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ENRIQUE V. IGLESIAS

President

Inter-American Development Bank

Washington

U. S. A.

Dear Dr. Iglesias:

We are writing to inform you of a great danger that is threatening our beloved Parque Nacional Volcán Barú (PNVB) western of Panama and to invite your help.

Parque Nacional Volcán Barú is an important place not only for Panama but also the world. As you know our planet is undergoing a rapid decrease in bio-diversity, because of the loss of host ecosystems.

The habitats most conducive to bio-diversity can be found here in the tropics, especially in the cloud forest. As Central America forms a natural land bridge between the North and South American continents, it has been a transit and settling area for diversity. It is also home to a large but ever decreasing amount of cloud forest. In 2001 Conservation International said that ten percent of the earth's plant and animal species can be found in Central America, which comprises only 1% the global land mass. This may not still be true.

However we are struggling together to keep what is left of our treasures for future generations. There have been many joint efforts between local and international organisations to preserve biological wealth. Volcán Barú National Park is connected
to the larger Parque Internacional la Amistad (PILA), which covers much of the
Talamanca Mountains in Costa Rica and the Western Highlands of Panama. In the year 2000, the two parks were combined with others for international recognition by UNESCO as a 'Global Biosphere Reserve.' (PILA was already considered a World Heritage site.) This park, is home to many diverse species of flora and fauna including over 100 species of mammal, and 400-600 species of birds.

These lands are also being connected to others within Central America as part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor Project which is supposed to create a safe thru-way for migrating species from Mexico to all the way to Columbia.

The remoter areas of this 'bridge' serve as refuges. Though Volcán Barú National Park is an international tourist destination and surrounded on three sides by towns, its ecological character and present set up is such that it remains one of these refuges. At 3,475 meters Volcán Barú is the highest point within the Biosphere Reserve and Panama, and one of the highest within Central America. Its isolation and altitude has helped foster a concentration of endemic species (species unique to the area). These particularly include, trees, orchids, and many of PILA's 57 endemic species of birds. It is also great place to see the Resplendent Quetzal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

President Mireya Moscoso and her government are trying to build an "eco-tourism route" to connect the communities of Boquete and Cerro Punta. This paved road would run directly through Parque Nacional Volcán Barú, the river bed of the Rio Caldera, and present sight of el Sendero Los Quetzales (the Trail of the Quetzals).

Such a road has the potential to cause massive deforestation and be an environmental and social disaster.

There is a very active body of local opposition which includes (foremost) Panamanians who have lived here all of their lives. It also includes people who have made the choice to move to this area, and care for it greatly. We are concerned about the affect that deforestation, increased traffic and all of the accompanying ills (such as rising pollution and crime) would have on our quality of life, and the quality of tourism here. Not only will deforestation be caused during the actual construction, but a road will also make the park more accessible to illegal intrusion including slash and burn farming. It could damage the watershed which the cloud forest regulates and protects. Deforestation can cause rivers to dry, flooding (after much rain), and the overproduction of silt. There are six rivers which originate in Parque Nacional Volcán Barú. One of them, the Rio Caldera, provides hydroelectricity to the whole country and water for rural aqueducts.

This project has been billed by the government of Panama as an asset to tourism that will bring money into the country. We believe that this is a grave fallacy. It is unlikely that a paved road will increase tourism in an area that primarily attracts hikers. If it does it will be the sort of tourism that only benefits a very limited amount of people – those few owning land that the road would access (people we suspect are some of the same government elites pushing the project). We do not think that their short term benefit is worth paying in our water and livelihood, the security of our communities and the security of the 600 year old forest surrounding Baru Volcano. Unfortunately it is difficult to get the government to agree with our point of view. In fact they want this project so much that it is being pushed through illegal channels. For example the normal procedures for contracting a construction company and environmental impact studies have been waved.

We are hoping that your expertise can be added to our efforts. We believe that international attention is very important at this juncture. Such attention may help to nudge organisations such as the World Bank, (which helps to fund the Biological Corridor Project) or Interamerican Development Bank, into action.

Welcome to Panama, welcome to Parque Nacional Volcán Barú. We are inviting you for a visit to this magnificent "protected" area.

Please for more information, please contact us.

Sincerely,

M. Sc. Ariel Rodríguez Vargas/Biologist-Zoologist/Expertise en Conservation Biology and Wildlife Management/Center of Studies of Biotic Resources -CEREB

Faculty of Natural Sciences, Universidad de Panamá, PANAMÁ

Telefax: 00-(507) 223-0212; Correo: CEREB@ancon.up.ac.pa / Arielrdrz@yahoo.com

Cc: Presidencia de la República de Panamá.

Cc: Isaías Lesmes - Representante Encargado del BID en Panamá