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Jun 23, 2022

Belize and U.S. to Extend Agreement to Protect Artifacts

Completing an eight-day visit to Belize this week was Dr. Andrew Zonderman from the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center. The official’s visit was to assess the shared Cultural Property Agreement between Belize and the United States. This is an agreement that we have settled on since 2013, and first extended in 2018. Its objective is to protect Belize’s cultural artifacts from looting, theft, and trafficking into the U.S. It is also an agreement that Belize shares with Mexico, as well as Guatemala, and Director of Archaeology, Doctor Melissa Badillo explained how the artifacts are protected through this arrangement. News Five’s Marion Ali has this report.


Marion Ali, Reporting

Belize is known for its natural wonders, its people, and its culture – much of which has to do with our ancient history and what our archaeological sites represent. So to protect the artifacts that are found at these locations, we’re in the process of extending a joint agreement with the U.S., where most of our tourists hail from. This week, Dr. Melissa Badillo from the Department of Archaeology discussed with Dr. Andrew Zonderman of the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center, how these items can be traced.


Dr. Melissa Badillo

Dr. Melissa Badillo, Director of Archaeology

“Often times we have looting or incidents of illegal trafficking of antiquities from this region and it often ends up in the United States or transiting from the United States into Europe so this M.O.U. really would provide protection for those cultural properties to be returned to Belize. If at some point it gets to the United States, the counterpart agencies there would be able to stop them and we have that protection to have them returned back to Belize.”


Badillo says a lot of the stealing occurs at sites deeper in the forests that people destroy in order to loot, so tracing small artifacts taken from these sites is often times difficult to do, but it is possible.


Dr. Melissa Badillo

“With more and more technology at the airport, the scanning of your luggage and the scanning when you pass through – they’re doing electronic scanning now, so it is becoming easier and easier to identify these things at these checkpoint areas, so they can be picked up and the relevant agencies alerted at the airport. We’ve had several instances in Belize where our Customs officials actually stopped people from getting on the airplane because they found something in their luggage and then we were alerted and had to go there to authenticate these pieces.”


But while the U.S. and Belize have the agreement to protect our artifacts, there’s also the problem of locals finding these relics and holding onto them for future sales.


Dr. Melissa Badillo

“When it comes to your own back yard or somewhere outside of the archaeological reserves, there are often instances where people would find something (when) they’re making an addition to their house or doing some development that requires unearthing material, and you’d come across these things. Under the NICH Act, the legislation does provide for instances where people can apply for a private collector’s license. You submit the artifacts to our office, we do some background research on it and we provide you with a license that allows you to keep the artifacts that you found at your home. The license does not allow you to sell, it does not allow you to transfer it to anyone else, even if it’s your own family member. If you pass on, your family member will have to return that item to our office and get it re-registered in their name. It’s a license to keep the artifact. It doesn’t mean that you own it.”


Marion Ali For News Five


Based on Dr. Zonderman’s report that he will present to the U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee, the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, Lee Satterfield will make a final determination on whether the agreement will be extended.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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