Despite outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s approval of a $609 million highway project that would link Venezuela to Panama, the Panamanian government repeated that it will not bridge the Darien Gap for now.
Dubbed “The Great Route of the Americas,” the 440-mile long road would travel from Venezuela, up along the Colombian coast through the Antioquia region to Panama, quite close to the Darien Gap.
Since his 2002 election, Uribe has pushed for the opening of the road link with three Panamanian administrations – first with Mireya Moscoso, then with Martin Torrijos and most recently with Ricardo Martinelli. Although, back in January, Martinelli said the idea would have to be evaluated and seen from a modern world, practical point of view, the Panamanian government’s answer is still no according to the Panamanian press.
Objections to carving out the road through the Panamanian jungle and closing the one gap in the Panamerican Highway, remain the same: facilitated access for drug traffickers and illegal immigrants; impact on local communities; and environmental degradation.
The Darien Gap, about 99 miles long and 31 miles wide, is one of the richest ecological and wildest regions on earth with sandy beaches, rocky coasts, mangroves, swamps, tropical forests and wildlife. In 1981, the Darien National Park, an area of nearly 1.5 million acres, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“The worst enemy of a rain forest is the road,” naturalist guide Hernan Arauz told a Seattle Times reporter in 2005. “If the Darien were to be lost, Panama would lose its soul, because nature is the base of everything.”
Arauz’s parents, explorer Amado Arauz and anthropologist Dr. Reina Torres de Arauz participated in the first Trans Darien expedition fifty years ago.