Again, Panama Says Highway Will Not Bridge Darien Gap

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.

First Trans Darien Expedition (1959-1960)

  13 comments for “Again, Panama Says Highway Will Not Bridge Darien Gap

  1. Burt McKinley
    August 8, 2010 at 4:09 am

    Panama lost its soul a long time ago, like when it was conquered by Europeans and they began their legacy of rape and pillage, which continues to this day.

  2. Bob
    August 8, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Cynicism hardly helps when there’s a national treasure to be saved and the wrong decision can still be averted with public pressure. #

  3. trillium
    March 24, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    It is not Panama that holds back the progress to build a road, but the United States who does not want Central America to benefit from trade and communication with South America.

    It is a on going shame the US administrations keep the Darien closed …only to benefit the national interest of the USA, and not the benefit of nature or the peoples of the Darien.

  4. Dr. Burt McKinley
    March 26, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Trillium, you think “nature”, as you put it, would benefit from having a highway built through it. How do you figure?

  5. Matt Furnari
    May 4, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Every day $1 billion dollars of Chinese exports are unloaded in the US as almost 280 million South Americas languish in poverty. Meanwhile the US loses almost $200 billion dollars worth of bilateral trade to cheaper Chinese exports arriving in South American ports.

    If the Darien Gap had been finished two things would be certain 1) North American goods would not have to be loaded onto a container ship and unloaded in South America and 2) China’s competitive edge in the Western Hemisphere would be eliminated overnight.

    People like Hernan, who advocate for leaving the gap, mean well. But their priorities are way out of whack. The feeding and housing of a few hundred million South Americans is more important than preserving the 0.001% of that 91mi x 31mi gap a road would require. The Darien Gap could easily be set aside as a reserve — there is no reason a road means additional development.

    Not bridging the Darien Gap is an affront to the human race. The people of South America could have long ago lifted themselves from starving poverty without charity or malice if this road had been built.

  6. Dr. Burt McKinley
    May 5, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Mr. Furnari,

    I don’t know where to start deconstructing your absurd comment, but I’ll begin by saying this: You write like a pretentious seventh grader trying to regurgitate something they heard on television and thought they understood.

    Your neo-colonial fantasy about cutting a highway through Darien and thereby solving social and economic woes in S. America is far-fetched and based on the illusion that free trade with North America is fair and ultimately beneficial for Latin American countries.

    Your assumption that “there is no reason a road means additional development” demonstrates your complete lack of knowledge of basic human tendencies, and of a certain related phenomenon known as “habitat fragmentation”. Look it up ( Ask yourself why the rest of Central America is deforested? Do you think accessibility-by-road could have anything to do with it?

    Weather or not “bridging the Darien Gap is an affront to the human race” (as you put it) is beside the point. Consider this: The modern human race is an affront to all other living organisms on earth, which explains your ignorant, anthropocentric justification for dominating one of the last remaining tracts of relatively un-colonized forest in Central America.

  7. bob
    May 7, 2011 at 9:41 am

    The PanAmerican Highway hasn’t enriched Nicaragua…it’s still the second poorest country in thw western hemisphere…

  8. Shaun C
    January 8, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    They need to literally bridge the Darien Gap. The gap is about 50km across. If this was open sea it would be doable as a bridge. A bridge would be ideal…drill down through the muck to the bedrock and build the bridge footings. Not only would it carry a route across the gap, a bridge would isolate the route from the surface. This would help to maintain the pristine condition of the gap while carry transportation across it.

  9. Derrek
    January 23, 2012 at 12:47 am


    Forget highways, buses, and ferries, nevermind fuel stops, rest stops, or scenic viewing lanes.

    Bring the efficiency, border control, flexibility, capacity, and comfort of the railroad. Put a fat depot at either end to keep it running full-tilt, and to accommodate customs enforcement, intermodal switching, and even tourism. But no reason to mess it all up with an actual road, when a rail link would be far superior.

  10. Marianne
    March 10, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    I agree with Derrek, the best solution would be rail.

    I’d add that it should be an electric train, within a tunnel made so the jungle would grown again on top and make the construction disapear within 10 years.

    With this strategy, we would have it both way, the jungle and its inhabitants would preserve their way of life, while the pan american commerce and tourists would have a way to move from South America to North America, other than by boat or by plane (by train is the cheapest way to move freight around, and faster than anything but plane).

  11. Gabe
    August 12, 2012 at 12:09 am

    There is another solution. Ever heard of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway? Something could be built from the cape just north of Necocli across the water to Acandi, which is well north of the highway’s current southern terminus in Pinogana.

    An expensive project, sure. But the economic benefits would be staggering, as many people have pointed out. Best of all, the precious little smelly swamp full of kidnappers can remain untouched.

  12. Usnavy
    August 13, 2012 at 3:43 am

    O’right, Subway all the way down to Medellin! Let Carolina and Marta rip!

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