By: Juan Abelardo Carles Roses
Photos: Javier Pinzón / Courtesy
Throughout its history, Panama has been recognized as a center of commerce par excellence. There is even evidence of products being exchanged between North and South America in pre-Columbian times. But what about other exchanges? Can Panama be a bridge for the exchange of philosophical ideas, cultural trends, or scientific knowledge, for example? Panamanians are betting they can and, at least as far as science is concerned, they’ll attempt to demonstrate it during the 2nd Latin American and Caribbean Open Science Forum (CILAC), to be held October 22-24 in Panama City.
Jorge Motta, the head of the National Secretariat of Science and Technology (SENACYT), who is responsible for bringing this event to Panama claims that the Central American country does indeed have a scientific tradition well worth sharing with its neighbors and the world. “Although science arrived late in our country, it is enough to review the contributions made to the world of public health by the scientific work carried out during the construction of the Panama Canal and then by the Gorgas Memorial Institute of Health Studies, in addition to the contributions to knowledge of the tropics made by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. These constitute clear evidence that our country has made important contributions to science. And, in the 21st century, Panama’s human capital has increased in different fields of science and engineering. These contributions are among the reasons that made it possible for us to be considered as a site for important scientific forums, but I also feel that Panama City’s economic growth and development were contributing factors.”
The CILAC was held for the first time in 2016, in Montevideo, as a forum for building a regional agenda on issues such as innovation, science, and technology, to contribute to the fulfillment of Sustainable Development Goals in Latin America and the Caribbean. CILAC was created to summon and connect future researchers, first-class scientists, and young and established entrepreneurs, corporations, visionaries, and innovators with designers, inventors, engineers, journalists, and scientific disseminators. SENACYT will host the forum with support from the UNESCO Regional Office for Science for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Mayor’s Office of Panama City, and the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB), among other entities.
According to Lidia Brito, director of UNESCO’s Regional Office for Science in Latin America and the Caribbean, meetings like this one are crucial to the contribution of scientific knowledge in the search for solutions to the great global challenges, especially in an era that is rightly considered the anthropocene, given man’s decisive influence on the planet’s environment. For this reason, Latin America and the Caribbean must participate in creating the knowledge needed for political action and decision-making to ensure the social transformation of the region.
“When dealing with issues of strategic importance such as climate change, risk management in extreme events, preservation and access to good quality water, social inequalities, urban and territorial development, economic advancement through equity and technologies applied to education, it is essential to incorporate scientific knowledge in analyses and decision-making processes. For these reasons, UNESCO participates actively in the genesis and continuity of the Latin American and Caribbean Open Science Forum, to be held this year in Panama City, under the title “CILAC 2018: Science Connects.” Scientific cooperation, regional integration, and sustainable development, all topics to be discussed there, constitute an important part of the 21st-century Latin American and Caribbean agenda,” said the official.
In fact, the slogan “Science Connects” reflects the country’s historical vocation. Jorge Motta confirms this: “Our country’s location in the tropics, its geography and its connectivity, give it great potential for research in many fields, especially in the area of biology. The best-established areas of research have been studies of our diverse tropical flora and fauna, diseases, ecology, and the environment, and the impact of changes on human beings. Our country’s connectivity can facilitate research and development by innovative producers and the commercialization of technology in areas such as ICTs and pharmaceutical products.”
It is a great challenge to maintain and improve upon the synergy that emerged two years ago from Montevideo, where nearly 1,400 participants from twenty countries took part in 100 thematic science and technology sessions (five of which were attended by ministers or high-level national authorities). According to Motta, “CILAC 2016 generated more than fifty recommendations on policies, mechanisms, and regional integration initiatives related to science and technology, such as STI policies and their socioeconomic paradigms, universities for development, scientific education, and the role of science in sustainable and inclusive development.
Fifteen universities also came together to create the Latin American Network of Intercultural Studies and Experiences. CILAC 2018 hopes to advance the public debate on the roles of science, technology, and innovation in the construction of more sustainable and inclusive knowledge societies that respect human rights and issues of our diversities,” he added.
The forum will also face the challenge of increasing the general public’s interest in science. Milagro Mainieri, director of research and development at SENACYT, believes that “Panama, particularly its citizens, is not aware of the benefits it receives through scientific knowledge. We hope that, through CILAC and the spaces for public interaction that it will create, we’ll be able to encourage people to learn about science and the benefits and rewards that research brings to society.” To this end, SENACYT has joined forces with the municipality of Panama to devise a program that promises to breathe a fascination for science into many urban spaces.
Alexandra Schjelderup, Municipal Director of Culture, summarizes the city’s role in the event: “Basically, it translates into exhibitions like ‘Strata: Rocks-Dust-Stars’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art. “Strata” is the result of an alliance between the Mayor’s Office and the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) of Liverpool. This exhibition, which will be presented simultaneously in the city of York, in the United Kingdom, as part of the UNESCO-sponsored York Mediale Festival, features internationally renowned artists, such as the award-winning Isaac Julien (United Kingdom), Ryoichi Kurokawa (Japan), the artistic collective Hyphen Hub, Attractor, and others, who contribute artistic reflections on the ways in which humanity has intervened on the face of the Earth through geology. The exhibition will also provide an educational platform and performance arena for regional artists, particularly artists linked to Bogotá’s District Institute of the Arts and similar entities in other cities that have joined the project, enriching CILAC with additional programming from the perspective of science, the arts, and access to them through public spaces.”
In fact, the Mayor’s Office of Panama is no stranger to scientific dissemination and its participation in this field is not limited to CILAC. For two years now, it has developed initiatives related to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) to complement scientific and creative stimuli through informal education and art. Apart from the scientific and artistic activities carried out with thousands of children in the neighborhoods, this will be the second international exhibition supported by the Mayor’s Office to complement the efforts of SENACYT in the dissemination of science in spaces like the Museum of Contemporary Art.
In the end, the goal of CILAC ―in its first year in Montevideo, the event to be held in Panama next October, in 2020, and in subsequent years― is to reinforce the role of the sciences in the construction of better communities and countries throughout the region. This can only be achieved by involving ordinary citizens, as Motta rightly points out: “There is a great need to promote in our people, especially our young people, a desire for science, to see that it is perceived as something fascinating, something that deserves a closer look.” CILAC 2018 will provide much of this, an opportunity to wonder, to ask questions about our world and, with the answers, to understand and preserve it.
For more information about dates, participants, and activities, visit www.forocilac.org