The Pioneers of Bocas del Toro and Puerto Armuelles

? Puerto Armuelles in Chiriqui Province

Bocas del Toro Province

In the years entering the turn of the XX century pioneer Westindian workmen were, in ever increasing numbers, beginning to make their appearance in the remote areas of the province called Bocas del Toro, known locally to the Westindian people as Bocas. Although they were very distant in the country of Panama Westindian labor would be instrumental in developing these areas, thus opening them up to white settlers from Europe. During this period another far flung area that for most blacks and natives of the region was known as Puerto Armuelles in the province of Chiriqui became well known to European families. Banana, undoubtedly, had become the mayor crop of the area even before the first coffee bean was planted.

By the end of the XIX century, then, The Chiriqui Land Company (CLC) was threatened by a drought of laborers in their Divisions in Bocas del Toro and in Limon of Costa Rica. Again, Black laborers from the West Indies would come to their rescue thus becoming a very important player in the industry of the production of the banana fruit. Some twenty years, however, would elapse before the love affair between Westindian labor and management of the companies of these western provinces of Panama would end. The whole Central American operation of the Chiriqui Land Company (CLC) Division would experience wave after wave of work stoppages.

The whole question of the preference for West Indian laborers had become a tried and tested fact. For the Costa Rican and Panamanian natives who might have been available for employment as laborers the rigors of working on a banana plantation exempted them from what many were willing to accept. The daily labor in humid weather was hard and dangerous and it kept many of the Spanish speaking citizens away. For the Black Westindian laborers accustomed to hard labor and minimal housing and working conditions, the environment prevalent in the region of Bocas del Toro Province, the work was not only acceptable but attractive at this time for young men hungry for employment.

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