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Home - Articles - UNESCO's Blessing is a Curse

2008/02/03 - Gabriel Calzada - Libertad Digital

UNESCO's Blessing is a Curse

Antigua, Guatemala is a beautiful colonial city, magnificently restored and maintained. Its streets and homes, its public squares and churches exude history. Monumental ruins are scattered about, giving the place a mythological air. To the south and west, three majestic volcanoes reveal the city's past. At the same time, they protect its secrets and tragedies. In Antigua, everything is in harmony. Everything? Well, almost everything.

It seems many locals don't appreciate politicians intervening in matters like what color the facades should be, or requiring complicated authorizations just to do a little remodeling. Putting an addition on a house has become virtually impossible since UNESCO declared the city a world heritage site in 1979. Regulatory creep hasn't let up over the past thirty years. It has reached the absurd extreme of forcing many businessmen to change the name of their stores to the Spanish equivalent.

No one denies preserving the city is of great importance to attracting tourists. However, the central planning of the city's look, development and "attractions" doesn't satisfy everyone. Dispersed among Antigua's residents and property-owners are multiple, subjective ways, as Hayek would say, to take advantage of the city's charm. Aesthetic and cultural planning blocks this dispersed knowledge from helping the country's first city prosper and progress. Discovery of the most appropriate actions through trial and error has been replaced by a group of "experts" making most of the decisions. Diversity and risk have disappeared beneath the weight of central planning. Now, everyone lives according to the regulators' tastes and values.

The situation has led many residents in Antigua to view UNESCO bureaucrats as the origin of a centralization nightmare that has expropriated decision-making over many daily affairs; and they might be right. It is unsurprising, therefore, to hear locals are taking out their frustrations on the cars of United Nations employees. Until there is a more perfect justice, those who have watched part of their property sacrificed on the alter of aesthetic dirigisme have decided to apply commutative justice.

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