Who Killed Casco Viejo?

December 15, 2012 by:
Who Killed Casco Viejo?

Who Killed Casco Viejo?

The Casco Killer

Lovers of Casco Viejo (Casco), I have troubling news. I’ve caught the killer of Casco.  Sure, this photo looks like an innocent steel survey platform. But, don’t be fooled. On the portable platform they are plotting to kill Casco. Digital devices stationed here will release data detailing a plan that wraps a 1950s-style superhighway around Panama’s historic peninsula of Casco. This will be the death of the Casco —  te lo jurro, aweboa! (I swear to you, a-Panamanian-word-that-I-have-no-idea-how-to-translate).

Some background: Casco is a UNESCO World Heritage site. So too are Stonehedge, Machu Picchu and Vatican City. There are approximately 1000 in the world, and Panama has 5. UNESCO is a prestigious international designation of Panamanian history and culture.

UNESCO has warned Panama’s politicians about the Cinta Costera 3.  In fact, they’ve officially sent a 54 page report that specifically mentions it (see page 6). UNESCO frequently interacts with double talk countries. They don’t have time for games.  If you renege on your commitment, they simply pull you from their internationally renowned list.  Casco will be no different.

UNESCO designation is important to Casco. It has spurred the colonial district’s revitalization. Prior to UNESCO’s arrival in 1997, Casco Viejo was Panama’s forgotten neighborhood. The majority of its buildings were deserted. Civil services had been neglected. Gang violence was rampant. As my local friends tell me, “Chuleta!  Antes no podias andar en el Casco!” (Pork Chop!  Before you couldn’t walk in the Casco). Casco’s soul was on life support.

Today, times have changed. UNESCO’s designation has reinvigorated Casco. Careful historic restoration throughout the neighborhood is on the move. Don’t take my word for it. Walk the calles of Casco. The progress is palpable, Papa.

This momentum has energized Casco. This once sometimes-shaddy neighborhood, is now Panama’s cultural heartbeat.  Come for Jazz Fest weekend or attend an Art Block crawl, you’ll be impressed. Better yet, treat yourself to a Cena Cine at Diablo Rosso, or check out Rolando De Sedas’ trademark ladies painted on the walls of Villa Agustina.  Casco has culture.    Like a local computer programmer friend who rents a desk at The Casco Station told me, “All the coolest things in Panamanian culture are happening in Casco.”

Villa AgustinaUNESCO has brought Casco back to life. It’s exciting to see. So, why kill it?

Technically speaking, building a Casco-killing highway is against the law. Both international accords  and local Panamanian law. Killing Casco Viejo is economically suicidal for two reasons:

First, it sends the wrong message about strict Casco’s historical guidelines. If the government itself breaks Casco laws, then why should anyone else follow them?   Expect to see builders adding extra floors and other non-historical elements to Casco’s buildings. Once the historical integrity is jeopardized, Casco’s authentic allure will be dead.

Without authenticity, the neighborhood will begin a downward spiral that will only accelerate. Its historical value will be gone. It will no longer attract artists, musicians, writers, or passionate community members committed to pumping Casco’s cause. Its culture will be gone. With no historical integrity or community contributors, the tourism money will go away. Casco will revert back to Panama’s forgotten neighborhood.  Que lastima! (What a damn shame!)

Secondly, breaking the law is bad for Panama’s international image. Currently, Panama is running ads declaring,  “We Are Open For Business”. The goal is to attract more foreign investment to the isthmus.

However, defying laws and public institutions and instilling investor confidence are mutually exclusive. It reinforces the perception held by two of the world’s most respected news organizations – The Economist and New York Times – that Panama is rapidly becoming corrupt to its core. This small country is turning into a kleptocracy.

If Panama wants to be, “Open For Business” it must have strong public institutions.  Laws need to be followed.  Otherwise, Panama cannot achieve its stated goal: to become the business hub of The Americas.

Let me give you an example. You are a foreign investor who is interested in investing in Panama. You believe Casco is a good investment.  It has UNESCO’s international prestige that will attract tourism for years to come. Plus, its historical integrity is protected by both national law and international accords.  You confidently open a business/invest capital in a country that enthusiastically courts foreign investment. You’ve picked Panama.

