The Mysterious Disappearance of General Victoriano Lorenzo

Images thanks to:
Ngobe people living in Panama today.

There lay the final chapter of that Thousand Days War, that 15th day of the month of May, of that venerable year of 1903. In a tortured and riddled heap lay the spirit of patriarchal Panama, claiming at last the spirit of her one and only hero of liberation.

The ghost of shame and decrepitude would now follow her, the Patria, the motherland, who would mourn in silence behind closed doors, consoled, or better said, haunted, by the spirit of fear, as distrust scurried throughout the city and countryside seeking the life of her real sons and daughters still hiding in their beloved forests and rugged mountains. It was, after all, the nomadic life they, the native Ngobe’s, had embraced since sighting the white man three centuries before.

The deed was done, and it was treason; the kind of treason that, by some twist of logic, might befit a genuine general, a true commander of the armies of the mother country of Panama. Ironically, that rag tag band that Victoriano Lorenzo had fashioned into a disciplined army, and that had, time and again, defeated the elite Colombian army, retreated from the jubilant scene in Panama. The ruling elite celebrated the signing of the Wisconsin Accords and the elimination of their one most powerful obstacle to their profitable alliances with each other and the North Americans. That the dead general’s army was now in hiding, exiled from their own country, was no surprise to many.

They had been the ones who had come out of the bushes, and with the tools of their trade to work the mother earth’s gardens- what modern men now call agriculture- they had been the ones to meet the challenge as a united community. Lead by a faithful and divinely natural son of Panama, they had held together valiantly under Victoriano, who had been one of their own. His mixed blood was in his people, the disinherited, who surrounded him in battle and accompanied him in victory. That 15th of May might someday become a national holiday, they thought, in a future when the real sons of the motherland would control the hearts and minds of the people.

For the moment, however, their mourning would have to be turned into courage for survival, as they again penetrated the ancient hiding places deep in the safety of the womb of the sacred land. They knew well that the land, that mother earth, the giver of life from which they believed they had all evolved, would give them haven.

Meanwhile, as some still mourned the killing of Victoriano Lorenzo, the Comandancia of the garrisoned Colombian Army in Panama became the scene for what would become another odyssey for his bereaved family members. After his widow and other members of General Victoriano Lorenzo’s family respectfully requested that the army turn over the body of their beloved relative for Christian burial, they were repeatedly refused. Time and time again their urgent petition was bantered about from one official to another until they had almost reached the point of desperation.

Finally, the word got to them after almost a month of daily requesting since, they argued, they had a right to the remains of their loved one for burial. The response, however, was belittling and cruel. The army, in fact, had rejected their request and they gave no reason whatsoever for their decision much to the surprise and outrage of the saddened relatives.

The family of the executed general remained in the city of Panama. The desolate Indian family from the interior of the country began appealing to other civilians who they thought could be influential. However, all their efforts were met with the same answer, “There is nothing we can do. I’m sorry. Lamentably there is nothing that can be done.” Furthermore, the “trial” and execution were strangely missing from all the newspaper accounts of the day. Absolutely any detail about the trial and execution of their dear Victoriano Lorenzo was purposefully absent from the pages of the tabloids.

The 24th of July of that same year of 1903, a newspaperman by the name of Sacrovir Mendoza was brave enough to publish in his small newspaper El Lápiz, accounts of the execution of General Victoriano Lorenzo. His small print shop, apparently, was a Liberal leaning newspaper and Mendoza had disregarded General Jose Vasquez Cobo’s standing orders to prohibit the publication of any news item related to the trial and execution of Victoriano.

Cobo was the Chief of military operations in Panama and he had his troops search and surround the newspaper. His troops entered the print shop and destroyed all printing equipment, presses, prints, photos and any newspapers that were found on the premises. They interrogated the editor and brutally beat him and left him wounded in his shop. Mr. Mendoza, in fact, would never recover from the beating and humiliation. However, the Liberal leaning faction of the country of Panama would never forget the brutal incident.

Further, the Liberales, including Don Eusebio A. Morales and Lucas Caballero, who were amongst the signers of the Wisconsin Peace Accords together with the conservative government of Colombia, would for the rest of the 20th century create a breech in the political fabric of Panama that would continue to plague the country to this very day.

The mortal remains of General Victoriano Lorenzo, however, would find no physical resting place, a place that should have been in the burial grounds of the heroes and founding fathers of our country. No one to this day, in fact, can say for certain where his body was taken since the disposition of his body remains a mystery to even his family and descendants.

This story continues.

3 responses to “The Mysterious Disappearance of General Victoriano Lorenzo

  1. To this day, there is a breech between Colombians and Panamanians. Colombians still claim Panama is part of Colombia, but if that is so, then one can say, Colombia is still part of Spain, then.

    "Colombianos mala fe!"

    (Perfidious Colombians!)

  2. And the war between Liberales and Conservadores has not really ended in Colombia. The Farc fighting the government in the outer provinces is testament to that. It appears as if an evil curse of division has overshadowed that nation for many years. The sister Republic of Colombia has never really gotten off her feet and become a serious unified nation-state. A nation where landowners still rule fiefdom style,with authority and power having no respect for anyone else or even the so called legitimate government. This is so reminiscent of the Middle Ages; and Colombia refuses to enter into the modern Era. This would require a new way of thinking and their elites are too backward and selfish for that.

    Whenever I ponder over the situation in Colombia, somehow Panama’s future scares me, because I know there are many in Panama who think just like our tragic neighbors.

    • Ana,
      Just recently the Chief of Forensic Medicine in Panama stated to the press that he is increasingly alarmed by the ever more cruel and violent traces left on the victims of gangland murders and kidnappings in Panama. A couple of weekends ago the city awoke to a record 11 murders (bodies picked up) mostly carried out by paid assassins. He is equally concerned that Panamanians are learning these techniques of torture and assassination by the Colombian underworld. You are not alone in your preoccupation.