Central America initiate reflection on the challenges of illicit trafficking in cultural property in relation to money laundering

The illicit trafficking of cultural property is increasingly associated with money laundering, the financing of organized crime and terrorism, to the detriment of the cultural heritage of the victim communities and their development. Taking this into account and with the interest of addressing this problem from a regional perspective, the Educational and Cultural Coordination of the Central American Integration System (CECC/SICA) and the organization Crime Stoppers Caribbean, Bermuda and Latin America, have organized the online seminar “The Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property and Works of Art Linked to Money Laundering in Central America and the Dominican Republic” in which UNESCO participated with its expertise in this area.

This activity, which took place on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, provided a space for reflection and exchange between the Ministries of Culture of the SICA region to promote the agenda against illicit trafficking of cultural property from a transnational organized crime approach. It was attended by around 40 representatives of the technical staff of the Ministries of Culture in the areas of legal advice, cultural heritage, museology, art and citizenship of the eight countries of the SICA region.

The seminar included presentations by specialists in the field, such as Mrs. Inmaculada Corcho Gómez, Director of the ABC Museum of Drawing and Illustration in Madrid, Spain; Mr. Alejo Campos, Regional Director of Crime Stoppers and Mr. Daniel Vázquez Llorens, Inspector of the Central Unit of Economic and Fiscal Crime of the National Police of Spain. On behalf of UNESCO, Ms. Caroline Munier, Culture Program Specialist of the UNESCO Cluster Office in San José, gave a presentation on the 1970 Convention in the context of the SICA Region.

The activity was also attended by Mr. Julio Carranza Valdéz, Director a.i. of the UNESCO Cluster Office in San José and Director of the UNESCO Office in Guatemala, who highlighted the many facets of this complex challenge, which not only harms the communities that are the repositories of the trafficked cultural property, but also poses a threat to international peace and security. Mr. Carlos Staff, Executive Secretary of CECC/SICA, called for the incorporation of education and culture into security strategies to combat organized crime, since ignorance of the value of culture in its deepest dimension is one of the factors behind the illicit trafficking of cultural property.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue worsened due to the increase of illegal excavations in archaeological sites and the looting of museums caused by the closure of cultural spaces. Also, the online sale of illegally trafficked goods has increased during this period. UNESCO is permanently carrying out training and awareness-raising activities around the world, within the framework of the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which for more than 50 years has been the legal framework of reference for combating this scourge against culture at the international level.

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