Home Institution

Harvard University

Publication Date

Spring 2004

Program Name

Panama: Development and Conservation


For over a decade, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) and its United States predecessor have contemplated a Canal Amplification Project to allow larger boats to pass through the Panama Canal. This project, as it is currently understood, would involve the construction of a new, “third” set of locks with greater capacity, the widening of channels within the Canal, and the flooding of approximately 45,000 hectares of land currently occupied by campesinos/as. Since the passage of a 1999 law that expanded the definition of the Panama Canal Watershed by 63 percent, some campesinos/as have united to oppose the flooding of their communities. The social justice branch of the Catholic Church known as Pastoral Social-Cáritas Panamá has aided the opposition effort, criticizing the ACP’s secretive attitude toward the public and arguing that the artificial lakes, which the flooding would create, are not necessary. Indeed, alternatives exist that would save water without forcing these campesinos/as to relocate. The larger issue, though, is that the whole Canal Amplification Project is not financeable and will harm rather than benefit the Panamanian people for decades. This sober reality has yet to be recognized by more than a few concerned citizens. The creation of artificial lakes and possible flooding in the Panama Canal’s Western Watershed, even with its potential to emburden the lives of thousands of people, represents only a small fraction of the problematic aspects of the proposed Canal Amplification Project. However, when viewed as a microcosm of the proyect as a whole, the study of this conflict serves as a methodologically invaluable tool for understanding the dangers that the larger project poses to the Panamanian people. This paper will develop a detailed account of the flooding controversy and argue that the ACP, in trying to sell the Canal Amplification Project, uses the same practices of underestimating or hiding negative aspects and costs that have been widely opposed in the issue of the artificial lakes.


Natural Resources and Conservation


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