A joint World Heritage centre/ICOMOSmission was undertaken in November 2006, as per the request of the Ministry of Culture of Colombia, following a series of events related to the construction of a road through the archaeological site by the Yanacona indigenous community that inhabits an area at the limit of the San Agustin property. The mission was called for so that provisions could be made that would guarantee the conservation of the property’s outstanding universal value and its authenticity and integrity.
The sites that comprise the World Heritage property present decay phenomena resulting from the properties and nature of the physical fabric and its environmental conditions, though none of the effects evidenced are critical. The sites are well managed overall but presentation, interpretation and visitor services are somewhat limited. The main threats at the site are related to the lack of a buffer zone and management plan that would allow the authorities to control development of the surrounding areas that could impact the current integration of the sites with their setting.
As for the road built by the Yanacona community, there have been some impacts on the archaeological remains and these need to be attended to through additional systematic work and presentation of the area.
Participatory management planning is needed to develop a comprehensive long term plan to conserve and promote the values of the archaeological sites and to integrate tourism, social, economic and infrastructure development concerns in the area. The mission report identified several recommendations:
a) A systematic condition survey is needed to establish baseline information to monitor the state of conservation and promptly address decay phenomena as they occur;
b) The efficacy of sheltering and drainage systems also needs to be comprehensively assessed to address particular failures. However, if erosion is considered a significant decay factor, then additional wind breaking installations might be considered;
c) Interventions in the burial tombs need to be consistent across the three properties inscribed on the World Heritage List;
d) Interpretation at the sites can be enhanced;
e) Current proposals by the authorities to initiate a management planning process need to be implemented and completed on a priority basis. Although there are management arrangements in place, several issues need to be addressed holistically, within the framework of a participatory, value-driven methodological approach. This approach will entail identifying and involving key stakeholders during the decision-making process;
f) The existence of two municipalities that could have an impact on the inscribed properties will need to be taken into account. Actions prescribed, particularly in relation to regulating land use, will have to be integrated with urban, municipal and territorial development plans;
g) Different interest groups associated with the sites and its setting will need to be identified, so that their levels of responsibility and commitment to the site can be ascertained for the implementation of management strategies;
h) There is a need to establish precise limits and make maps available where use zones are clearly defined, as well as a buffer zone with regulations to limit what will be acceptable in terms of development of infrastructure. The properties are well integrated into their setting and provisions need to be taken to preserve the existing integrity of the landscape;
i) A more operative management structure is also needed;
j) A decision needs to be made in regards to existing infrastructure at the property;
k) The issues of living cultures are certainly critical in regards to World Heritage. However, in the specific case of San Agustin the particular conditions of the Yanacona community, the process that led to the current settlement, warrants further studies and research in order to ascertain the legitimacy of claims to the land;
l) The built road needs to be closed down and no vehicular traffic permitted. A walkway could be a sensible compromise to allow better access to the indigenous settlement and promote visitation to the area. Notwithstanding, there are already communication possibilities, which need to be improved, so that closing down the road would not mean leaving these communities isolated;
m) The Yanacona community has requested several permits in different occasions to develop activities in the areas of maximum protection that are inscribed in the World Heritage List. Although there are high expectations surrounding the use of the site, there have been no precise and explicit indications of what their priorities are. Ceremonial activities, production and distribution of traditional food, sales of handcrafts, construction of a maloca (ceremonial / ritual structure), recreational spaces for the community, etc., have been mentioned, but there is no precise decision of what the priorities are and what the potential implications on the land use and the setting of San Agustin could be.
Although there is a clear and present need to improve the social and cultural conditions of the area, any project in this respect needs to be reconciled to guarantee the conservation of the values that warranted the inscription of the site in the World Heritage List. To appropriately address these issues, they will need to be integrated in a meaningful way within the framework of a planning process.