Westindians in the News- Again

View of the inauguration of the
massive Panama Canal Expansion Project
Image thanks to Boyd Steamship Corporation

There are more surprisingly vivid examples of the culture and lifestyle of early Panamanian Westindians gleaned from our research which we have used to demonstrate how life was panning out for us of the second generation. We were the Panamanian born descendants of Westindians that would meet a drastically changed Panama and Canal Zone in the future. I’m including some samples of newspaper announcements and follow up articles emitted by the Canal Zone authorities that might help our readers understand the atmosphere of our Westindian community in the first 40 years of life in Panama.

The “News of the Colored Community,” of January 3, 1940 of the Panama American carried the byline that “Job Seekers Throng Silver Personnel Bureau in Balboa.” By the edition of Monday 8th of January the Panamá America Spanish section announced “La Zona Piensa Traer Antillanos- Mas de Dos mil Seleccionados en Jamaica”-the Zone was planning to ship in West Indians; more than two thousand Jamaican laborers had been selected. By January 10th 1940 the papers were already announcing what would be bad news to the Spanish speaking populace. “En Caso Necesario Se indica que la Zona Debe Traer al País Obreros No-Antillanos;” in other words, should the need arise, the Zone recruiters would bring in non-Antillean labor.

The very thought of bringing in more West Indian labor, it seemed, from reading between the lines in the newspapers, was apt to raise the ire of the Spanish Speaking population and add another episode of frustration to the “Colored Community.”

This issue of West Indian labor being used on the Panama Canal may surface again in the present massive expansion project of the Panama Canal today. The Joint Industrial Council for the Port of Kingston recently suggested, and it was only a suggestion, not a commitment, that the government of Jamaica “should explore an exchange programme that allows Jamaicans to offer skills to Panama in this time of that country’s massive expansion.”

In fact, the Minister, the Hon Pearnel Charles, invited the Shipping Association of Jamaica and the unions representing their highly skilled workers to meet with him and work together to explore whether such opportunities did exist. You can read more about this whole issue over at Marvia’s Panama Journal, a truly refreshing look at a young Jamaican minister’s experience in Panama.

Again, history often repeats itself here in Panama as anywhere else, but we hope, after scouring the historical pages of yesterday’s newspapers, that should any such labor exchanges materialize, the West Indians, Jamaica particularly, don’t wind up paying the greater price. We should mimic the actions of Mainland China and Taiwan and bury the hatchet and unite our efforts to conduct “massive commerce” to better the lives of all our people.

This story continues.

2 responses to “Westindians in the News- Again

  1. I can still feel the impact of the explosions from the photo at the top of this one. It coincided with the new operations in Vietnam, I believe, increasing the bombing almost from am to the pm hours. Living in Gamboa, I remember walking and hearing the first dynamite explosion which after a while was just part of the panorama but continued for years. Then at night, when we lived in Paraiso, I still remember sitting in the movie theater right on the bank, seeing the screeen shake from the explosion sound wave and no one, including myself even flinching. The boom from bombs were just part of it all.

    Unfortunately, the noise was now a part of military exercises instead of canal expansion. One afternoon, two minutes after we had all just sat down at Paraiso High School from lunch, There was a bang that just felt too close for comfort. I stepped out of the classroom to hearing screaming and running; the biggest fear Panama was invading, but they were not. A practice mortar went off course hitting the parking beside the pool. It was tiny artifact, but destroyed automobile. There were a few phyisical injuries; the mental ones were part of the panaroma.

  2. Ocho-Gritos,

    Even today in Panama City, explosions, fireworks, and the minimal use of dynamite in city construction has become a part of the general urban environment and it is deafening. What’s worse is that no one, except maybe for us in our home, has much objection to it. It is almost as if Panamanians have been conditioned to living with explosions in their day to day, particularly, we are told, after the invasion of 1989.

    The Barrios are a continual stage for “balaceras” or gun wars between gangs and the people have had to adapt themselves to closing their windows and doors after sundown and listening to gun blasts all night.


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