Two bills aim to save the San Lorenzo and Portobelo forts

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By Marijulia Pujol Lloyd

Portobelo Customs and fort.

Portobelo Customs and fort.

Panama is on the black list of the World Heritage Committee of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) due to the poor condition of the forts of San Lorenzo and Portobelo in the province of Colón. After an inspection conducted in 2012, this organization classified these sites as “endangered.”

On August 13, Colón legislator, Miguel Salas, presented a bill that seeks for the government to create a budget to rescue the Forts of San Lorenzo and Portobelo, which, according to the daily La Prensa, will require maintenance costs of approximately $1.5 million a year.

According to UNESCO’s report, boundaries should be created around these archeological sites, as well as buffer zones, an updated legal framework that guarantees the protection of the ruins and the removal of houses which are currently located in the forts to other areas.

However, Nelson Jackson Palma, a legislator for Cambio Democratico, proposed another option which proved to be more controversial. In the bill he presented on August 4, he advocated that concessions be granted to private enterprises for them to manage the whole archeological site as an enterprise.

The authority to grant permits would be the responsibility of the Panama Tourism Authority and the National Heritage Directorate. Additionally to this, the bill allows the construction of marinas and piers to increase tourism.

The fortifications at Portobelo.

The fortifications at Portobelo.

The concessionaries in return will take care of the maintenance, conservation and restoration of the buildings and the area under the authorization of the National Heritage Directorate.

Jackson defended his bill by saying that this scheme will attract investment and progress to the area, as well as saving the colonial ruins from total destruction. The other advantage of this project, according to its proponent, is that proper facilities will be created for tourists visiting the area.

It is precisely because this plan will leave the management, administration and maintenance of the archaeological site in the hands of private enterprise, that many defenders of “national heritage” are not very happy with the proposal.

Sebastián Paniza, former National Heritage director, called the bill “absurd,” while Harley Mitchell Jr., former director of the Environmental Authority’s legal department, said that it was “inappropriate.”

The new National Institute of Culture’s director, Mariana Nuñez, is choosing her team and creating strategies that aim to get Panama off of the UNESCO’s black list.



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