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Identity and Living Heritage: Riches of the Colonial Transisthmian Route of Panama

Panama City, March 17 (EFE) – The proposal to designate the Colonial Transisthmian Route of Panama as a UNESCO World Heritage site seeks to enrich, integrate, and showcase the living heritage and identity of indigenous and Afro-Panamanian populations in its vicinity, all managed through consultations and public policies.

In an interview with Agencia EFE, Emma Gómez, General Coordinator of Intangible Cultural Heritage at Panama’s Culture Ministry (MiCultura), stressed the importance of citizen consultation in presenting a World Heritage candidacy. She said the consultation involves residents living around the monumental and environmental areas.

“In the consultation, we will integrate the living heritage around the site. This heritage must be involved and has been involved in the process. From the beginning, the populations will be taken into account,” Gómez explained.

Gómez described various types of populations in the vicinity, some living very close within the community, like in Portobelo (Caribbean) with the Congos and their culture, whose practices are part of the intangible heritage declared by UNESCO, and like Corpus Christi in Portobelo, part of Colón Province in northern Panama.

Also present are “all the carriers of gastronomy, both Afro-colonial and Afro-Antillean, which has merged in that area,” and around those monuments, especially in Portobelo, “people who are essential for appropriating that heritage in their daily lives, for rebuilding and narrating their own history.”

Additionally, there are Emberá indigenous communities on the banks of the Chagres River, which flows out in front of the San Lorenzo el Real Castle. “Although they are not as close, it is an area that will be developed for tourism.”

These are the communities “that live in the vicinity and will greatly benefit from the colonial route as part of the world heritage, at least in its current structure as the Colonial Transisthmian Route.”

“A heritage site cannot be isolated; it must be a place where children and heritage representatives are taught how to live around that monument, how to support it,” Gómez said. This is achieved “through public policies involving communities, offering training, funds, scholarships, so that they become custodians in these areas and help integrate the communities.”


The Colonial Transisthmian Route of Panama comprises a series of monuments, sites, and historic cities, including the Archaeological Site of Panama Viejo and the Historic District of Panama (World Heritage since 1997), the Fortifications of Panama’s Caribbean Coast: Portobelo and San Lorenzo (on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 2012), and the colonial roads connecting them: the Camino de Cruces and the Camino Real.

The dossier “with the first stage” was submitted in February to UNESCO, which in March provided its “first positive observation” that the dossier “is complete,” Gómez said, noting that a “decision” could be made by December 2024, as the entire 2023 and part of 2024 “will be under evaluation.”

In July 2019, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee postponed the inscription of the Panamanian proposal, awaiting a revised proposal from Panama that met a series of recommendations. The Committee requested a proposal that would justify the exceptional universal value of the route and guarantee long-term financial sustainability for the conservation and management of these sites through the adequate allocation of funds.

The nomination seeks to make the Route a material cultural heritage, according to MiCultura. The country already has natural heritage sites such as Darien National Park and Coiba National Park, as well as intangible cultural heritage declarations like the traditional “pintao” hat and expressions related to Congo culture and Corpus Christi. EFE



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