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Defending the hill of two flags

by Raúl Leis R. ---

On January 9 I once more ascended the hill as part of the pilgrimage that commemorated the patriotic feat. For my smallest son it was his first time up. I hope that in the following ascents he, and his generation, won’t be detained by a “private property” sign that imposes restrictions, like the one that impeded me at his age --- the one that said in English that there was no trespassing on a foreign military base.

It can’t go unnoticed that Ancon Hill forms a part of the capital’s urban landscape and that of the interoceanic passage through the canal as well. The enormous flag at its peak reminds us at every instant of the incalculable symbolic and emblematic value of the promontory, not only for residents of the capital, but for all inhabitants of the isthmus.

Thanks to the moving verses of Amelia Denis de Icaza, the hill has been made part of the entire population’s imagination and serves as a beacon, as a Mount Sinai, that exemplifies the struggle for national sovereignty.

It can be said that the transfer of the canal assets became the blood and bone of the national conscience when the hill passed to full Panamanian sovereignty, and was turned into public property accessible to all. The hill, moreover, is the bearer of another “flag,” as it is the green pinnacle that emerges from the mass of cement and automobiles in motion, projecting its intense environmental character. This mesa of vegetation, flora and fauna is an affirmation of Panama the green --- as Vicente Blasco Ibáñez baptized us --- that refuses to disappear in the face of threats of environmental predation, that, if left to themselves, would turn us into an immense Sarigua.

This dual character of the historical symbol of sovereignty and of the environment must be preserved at all costs. But the threats are real. Privatizing projects, which have as their spearhed the construction of a cable car, are in progress with the consent of the authorities. If that happens, the hill would be progressively undermined as an historical, environmental and sovereign presence; it would then be a commercial space stripped of its symbolic content.

Ecology is not an inoffensive fashion that refers only to far-away jungles or recondite rural areas, or that has only to do with the bucolic allusion to exotic species that are going extinct. The subject of the environment is linked to every human activity, and is a fundamental component of any development process that’s touted as such.

Economic progress versus an environment suitable for everybody is a false contradiction. Economic projects, be they residential, commercial or industrial, which don’t have an environmental ingredient, are contrary to progess, as when the environment isn’t taken into account or is attacked, it responds to us like a loaded cannon that turns around and shoots at us.

The National Visiion 2020 statement, signed by all sectors by way of a consensus, clearly established a commitment to a developed future in which components like economic development, the environment, equity, democratic participation and self-determination are in harmony.

Moreover, when you deal with a symbolic historical asset, it’s something that can’t be alienated or manipulated in any way, but rather something to be affirmed and exalted.

A little while ago popular rejection aborted ex-President Mireya Moscoso’s attempt to impose “the ecological road” through Volcan Baru National Park, and it became an important factor in her political exhaustion. Later, environmentalist and civic movements were able to restrain the development of parcel CL-35 in Clayton, in the corregimiento of Ancon, through which the Las Cruces Trail passes; and also the Avenida Balboa landfill.

What these experiences have set before us is the conflict between the rule of the public interest and the dominance of private interests. Today this is expressed in the case of Ancon Hill, where on the one hand there are public environmental, historical, cultural and patriotic assets and on the other there are voracious private interests articulated in the acts and omissions of a government that’s supposed to stand up for our national and natural heritage in the reverted areas, which were not a gift but the product of the historic struggle of the Panamanian people for full sovereignty over all of our territory.

The hill of two flags, the national tricolor and the green of its vegetation, needs an active citizenry to defend it and to care for it, and a government that has more respect for the poetess’s verses than for the siren songs of the cash registers.


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