Twelve US congressmen mainly from Wisconsin and Texas have signed a letter to the State Department with a number of demands concerning recent and upcoming cultural property bilateral agreements with China, Cyprus, Italy and Greece. A facsimile of this letter on US Congress letterhead dated Sept 27th 2010, is posted on the Ancient Coin Collectors’ Guild website and it is difficult not to conclude that the ACCG’s lobbyists are behind this disgraceful initiative. I give a transcription of the full text with a longer discussion on my blog.
The authors question whether the State Department is properly respecting the “legislative intent” of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act This legislation which was drafted by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, furthers our national interest in promoting cultural access and trade which is central to our nation’s values”. The letter’s authors demand that “there should be no expansion of the MOU to include coins, commonplace items that stand outside the scope of the legislative intent behind CPIA”.
The twelve signatories are: Paul Ryan (R-WI), Thomas Petri (R-WI), John Culberson (R-TX), Michael Burgess (R-TX), Sam Johnson (R-TX), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), John Campbell (R-CA), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) , Rob Wittman (R-VA), John Spratt (D-SC) and Joe Courtney (D-CT). What is notable is that Ryan, Petrie and Culberson are recipients of ACCG Friends of Numismatics Awards.
Surely the “legislative intent” of an act called the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act is that it is intended to implement the measures laid down in the Convention mentioned in its title, in other words the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property. Certainly the intent of the Convention is the trade in illegally exported cultural property should not become “central” to the national values of any of the States party.
It seems to me that in their haste to prove themselves Friends of Numismatics by reducing the scope of the implementation of the 1970 Convention, these twelve seem to lost sight of some of those key national values. ‘Implementing the Convention’ surely means implementing the Convention and not implementing a law which in effect says the convention is all very fine but if we actually prohibit and prevent our citizens from being involved in the import of illicitly exported items and illicit transfer of cultural property, certain key national values are going to suffer. I wonder what those key values could be?
The illicit import and transfer of cultural property involves stealing. I hardly think theft from others is a key national value of the United States.
The illicit import and transfer of cultural property involves dishonourable trade practices, lies on the customs declaration forms, neither do I think dishonesty and dishonour can be considered a key American value.
The illicit import and transfer of cultural property taken from other countries is a deep disregard and disrespect for the rights of the citizens of the countries from which they are illegally removed, since when was disregard and disrespect for others a key US national value?
I wonder to what extent the twelve signatories of this letter are in fact aware that restrictions only apply to coins without documentation of legal export which can be supplied by two types of pieces of paper? There is no restriction on the movement through US borders of coins of the designated categories with the proper paperwork, nor of coins from those countries which do not fall in the designated categories. There is no sign in the letter that the Congressmen were appraised of this. On the contrary, from the wording of what they wrote it looks very much like that they had allowed themselves to be misinformed about the nature of the restrictions.
It seems to me that the 12 members of congress who signed this document are being wholly disingenuous when asserting that their letter is merely an attempt “to strengthen CPIA”. Their demands (they call them requests) are not only attempting to undermine the CCPIA, but also the intent of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Careful, the world is watching how US Congressmen value accession to an international Convention.
The ACCG urges “Ancient coin collectors who are represented in Washington by any of these Members of Congress are encouraged to contact the local or national offices and thank them for their support“. I believe that in the United States there are many who do not collect antiquities and care for the protection of the world’s archaeological record from commercial exploitation by looters to fuel the US no-questions-asked market in ancient artefacts. I hope that those who are represented in Washington by any of these twelve Members of Congress contact the local or national offices and ask them just what they think they are doing. Is that how they represent the decent folk of their nation?
Photos of the Friends of Numismatics receiving ACCG “Friends of Numismatics” wall plaques from the ACCG website.