CNN logo

Infoseek/Big Yellow

Pathfinder/Warner Bros

Barnes and Noble

Watch Earth Matters
on CNN and
CNN International.

Earth banner

Pan-American Highway's missing link

The Darien Gap is said to contain a "motherload of biodiversity."   

Controversy surrounds effort to extend road through rain forest

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 unspoiled wilderness.

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 natural resources.

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 the Americas   

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 culturally.

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.

Movie of creatures living in the Darien Gap
video icon 408 K/40 sec./320x240
612 K/40 sec./160x120
QuickTime movie

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.

Native people
The road threatens the native people of the Darien Gap   

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," Navarro says.

So the Pan-American Highway may remain incomplete for some time to come.


Related sites:

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window

External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Infoseek search  

Message Boards Sound off on our
message boards

You said it...
To the top

© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.