I came home from work one day to meet up with my classmate Albert Bryan whom we all respected very much. He said to me, “Profesor Grant said to put on your uniform and meet the bus at school.” I hurriedly prepared for the trip which ended up in Panama City. In reality we would really not do any singing, but would be attending the funeral of our slain President, José Antonio Remón Cantera.
If all the discord surrounding my life wasn’t enough to keep me in a constant state of apprehension, the assassination of our President Remón Cantera would really touch my life profoundly. I like the Spanish word magnicidio more than the English word, assassination, as it brought out the severity of what had occurred to such an important man in our small republic. The way he was gunned down in public in broad daylight while he enjoyed one of his favorite pastimes, a horse race at Juan Franco Racetrack, marked that day, January 2, 1955 as one of the most ignominious events that ever occurred in Panama. It was probably second only to the cowardly “execution” of Panama’s great patriot and hero, Victoriano Lorenzo. Remón was not only gunned down but mowed down by “a number of unknown assailants.”
We were allowed to file past his coffin in the Iglesia de la Merced in San Felipe and it deeply moved me to see a president of my country laid out in a coffin after having been murdered in that fashion, worse than a common criminal. I hesitated at Remón’s coffin and fixed my gaze on this man who was clad in the traditional white suit of graduates of El Instituto Nacional, my alma mater, and a feeling of deep shame and grief overcame me until someone behind me in line nudged me to keep moving.
To this day no one can convince me that we Chombitos don’t have a deep love for our country, Panama, and even deeper feelings of patriotism. The hymn, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” reverberated in my head that day for some reason and the whole scene shook my soul to the very core.
When one thinks about the great accomplishments of this man in his short tenure as President of Panama (1952-1955), one has to stop and really reflect. He was the true intellect behind the Torrijismo that would later emerge in the military government of Omar Torrijos. From the very beginning of his administration in 1953, his government began “to negotiate amendments to the Panama Canal treaty with the U.S. administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. These negotiations eventually led to an agreement ratified in 1955 that substantially raised the annual annuity paid to Panama (from $430,000 to $1.9 million) and resulted in the handover of approximately $20 million” worth of property from the Panama Canal Company to Panama.
“Ni Millones ni Limosnas- Queremos Justicia” -“Neither Millions Nor Alms– We Want Justice”- is his signature slogan and it remains inscribed over the stairway to the entrance to Panama’s National Assembly.
The circumstances surrounding President Remón Cantera’s villanous assassination are still surrounded by fear and controversy to this day and you are free to read one of the accounts here. One thing is certain, however, it affected some of us young people profoundly and we remain hopeful that God’s justice will prevail.
It wouldn’t be until later on that night upon returning home to Colón, however, that I would receive another piece of bad news. The words, “Pug is pregnant!” uttered by her grandmother, Mrs. Levy, would hit me like a lead weight. And if that weren’t enough irony in my life, she would follow those words up with, “She has to leave this house!” That which I feared the most had just fallen on me. It was of little comfort and small consolation when I mused that I could do little else than succumb to my natural urges that all human beings with strong sexual urges succumb to in their weakest moments given my unprotected reality.
This story continues.