After the big strike of 1918-1919 and the general work stoppages that followed, the Chiriqui Land Company would be forced by political pressure to increase the pay of workers on their plantations. The agreements called for better housing and working conditions which improved the lot of the men somewhat.
Women in the area still played an important role as life slowed down and the strategies of the corporation seemed to call for retaliatory measures. The area drastically changed from being almost entirely Westindian to one having Latino foreigners and Americans more involved with the administration. Most Westindians that had any administrative positions, in fact, were replaced with American whites or Latino supervisors and handlers. Still, these administrators and subcontractors still seemed to turn to Westindian workers to get the job done.
As improvements were instituted in the 1920’s until the 1940’s, well before WW II, the area would see an increase in racial segregation patterned after the Southern United States. Economic depression really set in throughout most of Central America and hunger took over in most of depressed Hispanic America.As the stratagem of racial and class segregation set in to set all workers against the black Westindians who used to rule what was happening within the area of labor relations the social climate began to change once again. Separation of the races in work gangs would still bring the Westindian Community even closer as a new breed of Westindian men sought employment in the area. But the hey-day of the turn of the century in Bocas del Toro, Panama would never return to its former vigour.
Life went on, however, and Westindian women still played a vital role in the life of working men on the banana plantations. Although the washer women and social organizers who before followed the work gangs vanished from the scene, an air of general support for especially the Westindian work men would still be available from the women in the area. That same support network, in fact, would still be present in 1955 when I wandered into the area looking for employment with some of my classmates from Colon and Panama City.
Researchers relate how during the years following WW II Westindian labor leaders would be fired, labeled trouble makers, communists and virtually deported summarily from the areas of the work. There are also reports of the use of US governmental agencies like the FBI to keep labor leaders away from those areas of the country where American interests had been established. Reports from labor organizations had it that some Westindian labor organizers would even be assassinated, while others would be intimidated into abandoning the area and/or leave the country of Panama all together.
For the laborers who remained on the plantations life would never be the same as it had been during the boom days when people from all over the region were attracted to this area for pleasure and for work. As for Westindian working men, the same daily working routine continued to be the norm, and, as I described in previous relating to Bea’s accounts, our days would really be dull and uneventful.
This story continues.