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.