Story Publication logo December 28, 2017

Atlantic Conquest


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Heavy machinery is cutting a new road to untouched Caribbean beaches. Extractive industries are...

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Image by Raphael Salazar. Panama, 2017.
Image by Raphael Salazar. Panama, 2017.


Christopher Columbus' fourth and final voyage to the Americas. Four sailing ships and 140 crew. They took two months to cross the Atlantic. The Caribbean received them with hurricane winds and sixteen-foot waves. They found refuge in the archipelago we now call Bocas del Toro, in western Panama. Columbus was fascinated with this immense and serene bay, full of dolphins. He baptized it in his name: Admiral Bay, and the principal island, Colón. They were looking for a path to the Pacific.

The indigenous people of the area arrived in canoes with fruits and gifts. But the Spanish only had eyes for the plates of gold they wore as necklaces. They asked the people where they found it. They answered that about a two day sail to the west, there was “infinite gold”. The Ngäbe and Buglé called this place Veraguas.

The Europeans pointed their prow east and later founded a settlement at the mouth of a river they baptized Belén. They convinced the indigenous to take them to their mines. Immediately upon entering the forest they saw bright stones in the roots of the trees. They found gold simply by running their hands through the earth. Columbus wrote to the King of Spain,

“I have seen more gold in two days in Veraguas than in two years in La Española-Dominican Republic” —Christopher Columbus.

The Conquistadors moved to attack and captured the chief. While they transferred him in a boat, hands and feet tied, he managed to launch himself into the river and survive. Immediately, he organized his men for a counterattack and at arrow point forced the invaders to return to the sea. Henceforth was born the myth of “infinite gold” that has remained alive, centuries upon centuries, to this day.

Five hundred and fifteen years after the arrival of Columbus, a silent, yet expanding operation now threatens the existence of dozens of communities in one of the last lungs of primary rainforest of Panama— the Mesoamerican BiologicalCorridor. A massive infrastructure project that includes miles of new roads, hydroelectric, mega-mining, a network of electric power transmission lines and associated groundwork in protected forests. These projects are anchored by nineteen miles of asphalt that will connect the Panamerican Highway with the Caribbean sea. It is a project that the Panama government has baptized, with the sensibility of a stone, “The Conquest of the Atlantic”.

To read the full multimedia story via Shorthand, click here. To read the Spanish version via Shorthand, click here. To read the story as it was orginially published in La Prensa, click here.