Pan American Highway System Final

This discussion topic submitted by James Molholm ( at 9:17 pm on 7/21/99. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

Highways of Friendship

The Pan-American Highway
I. Introduction to Roads
A. Roads play are an important part of any country
1. Link cities, allow for trade, allow for people to move more freely about the country
2. The Pan American Highway system not only links central American countries, but also links the region to North and South America
B. This discussion will cover the history and politics behind the creation of the Pan American Highway, how this road effects the neo-tropical environment, and some of the interesting sites you would encounter along the road
II. Formation of the Highway
A. In 1923, the 5th conference of the Pan American States passed a resolution calling for the formation of the Pan American Highway Congress.
1. Road was to modeled after the system utilized in the US.
2. Costa Rican coffee farmers supported the system, eager to profit from the prosperous markets the road would open.
III. The highway is still not yet completed (and maybe never will be)
A. The Highway travels 26,000 km between Alaska and the Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.
1. The only gap in the highway is found in Panama.
a. The Darien Gap Rainforest is one of the world's most biologically diverse regions.
b. Much of the land is owned by the Embera, Wounaan, and Kuna peoples.
c. Over 30,000 indigenous people live in the area.
(1) The Kuna depend on the forest for medicine and their livelihood.
d. The area has been declared a biological and cultural World Heritage Site.
(1) There is a correlation between road construction and destruction of forests.
(2) Panama and Colombia have both lost about half of their original forest cover
2. This has been an important economic issue for Latin America.
a. The North American Free Trade Agreement has ignited urgency among business and government leaders.
b. In 1997, leaders from six countries, including Costa Rica, signed a letter of agreement to begin to repair and modernize the highway.
(1) The political changes, liberalization, and economic opportunities were cited as reasons to modernize the highway.
3. Panama opposes the completion of the road, for fear of drug trafficking along the road.

IV. Traveling the road
A. An interesting way to see the country is to bike along the road.
1. This is perceived as a more friendly method of transportation, it allows a rider to see the country first-hand instead of through a car window
a. Cheap lodging and food are accessible and usually not too far off the main roads.
b. Cyclists are more common in Costa Rica compared to the states, drivers are accustomed to sharing the road with bikers.
2. Planning your trip is very important
a. It is difficult to repair a bike in Costa Rica, so bring extra parts.
b. Pack lightly!!!
B. Costa Rica has a very effective public transportation system
1. Buses are available to go almost anywhere
V. Interesting Stop #1
A. Founded during the economic crash of the 80's, the Butterfly Farm raises exactly what its name implies.
1. Butterflies can easily be associated with Costa Rica. The habitat of different species includes the entire nation, and about 5% of the identified species of butterflies can be found in Costa Rica.
2. The work begins by planting the different varieties of nectar and larval plants.
a. As butterflies feed, the lay their eggs on the nearby plants (butterflies lay their eggs in clusters, the entire group in one spot).
b. The area is protected by netting, to keep the birds, lizards, spiders, ants, and wasps that normally devour 90% of the eggs.
3. The eggs are then collected and sorted.
B. After a few days, the caterpillars hatch and placed on their species specific plant.
1. Caterpillars have strong mandibles for chewing their food, a characteristic adult butterflies lack.
2. Caterpillars can also produce silk, which is used for escape, security, and to attatch themselves to leaves during the paupa stage.
3. The abdomen of the larva compose 80% of its body.
4. Larvae will molt as many as 4 times before entering the pupa stage.
5. Caterpillars grow at an enormous rate during this stage of their lives.
C. When the insects enter the pupa stage, they are gathered for shipment.
1. During the pupa stage the insect is most vulnerable.
a. In the wild, it uses camoflauge to blend in with the surrounding environment.
2. The process can last as long as 2 weeks.
D. When the adult butterfly emerges, it will find itself in a butterfly house.
1. The butterfly will spend the rest of its short life sip nectar from tropical plants and dazzling local visitors (2-8 weeks is the expected lifetime of an adult butterfly.)
E. Butterfly populations are in a worldwide decline, EO Wilson attributes this to deforestation, since butterflies have very strong relationships to specific plants.


Brinckerhoff, Joris. "Butterflies" Costa Rica's Travel Net.

Bronaugh, Whit. "Farming the Flying Flowers." Wildlife Conservation. September 1993.

Costa Rica National Chamber of Tourism "Costa Rica Naturally." 2/8/99

Drosdoff, Daniel. "Support For Modernizing the Pan American Highway." Inter-American Development Bank. March 18, 1997.

Korten, Alicia. "Paving the Pan-American Gap." Multinational Monitor. Volume 16, # 11 November 1995.

Panet, J.P. Latin America on Bicycle. 1987 Passport Press. 155 Pages.

Ross, Mel and Ethel Ross. The Long Road South: To the End of the Pan American Highway. 1968, Mitchell Press Limited.

Wilken, Elena. "Pandora's American Highway." World Watch. November, 1994.

End Note: I was really pleased with the discussion that followed my presentation. A lot of interesting issues were raised: What are alternatives to roads, how do we balance development and preservation, what are some other examples of sustainable development? These are some very tough questions to address, but I thought that we had a lot of great ideas.

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