Radical Urban Theory

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Panama Lost?

Lorena Endara


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Panama is known as ‘the Hub of the Americas,’ the conduit for communication between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. One of the most grandiose engineering projects ever undertaken, the Canal divides a continent in half with the purpose of facilitating international commerce. After almost a century of US dominance, Panama gained control over the Canal at noon on December 31, 1999. Six years later there is much controversy regarding the future of the Canal. Container ships are being built increasingly larger and to accommodate them the Canal must undergo an enlargement scheme. Although the government has already approved an expansion of the Canal, it is the Panamanian people who must weigh out the real costs (social and environmental disruption) in light of who is truly to benefit from it, both domestically and internationally. A national referendum will decide the fate of the Canal, the country, and world trade.

When ships carrying passengers or goods pass through the Canal they unknowingly leave behind a trace. Despite the widespread wealth generated by the Canal, a main source of national income, it is only concentrated in the capital, Panama City. This increasingly tall, modern and crowded city is perceived by outsiders as an urban platform that sprung out amidst a jungle. In some ways, they are right. The influx of foreign capital into Panama overdevelops a fragment of the country while neglecting the majority of it. Consequently, Panama City becomes a place where tourists feel more at home than natives do. Being a Panamanian citizen myself, I marvel at these contradictions.

In my photographs I explore the landscape within the context of the historical, political, and economic processes that shape Panama. The images help me understand the complexities of development by documenting Panama as it succumbs to fast food restaurants, Hollywood films, and shopping malls.

Photo by Lorena Endara
Empty lot. Panama City, Panama. January 2006.

Photo by Lorena Endara
Soccer field. Panama City, Panama. November 2005.

Photo by Lorena Endara
Pool area, Hotel Miramar. Panama City, Panama. December 2005.

Photo by Lorena Endara
Israel Avenue. Panama City, Panama. December 2005.

Photo by Lorena Endara
Billboard. Costa del Este, Panama. November 2005.

Photo by Lorena Endara
Little girl and “Red Devils.” San Miguelito, Panama. December 2005.

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Radical Urban Theory