CECC, which endeavors to build regional cooperation in educational and cultural matters.] Additional information was provided the Committee when it met again in February and December 1997. Given the amount of information aggregated at this time, a more in-depth interim review is now possible. According to the Act: If the Committee finds, as a result of such review, that (A) cause exists for suspending the import restrictions imposed under an agreement; (B) the agreement is not achieving the purposes for which entered into or implemented; or (C) changes are required to this title in order to implement fully the obligations of the United States under the Convention; the Committee may submit a report to the Congress and the President setting forth its recommendations for suspending such import restrictions or for improving the effectiveness of the agreement, or for improving the effectiveness of this title. No such findings were made and this interim review does not represent a determination for possible extension of the agreement; it is a measure of the implementation of the agreement at this point in time.
The Committee took into consideration that El Salvador, like other of its neighbors in the region, has only recently come out of a protracted civil war. In this crucial time of rebuilding and democratization, resources and expertise are simply not in sufficient supply to enable full and immediate implementation of all provisions of the agreement. The provisions subject to review are found in Article II of the agreement, each repeated below.
A. The Government of the Republic of El Salvador will use its best efforts to permit the exchange of its archaeological materials under circumstances in which such exchange does not jeopardize its cultural patrimony.
The Committee learned that El Salvador has loaned objects to Germany for an exhibit. However, there are in excess of 10,000 objects in the collection of the National Museum. The building housing the National Museum was destroyed during an earthquake. As reported by Salvadoran cultural officials in the October 1996 meeting referred to above, the objects are in storage and plans are underway to properly catalog them in preparation for the new museum facility. The Committee also learned that El Salvador's National Council for Culture and the Arts (Consejo Nacional Para la Cultura y las Artes, or, CONCULTURA) is moving to establish local/regional museums. This will decentralize collections and enhance access by a larger segment of the population as well encourage grassroots museum development initiatives. Also, access to archaeological material continues to be provided to foreign archaeologists who are granted research permits. A member of the Committee said that dissemination of information through exhibition exchange was important and expressed concern that the national collection could remain "invisible" for a long period of time. The Committee found, however, that among the immediate tasks facing El Salvador is an evaluation of the collection. This must be undertaken before there can be serious efforts to make loans for exhibition or research purposes. The Committee recognized that a logical progression of professional practices had to occur in view of the lack of trained museum professionals, conservators, etc. in El Salvador. As the Committee's Chairman noted, the proper sequence of steps seems to be unfolding: the security of the collection in a climatically controlled environment; the cataloguing and intellectual control of it; and the assessment of it for conservation purposes. Only then, he said, can cultural officials think about opportunities to share access to the collection through exchanges which will require agreements, crating and shipping criteria, as well as the identification of partner institutions that will have enough familiarity with the material to be able to interpret it and install it.
B. The representatives of the Government of the United States of America will participate in joint efforts with representatives of the Government of the Republic of El Salvador to publicize this Memorandum of Understanding.
The signing ceremony for the agreement was held in Washington and was covered by USIA's Worldnet television broadcasting service, the Voice of America, USIA's wireless file, and Latin American press. A broadcast feed to Latin American posts was made by Worldnet. USIA's Office of Public Liaison distributed information about the agreement to domestic press and a mailing was made to cultural officials and institutions both in the U.S. and abroad. The diplomatic corps also received information about the agreement. In San Salvador there was also extensive press coverage. UNESCO distributed a special information sheet on the agreement and an article appeared in IFAReports in April 1995. Ongoing distribution of information about the
agreement occurs at various domestic and international gatherings concerned with the illicit trade in cultural objects.
C. The Government of the United States of America will use its best efforts to facilitate technical assistance in cultural resource management and security to El Salvador, as appropriate under existing programs in the public and/or private sectors.
The Committee found that this agreement is very much a partnership between two countries and the USIS post in San Salvador has been calling upon USIA program support to implement this provision of the agreement. For example, the director of CONCULTURA, Roberto Galicia, came to the U.S. at the invitation of USIA to acquaint himself with comparable organizations in the U.S. and become familiar with professional management practices. In addition, a representative of the U.S. National Committee for the International Council on Monuments and Sites (US/ICOMOS) was sent by USIA to advise CONCULTURA about establishing its new historic register. The expert also focused attention on archaeological sites and offered a strategy for using the GPS (Global Positioning System) to determine where, how many, and how large the sites are. Archaeologists, the expert emphasized, will need to develop plans for rescue archaeology and undertake other scientific measures to safeguard the sites. He also discussed the need for disaster preparedness (the national museum was destroyed by an earthquake), and the need to produce and store archival photographs. Other technical assistance was provided by USAID which sponsored rescue archaeology projects carried out by U.S. archaeologists along areas where new roads are planned in El Salvador.
