U.S. Response:
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U.S. Protection of Aymara Textiles

Between March 14, 1989 and May 5, 1996, antique Aymara textiles from Coroma, Bolivia were restricted from entering the United States unless accompanied by an export permit issued by the Government of Bolivia. This U.S. action was taken in response to a request from the Government of Bolivia under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Notice of the U.S. restriction and a descriptive list of the textiles were published in the March 14, 1989, Federal Register by the U.S. Commissioner of Customs to implement a decision made by the United States Information Agency. Although the import restriction expired on May 5, 1996, unauthorized removal and transport of the Coroma textiles into the U.S. may be cause for invoking Section 308 (Articles of Stolen Cultural Property) of the Convention on the Cultural Property Implementation Act; each of the textiles is now photographed and documented.  

Antique textiles of Coroma are the product of the Aymara culture which pre-dates the arrival of the Incas to the Andean region. Coroma's textiles are garments resembling tunics, ponchos, capes, kerchiefs and shawls. They are woven from the hair of the alpaca, vicuna and other animals, and are naturally dyed. Very soft in texture and simple in design, the textiles contain woven messages and codes recording community events and concerns. Handed down from generation to generation, some dating from the 15th century, the garments are held communally and revered as symbols of humanity. They continue to play a prominent role in the social, political, economic and religious lives of the people of Coroma. Only in recent years have anthropologists learned that the antique textiles have been preserved in sacred bundles (q'epis) by the people of Coroma.  

The United States became a major market for these textiles--a market that stimulated the illicit taking and export of nearly half of Coroma's antique textiles. For almost a decade dealers traveled to Coroma and, through middlemen, acquired and exported the textiles in violation of Bolivia's export and ownership laws. The Bolivian middlemen were prosecuted and the community elders have taken strong steps against local citizens involved in the theft and illicit transport of the textiles. Coroma's elders have issued pleas to U.S. collectors and museums not to acquire their ancestral textiles and to return those already acquired. Two major repatriations have occurred.  

In reviewing Bolivia's request for protection of the textiles, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee found the record of the Aymara culture to be in jeopardy due to the dispersal and fragmentation of Coroma's antique textiles which were subjected to systematic fraudulent removal from their bundles in Coroma and exported illicitly from Bolivia. Consistent with the Committee's recommendation, the U.S. Information Agency determined that an emergency import restriction be imposed on the antique Aymara textiles. As noted above, that restriction has expired, but other laws may be applicable in their recovery should there be future unauthorized movement of these textiles into the United States.  

The U.S. emergency action stemmed the loss of textiles from Coroma. It also emboldened Bolivia to seek the recovery of textiles that entered the United States prior to the import restriction and to enhance measures to protect the textiles remaining in Bolivia. The Aymara Indians of Coroma have demonstrated a deep commitment to preventing further loss of the weavings and to promoting initiatives toward sustainable protection of the textiles. These initiatives include the development of a complete inventory of textiles, plans to build a small local museum, "a ritual place," and the production of an award-winning video of the story of the loss of their textiles that was shown throughout the United States and Bolivia. The Government of Bolivia enacted two Supreme decrees to enhance the protection of Coroma textiles. One decree expanded legal protection of textiles produced prior to 1950. The other decree provided that Coroma's sacred weavings would be returned to Coroma rather than housed in a national museum.   

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Revised: October 20, 1998

1989 Federal Register Notice 

The Recovery of Aymara Textiles 

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