Panama gives finger to UNESCO – faces loss of World Heritage listing

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A damning report on Panamanian government obfuscation and failure to meet its commitments  to Casco Viejo, has been issued by  the UN World Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


It calls for a halt to the work on the Cinta Costera extension, a six lane highway circling Casco Viejo, and predicts a withdrawal of the treasured  “World Heritage” designation, widely used in tourism promotion,

The text of the resolution to be discussed in St. Petersburg, Russia, on  June 26 by UNESCO’s Heritage Committee is blunt:  and says that Panama has been negligent in the administration of its historical sites, but with the issue of the coastal strip three authorities have gone further, have failed to meet their commitments to the regional organization.

The construction of the viaduct and landfills that the government of Ricardo Martinelli  has moved ahead with, were originally tendered as a tunnel  and will "directly impact" the  physical, environmental, acoustic and visual ambience of the -protected site.

Panamanian authorities were warned last year that the project "would cause irreversible damage to the exceptional value of the protected site."

Similarly the commitment of Panama to utilize expert advice of Unesco in the search for alternatives to avoid irreversible damage was ignored. Two expert missions, that were to have visited Panama  between September and November 2011 were canceled by the Government.

The reports contains an account of several requests to the authorities to consider the tunnel option, which was the project tendered by the Ministry of Public Works and awarded to the Norberto Odebrecht company or to look at other viable alternatives to  a viaduct around the heritage site.

  These requests collided with the Panamanian authorities' insistence to build the viaduct across the bay without presenting "justification, figures or data" that would support that decision.

"Other routes have not been taken seriously and there are no studies that give reason to discard them," says the document.

"We have been informed that the works have begun," it  adds.[The construction, which began from them Cinta Costera was originally described as a breakwater project]

Since 2009 Unesco has stressed the risks of phases two and three of the coastal strip, both works conducted by the government of Ricardo Martinelli.

"The viaduct project will irreversibly damage the exceptional and universal value of the site, its authenticity and integrity," says the draft resolution.

The creation of  an "artificial island of San Felipe and  the presidential palace," included in the project entails a “radical”  transformation "radical" of the seascape and all views to and from the historic center.

Panama Viejo, where the Ministry of Public Works bid for the construction of a new route" which runs through the monument, at a cost of over $130 million.

Both sites-Panama Viejo and Casco Viejo-are included in the same  Historical Sites declaration of Unesco, so they would lose their qualification.

Bothsites got the internationally respected recognition"World Heritage in 1997. The Casco Viejo recognition also includes the Bolivar Hall) in the exclusive list of ".

The proposed resolution affects both sites.

The document leaves no doubt of the frustration of UNESCO with the Panamanian authorities in the management of historical heritage, now crucially aggravated by the viaduct because it creates irreversible damage.

UNESCO officials have been clear: leaving the marine viaduct  in place will lead to the loss of the Heritage designation.they “will have  lost that status because of “conscious and premeditated acts of  the custodians

The exclusion, recommended by the Secretariat,  will take place, , the February 1, 2013, when the Panamanian government must submit a report on the final treatment that has has been given the historic site.

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