The State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property in February 2009. The report responds to issues raised in previous state of conservation assessment and provides information on the implementation of the World Heritage Committee’s decision (Quebec City, 2008). In addition, a joint UNESCO / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission took place in March 2009 to assess the state of conservation of the property and make recommendations to enhance conservation and management practices. The mission also reviewed the state of conservation report of 2009 submitted by the State Party.
a) Statement of Outstanding Universal Value and conditions of integrity and authenticity
The State Party reported the preparation and submission of the said statement. The received documentation in this regard includes the criteria under which the property was inscribed and the assessment by ICOMOS at the time of inscription while also providing a current report on the validity of prior evaluations. The document needs further work to constitute a Statement of Outstanding Universal Value, which considers all the components (urban area, the Salón Bolívar, archaeological site) that warrant the inscription of the property and the Desired state of conservation and to integrate all components of the inscribed property.
b) Current management system
Since 1982, the legal responsibility for the conservation of historic sites in the Republic of Panamá is the National Historic Heritage Office (DNPH) of the National Institute of Culture (INAC). In the year 2000, a specific government unit, the Oficina del Casco Antiguo (OCA), was established to implement the Historic District’s master plan. The OCA is an autonomous unit funded by the central government through INAC, and managed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Its board of directors includes the director of INAC (who presides it), the minister of tourism, the minister of housing, the minister of the presidency, and the mayor of Panama City. As a UNDP program, the OCA is not meant to be a permanent office; for this reason a legislative effort is underway to replace it with a public-private foundation (Patronato), following the successful model of the Archaeological site of Panama Viejo. Currently, the DNPH limits its actions on the site to approval of rehabilitation projects. In the year 2004, the OCA drafted a derived strategic plan for the following 5-year period (2004-2009). These documents guide the great majority of the public interventions on the site. The mission verified the functionality of these arrangements and recommended securing the permanence of the current system in light of the upcoming presidential elections.
c) Severe deterioration of historic buildings that threatens the Outstanding Universal Value of the property
The State Party reports that building decay and real estate speculation are indeed significant problems. It notes that an inventory of abandoned buildings was carried out in 2004 to allow the authorities to apply the monetary sanctions, as stipulated in legislation, to owners of abandoned buildings. To date, 78 sanction processes have been initiated; some sanctions have been paid, others have responded by initiating rehabilitation works, while others are in the process of appeal. These have been effective at stimulating private investment in the area and restorations, so of the 68 buildings identified as high priority 31 are under renovation or have renovation plans. As for expropriation, the State Party notes that it has only been applied in one case, to house a tourist orientation office and a public cultural centre in an abandoned building, although the owner appealed the process, which is pending a decision from the Supreme Court.
The mission noted that the procedure applied in this case was appropriate and justified according to the circumstances.
d) Limited capacity for the rehabilitation and maintenance of historic structures
The State Party reports that considerable progress has been made on this matter and that projections to continue work are foreseen. The mission noted the accomplishments in this respect and underscored that a significant number of buildings have yet to be intervened. However, inappropriate interventions were undertaken at some historic buildings and the extensive interventions at the Central Hotel have significantly affected an emblematic building.
e) Deficiencies in the implementation of legislative framework for protection
The State Party notes that some deficiencies have been identified in the existing legislative framework, especially in four areas: project approval processes, sanctions to abandoned buildings, public administration, and specific regulations for buffer zones. It recognizes that approvals need to be made more efficient in order to support private investment and that sanctions have to be extended to occupied buildings in order to prevent further deterioration of built heritage. Public management of the site has to be made more stable, and less dependent on political cycles. Finally, a buffer zone has to be officially established for the Historic District to prevent encroachment from inappropriate urban development in adjoining areas and officially submitted to the World Heritage Committee. The State Party reports that a legislative proposal will be sent to the national congress in the following months to address these deficiencies. The mission noted that the National Assembly has approved a buffer zone for Panamá Viejo, however no information has been provided on how the regulatory measures are to be implemented for its management. It also highlighted the potential threat from uncontrolled urban development in the surrounding areas and they reiterated the urgent need to deviate the Avenida Cincuentenaria to mitigate this phenomenon. It also recommended that means to integrate the site with the adjacent neighbourhoods.
f) Lack of implementation of clear conservation and management policies for the property
The State Party reports that a strategic five year plan (2004-2009), derived from the management plan, is being currently implemented and has been broadly disseminated. It notes that most of the projects are either finished, under implementation or in the closing planning stages. The mission verified some of these projects while visiting the area and noted recommendations for specific proposals and the need to update the action plan. However, the management plan should urgently identify a mechanism to improve coordination between INAC/ DNPH/ CONAMOH/ OCA for effective decision-making processes.
g) Demolitions of urban ensembles and buildings
The State Party reports that no illegal demolitions have been carried out. It clarifies in its report the status of the mentioned properties and the proposals for each of them. In the case of the San Market building, the building was modern and relocated by the municipality to a renovated historic building. Because it was not architecturally or historically significant, it was demolished to create a new public square in accordance to the strategic plan. No information was received by the World Heritage Centre. The mission verified this information but also noted that the market provided an intense urban life in the area which today has considerably weakened. A proposal has been developed to address this issue.
h) Forced displacement of occupants and squatters
The State Party reports that the displacement of the low-income residents (renters or squatters) that have occupied Casco buildings for the last 50 years is a process that began with renewed private investment in the area many years ago, and continues to this day. This is due to the fact that the buildings have to be vacated in order to be rehabilitated, 90% of the properties in Casco are privately owned, and the typical private project is targeted to high-income residents. In 1997 and 2002, legislation was passed in order to regulate the eviction processes, establishing moving timelines and economic compensations to residents. The OCA has also implemented a program for affordable housing so that long-time residents can remain at the centre. It has also implemented a wide-ranging social policy focused on education and employment, framed by a vision of “inclusive development” of the site.
The mission noted that, although pertinent social programmes are in place, these are not sufficient and are not implemented on a large scale due to the lack of support from the central government and the vulnerable situation of large numbers of inhabitants of the Historic District. The most worrying aspect of the process is to safeguard and present the historic centre and, although measures have been implemented, they do not suffice.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS note the progress made by the State Party in improving the state of conservation of the property. However, there is still strong concern about the increased conflicts among stakeholders on the policies for the property and the WHC and ICOMOS encourage the State Party to undertake specific actions on this matter as recommended by the mission. Threats to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and the attributes that substantiate it, including the growth in speculation of real estate, the limited enforcement of norms and regulations and the displacement of traditional inhabitants need to be urgently addressed. Means to mitigate gentrification should also be urgently explored to guarantee the lively and liveable character of the historic city in the long term. The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS express concern over the two “patronatos” which could contribute to a division of responsibility. The management plan should be urgently explored as a tool to increase cooperation between all the institutions involved and to manage the property as a whole.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS consider that, in the case that the State Party does not submit this Emergency plan and justify that financial and technical resources are in place to implement the plan, the World Heritage Committee should consider the inclusion of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger;