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US Customs Returns Smuggled Costa Rican Antiquities

In a repatriation ceremony, three ancient relics from Costa Rica’s Caribbean region were returned to the country after being confiscated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials in 2017. The items date back over 2,000 years and provide a glimpse into the lives and rituals of Costa Rica’s pre-Columbian peoples.

The artifacts, which include a tripod pot, hollow rattle, and vase decoration fragment, were seized at the Orlando International Airport from a passenger traveling from Deltona, Florida without proper documentation for the protected cultural objects. Experts from the National Museum of Costa Rica were able to identify the relics as originating from between 300 B.C. and 880 A.D. based on their style and composition.

Costa Rica subsequently filed a claim asserting the items had been illegally acquired and requesting their repatriation back to their homeland. After years of negotiation, this was finally accomplished last week when Costa Rica’s Consul General in Miami officially received the artifacts in a ceremony recognizing the significance of their return.

Robert Del Toro, Acting Director of CBP’s Miami and Tampa Field Office, affirmed the agency’s commitment to “reducing the illicit trafficking of art and antiquities” by returning these pieces of Costa Rica’s cultural heritage. He stated that while looters may try to sell these relics on the billion dollar black market for stolen antiquities, their true value lies in displaying them proudly in Costa Rica where they can educate future generations.

The CBP director also highlighted the significant role of customs agents in protecting archaeological artifacts and global history by identifying and interdicting smuggled items. The careful work of CBP staff in spotting and investigating the suspicious passenger in Orlando allowed them to discover and confiscate the invaluable Costa Rican relics.

Thanks to the agencies’ efforts, these three precious artifacts can now be repatriated and preserved in Costa Rica’s National Museum. Once returned, they will continue to provide insights into the rituals and lives of the region’s pre-Columbian inhabitants who created and used them over 2,000 years ago.

Beyond their historical significance, the reclaimed relics also represent Costa Rica’s ongoing fight against theft and illegal trafficking of its cultural heritage.

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