OCEAN REEF ISLANDS
Rock, Sand, and Capital: Practices of Land Reclamation in Panama City
Guillermo Leon Gomez
A complex web of capital in the form of foreign global investment envelops every material resource, labor system, and grain of rock and sand in its periphery. Cities host multinational corporations and global financial institutions by incentivizing investment via highly unregulated tax zones. Economies develop internally, with accumulations of surplus capital for the elite class, in turn creating a strong demand for an investment in highly valued land. We witness an evolution of the built environment, with land becoming increasingly scarce due to overdevelopment practices. The ingenuity, creativity, and technology of the private sector permits the construction of land from thin air, sourcing material rock, sand, and capital from other regions. The creation of artificial islands through the process of “land reclamation” becomes a global phenomena, and real estate has the opportunity to expand outside the delineated territory of the coastline and across the water table, as seen in Panama City. The Ocean Reef Islands branch out from the luxury hotel and condominium district Punta Pacifica, creating an exclusive gated community and yacht club. Panama real estate developers Grupos Los Pueblos, spearheading the project, have contracted international maritime engineers and construction conglomerate Boskalis. The company is well known for the development of energy pipelines, installation of submarine fiber optic cables, and the dredging and expansion of ports, specifically the expansion of the Suez Canal.
The construction of spectacularly engineered infrastructure projects as gated communities (both vertical and horizontal) of this form are markers of financial capital accumulation and indicative of the unregulated nature of the economy. “Land reclamation” and the privatization of the coastline becomes a key tool in driving speculative real estate. The actors of the private sector interact in extremely opaque methods and have the opportunity exist transnationally, networked through specific political-economic infrastructures like SEZs (Special Economic Zones).
What are their roles in the larger political and economic context that generate these phenomena, particularly in Panama? Do we see a shift in real estate practices in Latin America, or globally, as coastlines become highly valuable and extremely developed? What creates and sustains these values, in turn dispossessing others? Do we witness examples of resistance, either regionally or globally, and can they be replicated? And most importantly, as sea-level rise from climate change is imminent, when can we speculate a divestment of capital from coastal cities and how will that affect the labor class of the urban ecology?