Zunilda Conde is a 41 year old CAPTA graduate; CAPTA is training for employment through a 7 week intensive course for women offered by Fundacion Calicanto. Zunilda did not receive formal education and has spent most of her life working as a house maid. After CAPTA, she joined a group of women who have organized to take basic computer classes in Calicanto and expressed to us that her experience has enriched her life. "I always thought I was too dumb to use a computer but you have taught me how to use one and now I even have a Facebook page!"
When Zunilda, who was born in an indigenous community in Panama, arrived in Calicanto, she was shy and introverted. She had very little confidence and a low self-esteem but today she is a stronger woman and has joined this group to learn basic computer skills that will help her look for jobs and better opportunities.
This is CONEXION. It's a space for women to get together and learn from our volunteers and from each other. Keep supporting this program so that we can continue giving women like Zunilda, the right tools to escape poverty.
Yesterday the organizations defending Casco Viejo held a press conference to make several pronouncements regarding the project and announce the initiation of new legal claims.
Someone, we suspect the government and/or Odebrecht, organized dozens of people to surround the building and try to interrupt the conference. This is not the first time they have done this in an attempt to show that the "people" support the project. It has long been speculated that people are paid to attend these kinds of demonstrations, but yesterday was the first day that the local news was able to directly record on video proof (see videos below of conference and the events afterword).
Those interruptions will only serve to help disseminate the points made by the groups at the conference, which were:
1. Recalling the recent tragic destruction of sites in Timbuktu, Syria and Afghanistan, the groups called on UNESCO to use its voice while there is still time to help protect Casco Viejo from being permanently disfigured. The groups called for an extraordinary meeting of the World Heritage Committee, citing their concern that the government's plan is to advance the project so far that it cannot be stopped by next year's regular UNESCO meeting.
2. Announcing a lawsuit based on failure to take into consideration the environmental impacts of the project asking for the enjoyment of the project pending further study.
3. Demanding explanations from specific government officials and a detailed explanation for the project's cost (double per kilometer the cost of Panama's new subway) and disclosure of the studies that purportedly show that the other alternatives are not viable.
4. Clarifying that the change from the original tunnel plan to the destructive seafront route was made at the suggestion of the contractor, and requesting that the CEO of Construtora Norberto Odebrecht take a personal involvement in the project to assure that it does not lead to the disfigurement of a world heritage site.
We will continue to drive on these points in the coming weeks and keep you informed.
Video 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4yR-ac8lyA&feature=player_embedded
Video 2 http://www.tvn-2.com/noticias/noticias_detalle.asp?id_news=89416&categoria_news=Nacionales
Greatings from Casco Viejo!
The fight to save Casco Viejo from being wrapped in concrete is intensifying quickly. In July when UNESCO's resolution came out it asked for three basic things regarding the highway: (1) give them a traffic study showing what alternatives exist to a seafront highway, (2) study the aesthetic impact of the current plan on Casco's "Universal Values" (i.e. the things that make it a World Heritage Site), and (3) don't build anything until we've had a chance to look at 1 & 2.
As you know from our last update, the Government of Panama and the contractor, Odebrecht, had actually been constructing parts of the highway (outside the historic district limits) during the UNESCO proceedings and lying to UNESCO about it. Not surprisingly, they have not stopped since, so, as you can see from the photos, the preliminary landfill portion of the highway is quite advanced and already starting to penetrate the limits of the historic district. The studies UNESCO asked for are apparently completed and delivered, but the Government refuses to release them.
The Government has come out publicly saying that the highway has been approved by UNESCO. This is the second time that they have lied to the Panamanian public about this. The eleven organizations joined with us under the Orgullo Panama banner wrote a letter notifying the Director General and Chairperson of UNESCO putting them all on notice that a crime against World Heritage is taking place and there is a need to act urgently.We have a number of legal actions in process, and next week we have a press conference with the ten other civic organizations joined with us to announce other measures that we are launching and several new groups who have joined. We've now got a full time coordinator and are adding more volunteers every day. In addition, Orgullo Panama has launched an online petition drive to bring attention to the fact that the company profiting from this project, Odebrecht, is controlled by Marcelo Odebrecht, a man who has spent considerable energy trying to rebuild his company's image around its "sustainability" after a series of corruption scandals in Brazil in the 1990s that ultimately brought down a Brazilian government. The petition is here: www.orgullo.com.pa, and we encourage you all to sign and send to any friends you have who know Casco or who care about protecting World Heritage (it belongs to all citizens of the world, so anyone can sign).
Finally, as if the desecration of a World Heritage Site's setting weren't enough, the government began yesterday an intense campaign of evictions in Casco Viejo. To the government (and certain building owners associated with the government who have long petitioned to have their buldings emptied by force so they do not have to pay the legally mandated costs) these people are simply intruders who need to be removed. But to most of us in Casco Viejo, they are our neighbors. To us at Calicanto, they are the human heritage that we are dedicated to protecting along with the architectural heritage. This kind of action reconfirms for us the current administration's unfortunate lack of understanding of what makes the neighborhood special, and reaffirms our committment to protect both the human and the architectural heritage of Casco Viejo.
We will continue the fight to save Casco, and we greatly appreciate your continuing support.