Originally conceived as a single road, the Pan-American Highway is a network of roads through fifteen countries that extends from Alaska to Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Only fifty-four miles remain to be built as of 2007. The idea for a Pan-American highway system originated at the Fifth International Conference of American States in Santiago de Chile in 1923. In 1925 the First Pan-American Highway Conference, held in Buenos Aires, found that the construction of a highway was of immediate importance for the development of the region. In 1928 the Sixth International Conference of American States, held in Havana, issued its approval of a road for longitudinal communication across the continent.
The eventual catalyst for further development of the highway was World War II. Suddenly, adequate land connections between the continents, especially between the United States and the Panama Canal Zone, became crucial for military security. Substantial progress was made, especially in Central America. U.S. assistance was very important.
In the 1950s supporters of the highway convinced the U.S. Congress that a highway and its accompanying economic and social development were an important deterrent to Communist expansion in Latin America. The thoroughfare was finally opened in 1963, except for the Darién Gap, a stretch between northern Colombia and southern Panama. The highway has helped economic development in Mexico and Central America.
Koch, Wolfgang. "Beyond the End of the Road." Americas 40 (July-August 1988), 44-49.
Koch, Wolfgang. "Across a Gap in Darien." The Economist 325 (21 November 1992), 57.
The Pan American Highway System. Washington, DC: General Secretariat, Organization of the American States, 1969.
James Patrick Kiernan