The Indian Guerrilla General
Skirmishes continued to flare up between Lorenzo’s guerrillas of La Negrita in Coclé and the garrisoned troops of the Conservador leaning central government of the Colombian Army. The rag-tag army of Indian peasant patriots forced into a disciplined guerrilla unit fought intensely as no other group fought. Throughout the long year of 1900 the fighting continued in the region around Coclé Province. Now armed, the once community leader “caudillo,” Victoriano Lorenzo, was now in charge of battling against a trained military and he organized continual nighttime assaults on the government troops.
The camps were constantly moved at night as well with posted lookouts and informers doing their best to alert against surprise attacks. In their organized struggle, the Indians wanted to make up for the past horrors endured by their people. They would defend themselves this time, they reasoned, against the murder and rape of Indian women and children as in the past when untold atrocities had been committed against a defenseless community of Indians.
By October of 1901, the tide would soon turn after the guerrilla army took over the city of Penonomé forcing the Colombian army to flee to Panama City. The final victory in the region of Coclé was the start of a series of victories for the Liberales thanks to the Indian guerrilla army garrisoned in the city of Penonomé. By the 10th day of the month the 34-year-old Victoriano Lorenzo was enjoying a much deserved victory celebration with his people.
In fact, he had appropriated all the contents of the stores, which had, for so long, been owned by the local elite who supported and housed the Colombian army and conservative civilian bands.For the rest of the defeated Liberal forces the war was virtually over since the debacle at Calidonia Bridge the year before. Whoever had not been imprisoned remained in hiding since they were being sought by the Colombian army troops from Panama City.
The Province of Coclé at this point had become a safe haven, and, gradually, with every passing hour men began showing up to join the rebel army. Some were armed and ready and others were new to the fight, but they were all eager to get involved. All comers, however, were welcomed by the guerrilla commanding general, although he was not yet recognized by the defeated Liberales forces who were still in hiding, fearful for their lives.
The events during the latter part of that fateful year of 1901 would turn the tide for the Liberales of Panama in what would become known in history as the War of a Thousand Days.The feeling in the country of Panama was one of great concern for the conservative forces and their allies, the North Americans, who ran the railway in the middle of the country. They had the concession and sole authority over the safety of the railroad, and they were the major employer in the country, beside the Banana Barons in Bocas del Toro and Chiriqui Provinces.
The white Panamanian elites who were employed by the railroad company would, two years later, bear out by their actions- one of the greatest injustices ever committed against a Panamanian patriot. The historians would never find out from the official papers what actually happened but, as a consequence, the Panamanian elite employees both on the Panama Railroad and the Banana Empire would be rapidly catapulted from being just employees to positions of great power. Their names would rank higher than any and all living survivors of the Battle of the Calidonia Bridge.
As the Conservative Colombian army regrouped and attacked the forces at Coclé, they were met with defeat after defeat. The American entrepreneurs were not amused as they coached their “military advisees,” the Colombian Army, in battle. They lost battle after battle, however, and the clean up of bodies would continue into early 1902.
The fighting continued to move closer and closer to Panama City radiating out from around the area historians would come to call “Indian fighting country.” Today, it is the countryside known as the interior Central Provinces of Panama.The American Army intelligence in the area of the Panama Railroad needed no more proof of the prowess of the Indian leaders, who were attracting more of an army than the ones garrisoned by the Colombian government in the entire country of Panama.This story will continue.