Since 2019, UNESCO has established November 14 as the International Day Against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property. This event reminds the world that the looting, theft and trafficking of this heritage takes place in all countries, stripping people of their culture, history and identity.
Likewise, it seeks to make this crime even more visible, create awareness about the theft and illegal trade of cultural property, as well as about ways to combat such unlawful conduct, through international, bilateral or multilateral cooperation, permanent campaigns, embassies or international organizations. , fight against the trafficking of stolen or illicitly exported cultural heritage, to mention a few actions.
Architectural, pictorial, sculptural works and other elements with exceptional cultural, historical and universal value are considered cultural assets. UNESCO calculated in 2020 that, in economic terms, the illicit trade in this type of heritage ranked third in illegal activities, only surpassed by illegal drug trafficking and arms trafficking. He specified that the resources obtained by such activity are frequently used to finance terrorism and organized crime.
This illegal trade in the cultural heritage of peoples occurs in black markets around the world or in other legal ones, such as auctions, and even through the Internet. In 2021, it reached an amount of around 10 billion dollars, according to figures from UNESCO itself.
Although there are international laws and conventions on the matter, such as the Convention on the Measures to be Adopted to Prohibit and Prevent the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (of 1970) or the Unidroit Convention on Cultural Property Stolen or Illicitly Exported (from 1995), greater efforts are required to make these regulations more effective in practice and, thus, for example, advance in the preparation of national inventories, create specialized police units and act under the premise that all good stolen cultural heritage must be returned.
Since 2018, the government of President López Obrador has made the recovery of national heritage and assets one of its priorities. Since then, 8,970 pieces of heritage have been recovered. One of the most recent repatriations was possible thanks to a Spanish family that, voluntarily and anonymously, returned 2,522 pre-Hispanic pieces to our country. Among the returned objects are stone figures, whorls, molcajetes, seals, metates, and flint and obsidian stone material.
The Government of Mexico established three strategies to recover our cultural heritage: voluntary surrender, confiscations and cancellation of auctions. In the latter, the approach that has prevailed in terms of rights is that Mexico must prove that the origin of what is auctioned is illegal, but currently the federal government promotes and defends the argument that those who auction must show the legal origin of what is auctioned. that they intend to auction.
Although in Mexico the Federal Law on Monuments and Archaeological, Artistic and Historical Zones contemplates that all heritage assets belong to the State, to the nation, this is not necessarily the case in other countries. For example, in France, the law recognizes the owner of the property as the owner and assumes their good faith; In the United States, if someone owns a good or piece of this nature, it is already a private object, that is, it is their property.
In any case, the recovery of the heritage and cultural assets of Mexico is a common task of the Government, institutions and citizens, to continue understanding and building the greatness of our country and our native peoples.
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