On October 9 and 10, 1996, the GCI hosted the first international meeting to convene at the new Getty Center. At the invitation of Miguel Angel Corzo, the Institute's director, the U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee and a group of ministers of culture and other Officials from the Central American Educational and Cultural Coordinating Group (CECC) gathered to discuss import restrictions on cultural artifacts coming into the United States. cecc members shared with the advisory committee their cultural property protection needs and their efforts to build cooperation through bilateral and multilateral agreements. The meeting participants also reviewed a draft of guidelines for measures each nation could take to protect threatened cultural resources.
This was the first time the Central American Officials collectively met with a U.S. government advisory committee to discuss measures to stop the loss of cultural patrimony stemming from the looting of archaeological sites and from illicit trade. The Cultural Property Advisory Committee, whose work is administered by the U.S. Information Agency, is appointed by the president of the United States to assist in implementing U.S. participation in the 1970 UNESCO Convention, a framework of international cooperation to reduce the pillaging and illicit movement of cultural property. Mr. Corzo was appointed by President Clinton to the Advisory Committee in January 1995.
"The looting of cultural objects impoverishes all of us, not only the nations of origin," said Mr. Corzo. "We in the United States need to do all we can to assist those nations grappling with the problem by working to improve their ability to combat looting and by applying vigorous measures to halt the importation of stolen items into this country."
At the close of the first day of the meeting, Dr. Martin Sullivan, chairman of the advisory committee, called the gathering "historic." He characterized the illicit trade in Central American art, particularly in archaeological material, as "a monstrous criminal activity which has put into severe jeopardy the cultural heritage of many countries."
Among the themes that emerged from the meeting was the need to decrease demand for illicit items by creating greater public awareness of the problem. This includes educating tourists, collectors, and others regarding the loss of historical knowledge and cultural development that results from the looting of archaeological sites.
It also includes encouraging local communities in Central America to become more involved in protecting their cultural patrimony. El Salvador has been particularly active in this regard. It has established Houses of Culture in 112 of its 262 municipalities, with programs designed to make the protection of cultural heritage a local concern "so that the entire country, once it has been involved, will be able to defend what belongs to it," said Roberto Galicia, President of the National Council of Culture and the Arts of El Salvador. "We are managing a very simple concept," he said. "We're telling people that a country that destroys its memories loses its past."