Casco Viejo dodged the bullet in St Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, June 28, but Portobelo and San Lorenzo San SaLorenzo were moved onto UNESCO’S black list of endangered heritage sites.
Casco Viejo got off the hook after proposals submitted by the Government of Panama said that work had not begun on the construction of the third stage of the Cinta Costera, a statement questioned by local civic groups who point to clearly visible works reaching out into the Bay from Avenida Balboa.
Representatives of the Government once again expressed interest in working with agents of UNESCO to ensure the preservation of the status of the Old Town, although the organization’s attempts to meet with the government in Panama had been stalled.
Thedecision of Unesco does not necessarily imply approval of the road expansion.
The six lane highway road corridor similar to the South Corridor, would be located between 300 and 400 meters from Casco Viejo and has generated controversy among civic groups society, as many believe it will endanger the cultural integrity of the historic center.
A press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it will work ceaselessly with the Board of Portobelo and San Lorenzo to improve the sites, consolidate, preserve, protect and restore their value so important to the world."
The document specifies that Panama recognizes the need for international support and technical cooperation for the restoration of this cultural asset in the short, medium and long term
UNESCO reiterated its concern about the situation of the sites due to the rapid degradation of its buildings.
Orgullo Panama, an organization of 15 civic groups which have been opposed the construction of the road encircling Casco Viejo and favors the original suggestion of a tunnel under the old city, published its own “clarification” of the Goveernment’s claim that the road was not already being built
The statement read: We feel it critical to clarify the following:
1. The government delegation claims that the Cinta Costera III has not been started and that preliminary works near the historic district are simply new public areas that are unrelated. The fact is that the public areas are included in the contract between the Government of Panama and Norberto Odebrecht SA for the construction of the Cinta Costera III (Contract No.2010-0-09-08-LV-004339 Interconexion de La Avenida Balboa Con La Av. De Los Poetas), and that the Government of Panama has already issued the Order to Proceed with the entire project (Nota DM-DIAC-AAJCP-1140). Moreover, the government’s own website promoting the project to the Panamanian public clearly indicates that the landfills currently being put in place are part of the Cinta Costera (http://www.cintacostera.com).
2. The Government of Panama has justified the change from a tunnel, which would have little or no impact on the historic district, to a seafront highway as a measure to reduce costs. However, we note that the total cost of the seafront highway is currently budgeted at $782 million, which is in fact more than the $776 million contract awarded to build the tunnel. Accordingly, the seafront highway currently proposed by the Government of Panama is in fact more expensive than the original tunnel option, which was widely supported by the conservation community in Panama.
We regret the need to issue a public statement contradicting our public officials, however, we see no alternative under the circumstances, as the present administration has refused to invite reactive monitoring missions to directly observe the situation so a public statement is the only avenue available to the historic preservation community for distributing the facts.
It appears clear to us from the discussions that the refusal to allow reactive monitoring missions has been a strategy intended to introduce confusion into the process. We hope for the sake of our site and all others around the world that this strategy will not be allowed to succeed.