Pan-American Highway's missing link
The Darien Gap is said to contain a
"motherload of biodiversity."
Controversy surrounds effort to extend road through
In this story:
November 25, 1997
Web posted at: 2:42 p.m. EST (1942 GMT)
From Correspondent Gary Strieker
DARIEN GAP, Panama (CNN) -- Here, where Central and South
America come together, lies a rain forest containing one of
the richest ecological regions on Earth. It's also an
obstacle to the completion of the Pan-American Highway, more
than 16,000 miles of continuous road from Alaska to the tip
of South America.
The only missing link is a 54-mile stretch through two
national parks -- one in Panama, the other in Colombia --
that contain the Darien Gap's more than 3 million acres of
A L S O :
Image gallery of creatures that live in the Darien Gap
The region is a "motherlode of biodiversity ... (and) ... one
of the most important tracts of forest remaining in the
Americas," says Hernan Arauz of ANCON, a private, non-profit
organization dedicated to the conservation of Panama's
Road completion debated
Supporters of the highway cite both symbolic and economic
reasons for completing it. It's outrageous, they say, that at
the dawn of the 21st century the Americas are still not
united because of a few miles of missing road.
The Pan-American Highway cuts a wide swath through
But it's an argument ANCON opposes. "We don't need this
road," says Juan Carlos Navarro, another member of the group.
"We don't want it, and we will never have it."
Completing the Pan-American highway here, say
conservationists, would attract thousands of poor immigrants
looking for land and guarantee annihilation of the remaining
forest. Leaders of indigenous Indian tribes in the gap fear
the influx of immigrants would destroy them economically and
Conservationists also point to the nearest stretch of the
highway, already completed as far as Yaviza, Panama. The
area, heavily forested only 20 years ago, is now mostly
stripped of timber for miles on both sides of the highway.
Many local farmers seem unconcerned by the controversy,
saying they just want the existing road improved so they can
use it in the rainy season to get their produce to market.
Panama's government in no rush
Latin American diplomats have called for completing the
highway, but Panama's government, concerned about political
and drug-related violence moving north from Colombia, seems
to have given the project a low priority.
The road threatens the native people of the Darien
In fact, many Panamanians are comforted by having the Darien
Gap as a buffer zone on the Colombian border.
Other factors working in favor of highway opponents:
- Many Panamanians are comforted by having the Darien Gap as
a buffer zone on the Colombian border.
- There's no money for building the road anytime soon, and
the United States is no longer interested in financing it.
- Good travel alternatives, especially coastal shipping.
"The people who still talk about a highway between Panama and
Colombia were passed by history ... They're dinosaurs,"
So the Pan-American Highway may remain incomplete for some
time to come.