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The Silver People Chronicle

This is the story of the West Indian people of Panama.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

The Saga of the United States Canal Begins


As we get closer to our story of how the American Canal and Canal Zone was built, and how such constructions led to the creation of segregated areas for the Black Westindian worker, we will pause to review the scenario. The 1900’s would find the Westindian population in Panama employed in the far off provinces, engaged, mainly, in the cultivation of bananas.

In the area of Bocas del Toro the Westindians, as workers, found themselves as immersed in labor struggles as any of the Latino laborers. After the creation of the Canal area, history would find them segregated and treated like enemies from the inception of the American canal construction project in 1903.

The fright ingrained in the colonial mentality manifested itself in an aversion for people of color, and the Yankees were not, by any means, immune to it. “More over,” says Castillero Calvo, an important Panamanian historian, “this great fear that should be of interest to us is a social fear, a Spanish colonial fear which was acted upon by securing their surrounding perimeters. They took actions to widen these boundaries such that they secured an area or region to widen their expanses of frontiers. (Castillero Calvo, 1999)

Such were the mental and physical markers embraced by a regime that would set into motion a dehumanizing system in labor management relations. Such a method of labor administration was intended to continue the enslavement of blacks as before the 1833 British Emancipation Manifesto.

In fact, the California Gold Rush of 1848 was apparently just another way to get more Yankees to areas of the continent where they were still not in control and to further spearhead United States colonization attempts.

A brief history of California will reveal that after 1846 the Yankees overcame Mexican forces and declared California an independent republic, on February of 1848. Similar maneuvers would make Panama an independent republic in 1903. The people of Panama, however, would never experience the carnage, enslavement and ideological devastation that the native Indians of the area we call California today would experience. (Folgel, Daniel, 1953 ).

This story continues.

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About Roberto Reid,

Roberto Reid is a historian, writer and poet and descendant of the Silver People of Panama, the original West Indian people who came to Panama over 150 years ago to build the Panama Railroad and the Panama Canal.

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