In the early 1970s, many Latin American nations looked to the untapped resources of their jungles as the key to prosperity and modernization.
Huge development projects – dams, coal and gold mines, oil exploration projects, colonization and road-building programs, cattle and cash crop export strategies – were funded by international development banks.
In Panama, the World Bank loaned the government nearly $70 million for its master plan for the jungle. First, a dam would be built, to help generate new industry, and wean Panama from its dependence on the U.S. and the canals.
Second, to promote land reform and new settlement, a road would be carved into new lands in the jungle.
The dam flooded the homelands of the 1,500 Guna (also known as Kuna) Indians, who were relocated to villages along the highway. Now, nearly 20 years later, tens of thousands of landless peasants have streamed down the new road, and have come face to face with the Gunas.
This is a story of two cultures colliding on the fragile soils of a new frontier.
Narration is by Edward James Olmos, who hosted a series of 13 half-hour Vanishing Homelands specials.