“In its 37th annual session of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, it was decided that the Monument Casco Antiguo will maintain its World Heritage status [after the government built an elevated highway around the historic peninsula.]
“It was concluded that the marine viaduct of the Coastal Beltway built on the site is not enough reason to change the status of World Heritage of Casco Antiguo, and due to this the site is now out of the “World Heritage in Danger” list.”
If you have visited or followed Casco Viejo over the past few years, you’re surely familiar with the drama:
- Government plans to build ridiculous highway around our neighborhood
- UNESCO downgrades our neighborhood to the endangered list of World Heritage Sites due to beginning stages of ridiculous highway construction
- UNESCO threatens to take our neighborhood off the World Heritage list entirely should construction not be halted
- These recommendations are ignored and the highway is 90% complete
- Due to some kind of backwards logic, UNESCO goes back on its word and actually upgrades the status to non-endangered or regular World Heritage Site once again
When this news came out the other day, most of the people in our neighborhood were thrilled…
The idea of Casco losing its valuable World Heritage moniker would seriously decrease tourism, devalue real estate prices, and signify, in general terms, a serious setback – both literally and figuratively – to progress in our little developing nook of the world.
But when I heard the news, I was actually kinda conflicted.
Winston Churchill once said, “The price of greatness is responsibility,” and most people tend to reflexively agree with that. Not just because Churchill is a hard man to dispute. But rather, because taking responsibility for your actions is one of those central themes we learn as children (and some of us are still learning as adults). It’s an archetype for how humans are supposed to get along. We are supposed to do what’s right and when we are in fault, we’re supposed to accept the consequences.
So when this news was released, I saw two very clear threats to greatness that seem to be brazenly flouted:
1) UNESCO: A World Heritage committee is supposed to rely on objective yet critical judgments to rule by the iron fist. It is their responsibility to follow through with what is right. With all the facts and opinions laid out in front of me, I can’t see how they could let Panama get away with this. What kind of precedent does this set for future scenarios of a similar kind?
2) Panama: The nation of Panama has a responsibility to its people, to protect and conserve the country’s history and culture. When a significant threat to both the human and historical patrimony of an ancient peninsula can be designed, executed, and completed free from any penalty, what kind of message does that send to future generations?
It sounds weird and kind of sadistic to chastise UNESCO for “letting this one slide.” Especially considering I was actively and vehemently against the highway from the very start.
But if the price of greatness is responsibility, and if responsibility is no longer important, does anyone else wonder what could possibly be next?