Panama Rejects Jungle Highway Due to Eco, Culture Concerns

Lorne Matalon in Panama City, Panama
for National Geographic News
October 14, 2005

Photo Gallery: Battle Over the Darién Gap >>

Panamanian officials are resisting pressure to build a road through a pristine wilderness straddling North and South America.

Indigenous leaders and environmentalists are pleased, saying a road through the Darién Gap, so named because of the gap it represents in the Pan-American Highway, would threaten biodiversity in the region and open it up to increased violence and drug trafficking.

But they stress that Panama's rejection is only guaranteed through 2009, the end of the current Panamanian president's five-year term.

During a recent meeting in Panama of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), Colombian President Alvaro Uribe publicly called for construction of a road to connect his nation with Panamanian and North American markets.

"Sooner or later the road must be built," Uribe said. "We want it built in this generation so that we can travel the road and not have to see it from heaven," meaning after his lifetime.

Uribe says a road would mitigate the economic ravages of a decades-long conflict in his country by allowing Colombian goods to move north at less cost.

"I am hoping public opinion in Panama can be changed," Uribe said, referring to polls that show Panamanians are solidly against the idea.

Colombian Appeal Rejected

Panama's president, Martin Torrjos, has spoken out forcefully against the proposal.

"I won't make any decision on the road during my term," he said. "We have many questions that must be answered before we can even think of building a road."

Previously Torrijos had said he would "study the request."

Continued on Next Page >>


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