Do we pierce the Darien Gap? And how?
The government wants to revive that electrical connection with Colombia project, again with a proposed route through Guna Yala, along proposed new roads. The Guna leadership — and people — don’t want that.
Then there is the long-stated goal of a road connection between Panama and Colombia, which cattle ranchers, environmentalists and the indigenous communities in Darien don’t want.
The thinking is so clueless, so stereotypical, so clearly aimed at a mobbed up construction industry. We could have those connections, and a far better energy policy, with some thinking out of their boxes.
First of all, let us not romanticize the Dule culture of the Guna nation. Nor for that matter, the Embera way of life. There are remarkable and wonderful things about both of these original nations, but even if things are much improved between them, they are traditional enemies with different world views. They’re just people with their own ways and histories, and real human concerns that may vary from each other’s and yours and ours.
One of the things they share, however, is a concern about roads bringing in outsiders to grab their land and resources. In Guna Yala they are also careful to limit outside influences that might overwhelm their culture.
The ranchers? The Darien Gap is a forest barrier between cattle diseases that are endemic in Colombia and Panamanian herds that don’t suffer from those maladies.
The environmentalists? Tearing a hole through Panama’s main remaining forest, and then watching the deforestation and social conflicts spread from either side of the highway are scenes that nobody in any of the movements to defend nature want to see. (Astroturf “greenwash” front groups for the developers don’t count as movements.)
So why not make the connection via a series of tunnels, bridges and causeways from Meteti, across the Gulf of San Miguel and just off the Pacific Coast of Darien to Colombia? That is, a route designed to never touch land that somebody can use the road to invade. Better a road connection that’s perhaps set up to add a railroad alongside, and in any case through which power lines might be threaded. Better to have a forward-looking connection designed for the coming age of electric cars, a road paved with photovoltaic bricks to provide the power that might make the electrical connection with Colombia superfluous in the first place.
Yes, there would be the costs — additional for building to avoid an invasion route, offset by the reduced costs of land grabbing and patrolling against the creation of a new smuggling road. Also offset by reduced costs of land acquisition, although one suspects that the bottom line of the current Guna Yala proposal is a presumption that nobody owns lands that are collectively owned so white men can just take them without compensation. There would also be geological and marine environmental issues to address by going offshore. The Blue Apple boys and the land grabbers would probably pay people behind the scenes to emphasize such objections.
Let’s not be stampeded into 2Oth century follies that benefit only a few construction, energy and banking interests and thus forego development that looks toward Panama’s future in the public interest.
Bear in mind
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