My Encounter With a Military Dictator

Exiled Argentinian President, Juan Domingo Perón, flanked by Jose Dominador Bazán, Governor of Colón at the time.

Exiled Argentinian President, Juan Domingo Perón in the center, flanked by José Dominador Bazán (bow tie), Governor of Colón at the time.

Our arrival back in Colon not only marked the end of our love story- Pug’s and mine- but it was an important reintroduction to the people whom I hadn’t had contact with for almost two years. Back in this Silver City called the City of Colon I would be picking up where I had left off when I was sleeping at that single room that was never crowded.

It was a time to go and renew friendships with people at Mr. McKenzie’s tailor shop where I always felt welcomed. Things between us had not changed much for my close pal Albert “Nick Romano” Brown, had always been upbeat. “Juni!” he would say, “Here’s the keys!” Which meant I could come and go as I pleased, or take one of my “triumphant likings,” and as the guys would say “then operate on her navel all day or night.”

There was a new visitor on the block, however, a lone figure at the time. The nightly presence of the ex-Argentinian President Juan Domingo Peron became a commonplace one. I knew very little of all the international political intrigues that had brought him to Panama as an exile but our country, it seemed, gave him safe haven for the time being. He would normally come and sit, like clockwork, as any other common citizen, to rest, glad, it appeared, to be away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and wait patiently to be served at the restaurant downstairs in our building. I took keen notice of Peron who, I understand, was living in the (Gold Roll) Washington Hotel on First Street in Colon but who would wander over to the restaurant in our neighborhood and sit like any common Silver Roll black. I would watch his movements as the man would stay there at his table all night as we, the young bloods would, after a while, fly away to hide and make love. Apparently this ex-military dictator felt more comfortable and secure in the Silver Roll sector of Colon than anywhere else in Panama.

After a couple of days upon returning to Colon from my experiences in Bocas Province, I made my way over to the my old secondary school, Colegio Abel Bravo, and it brought back good memories as I discovered that everyone recognized me as a former student. In my course of renewing friendships with old classmates I made a quick stop at the Rector’s Office. I then made my request for a copy of my transcript known to the Rector’s secretary while the Principal himself stood there looking on. After she had copied out my transcript she said to me “Now you can go to Panama and deliver this to the Ministerio de Educación,” as she handed it to me and left the office. On my way out of the school I stopped briefly to chat with some of the guys that I had not seen since I had dropped out of school and out of sight for a couple of years.

That very day I checked in with Simeon for some sustaining work, that of washing and polishing or simonizing automobiles. His location was still at the Cristobal Gold Single Men´s Dormitory. After renewing my contact with Simeon I told him that I needed work desperately. Luckily, he replied, “Come and see me in a couple of days. I think I would have something for you.” After a couple of days, however, Simeon still had no work for me to do. I stayed low most of the days in the Bachelors room or visited the old Tailor shop, where I had gotten the keys to the room. It hadn’t been the reunion I had expected but, never-the-less, I resumed my friendship with “Nick” Brown, someone I had always respected and admired and loved to be with.

The death of his mother, still fresh on my mind, however, had been difficult for me to take. I was still trying to console myself knowing that it had been the inevitable passing of our “mother.” The night just prior to the funeral I had stood by Pug and some other strangers who had set up a carpenter’s shop right before our eyes. These men worked on the virgin wood, busy sawing and shaving and hammering, transforming that beautiful wood into a coffin for Pug’s grandmother, Miss Levy. As we stood there awestruck I whispered to Pug, “What are they doing honey?” “ They’re making a coffin!” she replied.
That year of 1956, however, marked by a regrettable death of someone I loved like Miss Ethel Levy, would also highlight some of the political upheavals that were going on in South America and I would never forget the lone figure of Juan Domingo Perón.

This story continues.

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