Further, the new director of CONCULTURA's Cultural Inventory and Registers has come to the U.S. as a guest of USIA to visit federal, state and local governments having responsibility over historic sites and preservation, and to visit historical societies to gain specific information on how to maintain registers and records and how information is collected. A Smithsonian Institution specialist in inventories and objects registration was sponsored by USIA to advise CONCULTURA about an inventory and registry of objects. A U.S. specialist in museum security has provided advice to CONCULTURA on security design for the new museum.
Plans are for a new director of El Salvador's museums to be named in the coming year. In the interim, Maria Isaura Arauz of CONCULTURA is guiding the museum work. USIA is assisting El Salvador in identifying a specialist in museum collection management to provide expertise in this needed activity.
D. Both countries will seek to encourage academic institutions, non-governmental institutions and other private organizations to cooperate in the interchange of knowledge and information about the cultural patrimony of El Salvador, and to collaborate in the preservation and protection of such cultural patrimony through appropriate technical assistance, training, and resources.
The Committee learned that in addressing the need for private sector initiatives in the area of
cultural preservation, USIA sponsored a speaker program in El Salvador on the subject of fund-raising for NGOs. El Salvador has created a new private foundation - FUNDAR - dedicated to the promotion and support of archaeology in the country. Also, a prospective university affiliation is being explored between Nashville's Vanderbilt University and Albert Einstein University in El Salvador to develop a 2-3 year technical degree program in basic archaeology. There is one trained archaeologist in El Salvador and that individual is in the United States earning an advanced degree. Foreign archaeologists continue to work in El Salvador under government permits. Among the Fulbright scholars sent to El Salvador in 1997 under USIA auspices, one was an archaeologist. Archaeologists from Harvard, as mentioned earlier, conducted rescue archaeology operations where new roads were proposed to be built.
New scholarly publications were brought to the Committee's attention: El Salvador: Antiguas Civilizaciones, William Fowler, Vanderbilt, published by Banco Agricola Comercial, 1995; and Caluco: Historia y Arqueologia de un Pueblo Pipil en el Siglo XVI, William Fowler, Vanderbilt, published by Patronato Pro-Patrimonio Cultural, 1996.
The Committee learned that El Salvador has received some foreign support. For example, Japan is sponsoring archaeological work at the Pre-Classic site of Casa Blanca; and, the Spanish government is considering possible assistance to the site of San Andres.
The Committee was pleased that El Salvador sent two delegates to participate in the joint Cultural Property Advisory Committee/Central American Coordinating Body on Culture and
Education meeting, Los Angeles, October 1996. This allowed El Salvador to share information about its efforts with its regional neighbors. As a follow up, The Getty Conservation Institute has sponsored another meeting for Central American cultural officials in Los Angeles, August 1997. This conference, in which El Salvador participated, focused on site management issues.
Tangentially related to this agreement, a U.S. paintings conservator, under USIA sponsorship, assisted in the restoration of 12 paintings in the collection of the National Museum and in the process facilitated the training of five Salvadoran restorers.
E. The Government of the Republic of El Salvador will use its best efforts to effect, as soon as possible, final approval and promulgation of its regulations to implement its 1993 Special Law for the protection of the Cultural Heritage, especially those related to the registration and export of cultural property, and the granting of excavation permits; and will use its best efforts to proceed expeditiously with the registration of cultural property as required by its law.
The Committee learned that promulgation has taken place. A registry is being developed of the public cultural patrimony (100,000 artifacts, buildings and archaeological sites). A similar registry is being planned for items in private hands. The director of CONCULTURA has indicated that this will be difficult to accomplish fully until such time as the private sector has developed a level of trust in the government authorities responsible for protecting cultural heritage. Such a level of trust will enable the access needed so that registration can be accomplished. Archaeologists in El Salvador report that CONCULTURA is taking very seriously the matter of cataloging cultural objects. (See previous information about relevant specialists sent to El Salvador and professional visits by Salvadorans to the U.S. to gather information and expertise.)
As noted, excavation permits are granted to foreign archaeologists. The Committee learned about an unfortunate incident concerning Guatemalan archaeologists who were expelled for alleged pillaging. It was learned that export controls are in effect but the Committee will want to learn more about their implementation.
F. The Government of the Republic of El Salvador will continue, and strengthen where possible, its efforts to educate the public regarding its 1993 Special Law and the importance of protecting archaeological sites.
