10.03.2014 - UNESCO La Habana

UNESCO expresses its concern for the theft of works of art in Cuba and Guatemala

The UNESCO Regional Office for Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Havana, expresses its concern for the recent events linked to the theft of works of art in Guatemala and Cuba and strongly condemns these actions that endanger the integrity of the cultural heritage of both countries by introducing them into the national and international illicit market of cultural property.

According the official statement issued by the National Council for Cultural Heritage of Cuba (Consejo Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural de Cuba-CNPC), an important number of paintings were stolen from the warehouse of the National Fine Arts Museum in the Cuban capital. The date of the theft is uncertain due to the fact that the theft was done with no signs of intrusion into the building.

The statement also declares that the pieces were the work of Cuban artists from the period of transition between the academy and the avant-garde movement, including many by painter Leopoldo Romañach.

The inventory and photographs of the stolen works are available to relevant national and international authorities so that immediate action can be taken to warn museums curators, galleries and auction houses about this regrettable event. 

In Guatemala, the theft occurred in the Catholic church of El Calvario – in the colonial city of Antigua – 45 km west of the capital - where six canvases by 18th century painter Tomas de Merlo were violently removed along with other religious artifacts that belong to the country’s national heritage, as reported by the unit to fight illicit traffic of cultural property in Ministry of Culture of Guatemala.
In a press release issued by the UNESCO representative in that Central American country, the organization condemns this illicit act and confirms that UNESCO will “mobilize efforts and all international mechanisms available to contribute to the recovery of these invaluable works of art.".

Through the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property of 1970, the Organization fights this phenomena by insisting on the elaboration of inventories, export certificates, trade monitoring, the imposition of penal or administrative sanctions and on educational campaigns, as well as by encouraging countries to take appropriate steps to recover any such cultural property and return it to the countries of origin through international cooperation.
Among the actions developed by UNESCO, the recently published magazine Culture and Development Nº 10, is completely devoted to this subject with contributions by international experts from UNIDROIT, INTERPOL, ICOM and the Andean Community, as well as UNESCO officials. This special issue also includes experiences and mechanisms put in place to fight illicit traffic of cultural objects by countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, and Saint Maarten. It also publishes the results of capacity building workshops that were carried out by UNESCO in the Latin America and Caribbean region in Saint Lucia, Lima, Buenos Aires and Asunción to train police forces, museum curators, customs officials, cultural managers and magistrates on the means to prevent and fight this traffic through the effective implementation of the UNESCO Convention of 1970 as well as other international mechanisms available to Member States.

As expressed on March 15th, 2011 on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the 1970 Convention by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO “the theft, pillage and illicit trade of artifacts are the outright negation of peoples. They reduce history to the level of merchandise. They are seriously detrimental, and often irreversibly so, to the collective memory, social cohesion and to mutual enrichment.” 

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