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Arts & Culture

Why San Antonio's missions won't clear the UN's World Heritage List

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The San Antonio Franciscan missions' likelihood of making the prized World Heritage List — which includes cultural and natural sites such as the Grand Canyon and the Taj Mahal — got a boost last Friday when U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar endorsed their nomination at a press conference held at Mission Concepción. The announcement came during the three-day symposium of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), a scientific advisory group to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The Missions have been on a short list of 13 sites since 2008; after further review, only two nominations will be forwarded to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for consideration. If approved, the impact of World Heritage listing to tourism in the Alamo City would be huge — but don't celebrate yet. According to one ICOMOS leader touring SA, any nominations forwarded by the U.S. are likely to receive a chill reception. Why? Politics and money, of course. Last November, when UNESCO voted to admit Palestine as a member, the U.S. stopped a $60 million payment due UNESCO, citing a legal requirement to cut funding to any U.N. agency that recognizes a Palestinian state. And while the State Department claims that UNESCO is meddling in the bogged-down Middle East peace process, the rebuff to the international humanitarian agency seems in line with an American tradition: fear and distrust of the United Nations. If the Missions do make UNESCO's list, will troops in blue helmets parachute onto the Alamo?

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