Fernando Johnson, a Hero for the Silver People of Panama

Fernando Johnson, veteran Red Cross worker and leader. May he rest in peace. Image thanks to La Prensa.

In the recent disastrous flooding that plagued several districts in Panama including the Province of Colon, it took more than 84 hours and legions of panamanian and international volunteer rescuers to locate the automobile that Fernando Johnson and Jorge Aleman, both lifetime volunteer profesional rescuers of the City and province of Colon, were traveling in.

According to the seven witnesses who survived this tragedy on November 25th, on the road at La Quebrada Ancha specifically at La Curva del Cebo, the road opened up and swallowed the pickup the Red Cross rescue crew was being transported in. Just before the vehicle sank under the tons of mud, rock and incessant rain, however, Fernando Johnson’s warning- and probably his last words on earth, rang out, “¡Salten, muchachos, que nos hundimos!,” – “Jump boys…we are sinking!”

It wouldn’t be until five days later on November 29, with scores of men and machinery working tirelessly into the night that the vehicle and the bodies of these heroes would be found. The print and social media kept us updated to all the problems involved in the rescue of the bodies of these brave men who, as volunteeers, have time and again offered up their lives to serve persons who find themselves in the desperate fight for their lives.

We do lament, however, that the story as covered in the four days of the search for the unfortunate rescue profesionals by Panama’s news media has left us concerned that we were withnessing another manifestation of racism behind the tragedy.

The Racism behind the Tragedy

We sadly report here for the Silver People Chronicle the fact that we have detected, again in the Panamanian media, a coverage centered on Jorge Alemán, who had his photograph published in all the on line and print media and we could find very little concerning Fernando Johnson’s image and life of service to the country.

With all due respect for Jorge Alemán, a thirty five year Red Cross veteran volunteer and a fellow Colonense, the reporting has left us wondering again if the Spanish surname of Fernando Johnson’s friend, or the color of his skin had something to do with the miserly and feeble treatment of Johnson’s memory and role in this rescue effort. Fernando Johnson, may he rest in peace, was a 30 year veteran rescuer himself, and in charge of the rescue operation the day of the tragedy. No one in the print media brought out the fact that to his dying moment Johnson exercised unselfish valor in warning the rest of his crew to jump out of the doomed vehicle.

The tragedy of what happened to Fernando Johnson to us is just one more example of the issue of racism in Panama aimed at us the West Indian descendants of the Silver People. We insist that Panama has a racism problem and a debt pending with our panamanianess.  Search as we might for a story behind Fernando Johnson’s life we were unable to aquire one from the local media. So far, all we could gain from our searches and expenditure on the daily papers was that he was a man of 44 years of age from Colon and a tireless laborer with some 30 years of honorary service who gained the rank of National Director of the Legion of Volunteers.

As historians we are here to recall to our readers and countrymen the tragic accidental explosion back in 1914 historically remembered as the famous “Polvorin Disaster of Calidonia,” and how James Thompson, one of the Westindian firefighters participated in and survived the disaster.

Today we still acknowledge our heros of the Silver Community who have been forgotten in Panamanian history and culture.  We are still meeting up with parents of young descendants of the Silver Community, in fact, who find that their children have an aversion to speaking english and are ashamed to even be seen with them and admit that they are their parents. Are we looking at the sad outcome of years of institutionally imposed self hate on our Westindian descendants?

Just recently we were contacted by friends who sent us links to reports by the CERD – Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination in the world, reports that continue to have the Republic of Panama under close watch for violating requests from the Commission to include racial data of the afro-descent population in their customary sloppy and, usually,tardy reports.

Viewing CERD’s reports and recommendations it seems that Panama could care less about how their racist and negligent attitude towards their non-white population- which is how most of Panama- especially the black part of the population isviewed. And so it is that Panama is a totally white, european population because they, the panamanian reperesntatives to those UN commissions, plead that they are really hard pressed to count how many of the people are indeed afro-decent as we witnessed in the 2010 Census.

We extend our profoundest condolences to the families of both rescuers and we give a special tribute to the work and memory of our hero, Fernando Johnson.

2 Responses to Fernando Johnson, a Hero for the Silver People of Panama

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  2. Aunque han pasado casi dos años de la tragedia, su recuento es realmente estremecedor, saber que dos personas dedicadas al servicio de la comunidad perecieron precisamente mientras brindaban valiosos servicios a los demás. El detalle del énfasis que los medios dieron a una persona blanca y la ausencia en cambio del detalle merecedor de hacerse de conocimiento de la población en general, de la advertencia que el sr. F. Johnson hiciera y que por la que cinco personas le deben la vida, es sumamente dramática y preocupante.

    Ciertamente indica la discriminación que encontramos en las noticias que yo díría, más que del medio de comunicación, es de parte de las personas que reportan e informan de la noticia. Estoy casi segura que los mismos periodistas no tienen consciencia clara de esa falla pues lo pernicioso del racismo es que luego de años de que la comunidad supuestamente ha superado las prácticas racistas mediante la concietización de las personas, resaltan gestos del inconsciente donde radican las creencias que en inglés llaman “bias”.

    Esto llama a continuar con la educación sistemática en derechos humanos a todo nivel. Sería una idea realizar seminarios sobre derechos humanos en el tratamiento de la noticia y de ser posible, establecer un Premio de Prensa por la publicación juiciosa y equilibrada. Son ideas. Saludos a todos. Arline

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