Suddenly, the government breaks its own laws and international commitments. It unilaterally forces an infrastructure project that removes the UNESCO designation. This has a negative impact on your investment. Your confidence is Panama’s legal system is gone.  Investors don’t like countries who presidents act like dictators. Just ask Venezuela.

Bottomline: Don’t kill Casco. It has been reborn. The progress has come too far and means too much to Panama’s history, culture, and general economy to be put to death.  Por favor, deja El Casco en PAZ! (Leave Casco in peace).

Evan Terry Forbes

Evan Forbes 122 post in this blog.

Evan Terry Forbes is an Author, Entrepreneur and Hall of Fame Traveler. He writes entertaining books about how travel has changed his life. In so many beautiful ways. Currently, Evan is traveling with his retired mother for 1 year through Europe and Asia. This book will be called, Travels With My Mother - How Travel Transformed A Mother-Son Relationship. Read his books here.

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6 Comments on "Who Killed Casco Viejo?"

  1. Jesse on Thu, 15th Dec 2011 5:35 pm 

    Any idea why the “List of 5 Panama Unesco sites does not list CV? http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/pa

  2. SCW on Fri, 16th Dec 2011 4:29 am 

    I find it interesting that people neglect to see the irony in this “victimization” of Casco Viejo. Yes, its a UNESCO world heritage site. But I think it’s important to examine the historical foundations of Casco Viejo. It was a colonial enclave, where barbaric European conquistadors erected a fortified fantasy world to seek refuge in while massacring and enslaving Indians and pillaging resources throughout the Americas.

    Now modern people like Casco Viejo because of the novelty of its “calicanto” walls. Casco Viejo is old and different from what is being built in Panama today. However, upon closer inspection, Casco Viejo was the 1500s version of “modern” Panama City – cheap, crap construction spurred on by speculating foreigners and scam artists. Will there be an effort to preserve Paitilla’s crumbling towers 500 years from now?… Food for thought.

  3. Chantal Gronichon on Mon, 19th Dec 2011 3:27 pm 

    What is so beautiful about the Casco Viejo? Frankly, is there anything worth preserving? To me the whole area is as ugly as everything else in Panama…
    So stop making such a fuzz about the “horror” of extending the Cinta Costera.
    Anyway, the backwards thinking freaks have already lost that hopeless battle.

  4. Casco on Tue, 20th Dec 2011 1:22 pm 

    So your point is that historical monuments should not be protected if they were originally built by exploitive civilizations? If so that would mean goodbye Pyramids, Mayan temples (virgin sacrifice, anyone?) and every other wonder of the ancient world, wouldn’t it? You are an idiot, SCW. Think before you vomit your stupid ideas on people.

  5. To Be Fair on Tue, 20th Dec 2011 3:27 pm 

    The core of the “CC3 vs Casco Viejo” argument is a contest for the reputation of Panama City. Let’s look at it objectively without any moral or ethical discretion:

    If the CC3 was highly expressive about something clearly and interestingly “Panamanian,” than it would be a good piece of branding (I’m thinking the Sydney Opera House). If, on the other hand, it’s done for its own sake, and there’s no real long term strategy behind it, the CC3 will add nothing to Panama City’s landscape now or in the future.

    The sad thing (and the thing that makes this story confusing) is that the highway IS PRECISELY what Panama wants to promote itself as. It says wide lanes and fast cars. It says screw the past, we’re a first world country now biatch! Like it or not, its long term plan IS to bypass the historic district and it’s intentional brand IS clearly and identifiably Panamanian.

    “Make me a fast highway” is no way to run your country. But “tell the world something about Panama” might be. Projects must say something about their city and country and the CC3 is, whether we like it, doing just that.

    PS. Chantal, you’re a dumbass.

  6. Retirement Blog: The Streets Of Casco Viejo on Mon, 9th Jan 2012 6:43 pm 

    [...] with one of the most significant histories in all of Latin America and an area that currently is most threatened by Panama’s quest for new importance.  I love this place!!! Sandra [...]

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