As already noted, press and media coverage occurred in connection with the signing of the agreement. Recently, the Director of Historic Records and a U.S. objects registration specialist gave a public interview in El Salvador about the importance of leaving archaeological objects in situ, warning that otherwise there will be an irretrievable loss of information about human development. As further indication of efforts to inform the public, airport signage is now in place in San Salvador. The expulsion of foreign archaeologists for alleged pillaging served to raise public consciousness about the damage resulting from pillage, for this incident caused a considerable public furor. Roberto Galicia and Maria Isaura Arauz of CONCULTURA reportedly declared "war on cultural crime" indicating their intention to crackdown on pillage. Galicia and Isaura publicly denounced new evidence of looting and cited the US/El Salvador MOU in this interview. They had discussions with airport officials about stepped up inspections and placing an expert at the airport to assist in monitoring activities. They have proposed to hold training sessions for security guards at the airport and at ground border crossing points.
G. In order to re-establish public and scholarly access to the collections in the "David J. Guzman" National Museum which suffered structural damage during an earthquake, the Government of the Republic of El Salvador will use its best efforts to reopen the Museum at the earliest practicable time.
In perhaps the most remarkable outcome of the bilateral agreement, CONCULTURA proposed to the national congress of El Salvador the re-establishment of the national museum, using this provision of the agreement as a stimulus for action. The national congress approved the reconstruction of a national museum and appropriated funds for it. CONCULTURA held an architectural competition for the new museum project. Construction will begin soon and is expected to be completed by early 1999. Exhibits for the permanent installation are being planned now along with other preparations regarding professional development as noted earlier.
In another initiative, the Committee also learned that a new site museum was established at the San Andres pyramids by Patronato Pro-Patrimonio Cultural, an NGO, with funds provided by CONCULTURA and private sources. The museum has four exhibition rooms, an indoor theater, an outdoor amphitheater, a souvenir store, restrooms and a restaurant.
H. The Government of the Republic of El Salvador will endeavor to strengthen cooperation within Central America, and especially with immediately neighboring states, for the protection of the cultural patrimony of the region.
El Salvador is a party to the three regional cultural property agreements developed among the nations of Central America. It is also an active participant in the regional CECC meetings and has on occasion served as a venue for these meetings.
The Committee noted El Salvador's participation, with its Central American neighbors, in the Joint CPAC/CECC meeting in Los Angeles, October 1996, hosted by The Getty Conservation Institute. As demonstrated at this meeting, El Salvador has offered to assist any of its neighbors in the preparation of a cultural property request to the United States in fulfillment of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1994 Summit of the Americas action plan to protect cultural heritage. The Salvadoran delegates, Mr. Galicia and Ms. Isaura made a visual presentation to their fellow delegates about their own request and their efforts to self-assess what has been done and what needs to be done to build stronger internal defenses against looting. The Committee recalled Mr. Galicia as saying at that time, "...We are the problem, too, and we have to educate our people."
Article I A, below, is also subject to review.
Article I A. Implementation of the import restriction.
As noted earlier, export controls are in effect in El Salvador and U.S. import restrictions are enforceable by U.S. Customs. On March 10, 1995, U.S. Customs published notice in the Federal Register of the designated list of representative objects that are restricted from entering the U.S. unless accompanied by an export certificate issued by El Salvador. Cultural property staff is not aware of any interdictions to date. Authorities in El Salvador have identified certain individuals, Salvadoran and American, suspected of illicitly exporting from El Salvador and importing into the U.S. material protected by this import restriction. Names have been provided to the Customs services of both countries. Currently, U.S. Customs is conducting an ongoing investigation into the activities of at least one of the individuals.
It is reported that looting continues in parts of El Salvador, particularly the northern and western sections. The Committee is concerned about ongoing looting and will want to examine this problem more closely as more information becomes available. The Committee understands the difficultly in quantifying looting and recognizes that three years is not sufficient time to find out or get an impression as to whether there has been a reduction in looting. Nevertheless, it believes there must be a constant awareness and re-examination of this problem and international cooperation is important. The view was offered that if the problem was not getting worse and is stabilizing, this may also have value.
The Committee found an abundance of good faith efforts and successes thus far with respect to implementation of this agreement. It expressed its surprise and pleasure for all the activities underway and found USIA's efforts in partnership with El Salvador to be impressive. It commended the work of the USIS post in San Salvador and the enthusiastic efforts among Salvadoran cultural and political leaders for vigorous implementation of the agreement in the face of scarce resources. The Committee considers this interim report "good news" and hopes that it will be shared with other countries and interested parties.