US Customs Returns Stolen Costa Rican Artifacts Back to Homeland


Three significant fragments of Costa Rican history have been successfully repatriated to their rightful home, following a six-year journey that began with an international voyage and ended with their unlawful arrival in the United States. The arduous process that led to their return was aided by the vigilant work of US Customs and Border Protection.

In December 2017, customs officers at Orlando International Airport uncovered the ancient artifacts in the possession of a central Florida resident. The person in question had traveled back from San Jose, Costa Rica. However, they had not declared these artifacts nor presented the valid documentation required to transport such significant items legally.

Upon closer inspection by CBP’s agricultural specialists, it emerged that the individual was suspected of ferrying protected artifacts from Costa Rica without proactively obtaining the necessary legal permissions. This irresponsible act amounted to theft from the nation’s cultural heritage, the authorities highlighted.

Once the CBP informed Costa Rica about the suspect artifice, the country was swift to petition for their return. Acting under its cultural patrimony laws, Costa Rica declared that these stolen artifacts were not personal items but belonged to the people of the country. Seeing merit in the petition, the CBP approved Costa Rica’s request for the return of its stolen treasures.

Historical evaluation of the objects reveals that they may have been employed in funerary or domestic scenarios during the era spanning 300 B.C to 880 A.D. This determination was made by the CBP.

National Museum of Costa Rica specialists inspected the artifacts and detailed their observations. One of the objects is a tripod pot, notable for its missing three supports and areas of red clay decoration contrasting with the natural color of the paste. The pot also features decorations modeled into shapes reminiscent of zoomorphic designs.

In contrast, the second artifact is a hollow support described as a raffle, uniquely adorned with a “zoomorphic motif”, specifically a mammal head. The third piece was a fragment of decoration that may have once belonged to a vase with high supports, they informed.

The reclamation of these invaluable artifacts was finalized when the Consul General of Costa Rica in Miami, the Honorable Ludmila Patricia Ugalde Simionova, accepted them on behalf of her country.

Simionova cautioned against the growing threat posed by looting and the illegal sale of antique objects, which jeopardize the preservation of the nation’s irreplaceable artifacts. She vigorously advocated for continued bilateral collaboration and joint initiatives to ensure the recovery and repatriation of Costa Rica’s stolen cultural treasures, underscoring the historical importance of these antiquities.

In January 2021, the US and Costa Rican governments drafted a Memorandum of Understanding focused on curbing the importation of archaeological material. This diplomatic agreement established safeguard measures to protect certain artifact types from being stolen and traded illegally. Henceforth, should the US Customs officers unearth artifacts that fall within the protected categories, they are duty-bound to ensure their return to Costa Rica.


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