The World Heritage Centre received information regarding the state of conservation, and additional information concerning Panama Viejo on 20 October 2009. The State Party submitted an Emergency Plan for corrective measures for the property from which some information about the implementation of the World Heritage Committee’s Decision can be gleaned. In addition, within the context of a reactive monitoring mission to the Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama, the national authorities requested a technical visit to the property for an assessment of current conditions and issues.
The information received and the technical visit to the property highlighted concerns regarding the Historic District of Panama and how the absence of a clear policy concerning the preservation and development of the area was significantly affecting the site. There have been cases of aggressive interventions and alterations resulting in irreversible damage to the site’s integrity and authenticity. Neglected buildings are in danger of collapse and funds previously allocated by the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) for social housing have been rerouted to other projects, further compounding the poor social conditions that exist at the site.
a. Emergency Plan
ICOMOS evaluated the document submitted by the State Party and considers that it encompasses a characterization of the property, an assessment of current conditions by means of SWOT matrixes and conclusions on risks and vulnerabilities, and a list of measures focused on addressing identified risks and threats. The document reflects the efforts made in comprehensively analysing the current situation from the state of conservation of the property to the assessment of existing legislative and regulatory frameworks, which confirms concerns pointed out during the reactive monitoring and expert missions, and identified in previous Decisions of the World Heritage Committee. Notwithstanding the detailed assessment, the proposals for actions are limited and there is no indication regarding timelines, sources of funding or how corrective measures and actions will be implemented. Similarly, criteria and methods for interventions at historic buildings are lacking. The document is more focused on a long-term strategic vision for the management and conservation of the property, which would still require further work, than on the emergency action plan requested by the World Heritage Committee.
b. Legislative and regulatory measures and management arrangements for the property
The submitted plan provides a detailed analysis on the governance mechanisms for the property, however there is no indication whether existing arrangements will be revised in the near future to enhance the protection of the property and to ensure the sustainability of the management system currently in place. Measures for enforcing legal instruments are not indicated.
According to previous World Heritage Committee Decisions, there has been no significant improvement in terms of a coordinated management of the property. It was also emphasized that the management conditions of the two sites which integrate the World Heritage property are quite different: Panama Viejo is being managed by the Patronato, while the arrangements for the Historic District still need to be evaluated and organized, as suggested by previous Decisions of the World Heritage Committee, the 2009 reactive monitoring mission and the 2010 expert mission. A coordinated management system for both sites needs to be established as soon as possible.
c. Buffer zone
The document indicates that the buffer zone for the Historic District is currently under evaluation. There is no additional information on the timeframe for legal approval or on the regulatory measures foreseen.
d. Interventions at historic monuments
Regarding Panama Viejo, the document submitted by the State Party includes the proposal for the intervention at Plaza Mayor. The mission found that the Patronato continues working with efficiency and commitment. Several interventions to adapt a portion of the monumental space for new functions have been carefully implemented. The project for the new exhibition and interpretation facilities at the site was recently modified, moving its location to some distance from the old tower, following the recommendations of the 2009 mission.
With regards to the Historic Centre, information on planned and ongoing projects, including the structural changes at the Hotel Central and the impacts of the PH Plaza Independencia condominium, was not included.
The mission found that although the National Institute of Culture (Instituto Nacional de Cultura - INAC), the National Historic Heritage Directorate (DNPH) and the Historic Centre office (Oficina del Casco Antiguo - OCA) are working hard and demonstrate serious concern regarding the solutions for the issues pointed out by the World Heritage Committee, many negative aspects currently persist. Various buildings have been rehabilitated and many others are currently being restored, however there are a significant number of neglected buildings at risk of collapse. It also noted that real estate speculation and interests continue to pervade decision-making processes, leading to detrimental interventions at the property.
e. Housing policy for the Historic District
The information sent does not specify whether a decision or progress has been made in this respect. The Emergency Plan should comprise a detailed programme about the buildings to be intervened for housing purposes, the types of interventions foreseen, timelines and budgets for implementation, among others. No information regarding the implementation of some of the recommendations of the reactive monitoring mission of 2009 was included, specifically with regards to the financial mobilization for public investment processes on housing and infrastructure, and the sustainable policy for the improvement of the low income families´ living conditions.
The mission noted that very limited works for the provision of social housing are currently being implemented and that acute social conflicts have not decreased. It also underscored that funds allocated by the IDB for social housing have been allocated to other areas, leading to the cancellation of initiatives that had proven successful. The mission considers that the gentrification of the property has gradually increased.
f. Avenida Cincuentenario
This project concerns mainly Panama Viejo, where five alternative routes have been identified and submitted to the national authorities, and are currently being evaluated by the Ministry of Public Works and other involved entities. No evidence of an approved budget or implementation project dates has been provided. According to the 2010 expert mission, the Patronato supports the alternative proposed by the 2009 reactive monitoring mission, which would see the project being developed along one edge of the site, as this option seems to cause the least impact and will help with a better de-limitation of the property.
g. Cinta Costera
The Cinta Costera project is a coastal freeway being executed at the seaside area of Terraplan that is projected to continue along the border of the Historic Centre with plans for a tunnel beneath the Centre’s core. At the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee, the State Party was requested to, in accordance with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guideline, to submit to the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies, a final report, including the analysis and monitoring of the potential impacts of this project.
The Mission in 2010 realised that the State Party had commenced the execution of this project. No additional information could be procured regarding the social impacts, conservation requirements, impact assessments, etc. of this project. The Mission was therefore left to conclude that these assessments were not undertaken.
h. Other issues
Within the framework of the Periodic Reporting exercise for the Region, the “Workshop on the preparation of the Retrospective Inventory, retrospective statement of Outstanding Universal Value of the properties included on the World Heritage List and an introduction to the Second Cycle of the Periodic Reporting for the Latin America and Caribbean Region” took place November 2009 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The focal point for Panama participated and was trained on how to produce the Retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value. The State Party has sent a proposal which needed to be revised and resubmitted to the World Heritage Centre by31 July 2010.
No information on the evaluation and update of the current Master Plan and detailed regulations for the Historic District has been submitted.
To conclude, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that the received information does not provide a definite and precise course of action to address the current threats to the property that have been highlighted in the 2009 reactive monitoring mission and in Decisions made by the World Heritage Committee. There are no clear schedules or comprehensive technical information about how critical issues, including social housing and its derived conflicts, the impacts of the Cinta Costera and the alternative route for the Avenida Cincuentenario will be addressed. The document does not evidence how the highest level of authority will commit to the conservation of the property or the definition of a clear policy for the preservation and development of the historic area.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that factoring the emergency situation as discussed in previous World Heritage Committee sessions that affect a high proportion of the buildings in the Historic District, and which encompasses a wide range of other threats, and given the very limited response observed by the various missions, it is evident that the current situation threatens the attributes of the Historic District which sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.
They consider that the World Heritage Committee may wish to send a reactive monitoring mission to asses the state of conservation of the property and to evaluate progress made in addressing the various threats with a view to include the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2011 if no substantial progress is made.