Bits & Pieces

August 8, 2010

The War of a Thousand Days (1899-1902) - Part 2

After the Battle of Calidonia Bridge in July of 1900 a peace treaty between the Conservatives and Liberal was signed on July 26 of that same year.  But the war continued in Colombia as well as in the interior of Panama.  Among the Liberals continuing the fight was Victoriano Lorenzo.  He established his headquarters in la Negrita, Province of Cocle, and from there, using guerrilla tactics, harassed the Conservatives. 
 
Uniting with the Liberal forces of General Manuel Antonio Noriega (no relation to the present day Noriega) and Manuel Patino, Lorenzo attacked and captured Penonome in July 1901.  Then, acting alone again, he continued to attack the Conservatives taking Santa Fe and Puerto Gago.  Then, allied with the forces of Belisario Porras, they fight the Conservatives in Chiriqui until reaching the railroad line.  At the time. Lorenzo was named Division General by the Liberals.  As so, he led his troops in the Pacific Coast skirmishes that killed a Conservative major and garnered him more weapons for his "Cholos".  He commanded his troops into battle in Aguadulce in January 1902, in which over 750 troops were killed or wounded on both sides , and his Liberals claimed 700 prisoners.
 
Towards the end of the year, the Liberals cause was lost.  On September 17, 1902, the battleship USS Wisconsin (BB9) sailed from San Francisco headed to Panama to protect the interests of the United States during the civil war.  It arrived at the Bay of Panama on September 30 finding the two warring sides on the verge of reaching a truce.  Rear Admiral Casey took the opportunity to offer his services as a peacemaker and the two warring sides signed a treaty aboard the ship on November 21, 1921.  The treaty was subsequently honored by Colombia as "The Peace of Wisconsin".
 
General Victoriano Lorenzo
 
In Cocle, Victoriano Lorenzo and his followers refused to give up their weapons fearing retributions against the Cholos by the mostly white Conservatives.  On November 28, his troops appeared to mutiny when they got intoxicated while celebrating the day of independence from Spain.  Using this as an excuse, Liberal General Benjamin Herrera ordered his arrest on the grounds that he had broken the requisites of The Treaty of Wisconsin.
 
Placed on board the Colombian ship Bogota, they took him to Panama anchoring off Taboga Island on December 24.  Assisted by unknown person, Lorenzo managed to escape only to be recaptured within a short time, leading to speculation that his accomplices had helped him only to attain the glory of re-capturing him.
 
Up to this time, Lorenzo did not fear for his life as he was to face a court-martial along with several others over the disturbance of November 28.  However, the Colombian government, fearing that the Panamanian guerrilla might go free, decided that he should be condemned to death.
 
 
Left: Lorenzo escaped from the ship "Bogota" while it lay at anchor off Taboga Island.
Right:  Lorenzo at his court martial.
 
On May 13, 1903, General Pedro Sicard Briceno, Military Commander of Panama, arrived on the Isthmus from Bogota. The next day, May 14,  General Sicard Briseno ordered a Court Martial for Victoriano Lorenzo.  With a Tribunal made up of mostly personal enemies of Lorenzo, the Court Martial found him guilty by that evening and at 8:30 AM of May 15 they pronounced his death sentence.  This was carried out at 5:00 PM of that same day.
 
 
Victoriano Lorenzo being led to his execution at Plaza Chiriqui, now Plaza de Francia.
 
Lorenzo being given his last rites at wall in what is now Plaza de Francia.
 
Victoriano Lorenzo faced a firing squad of 12 soldiers.  In order to make sure he died, the Colombian soldiers making up the firing squad were not issued 11 blanks and one bullet as is normally done to avoid knowing who actually fired the killing shot.  In this case, each soldier was issued 3 bullets and each soldier fired three shots at his heart from a very short distance.  Even then, one soldier was ordered to fire one more shot into his head to make sure he was dead.  Victoriano Lorenzo was dead only 5 months before Panama gained its independence from Colombia.
Victoriano Lorenzo receiving the 37th shot to the head following his execution.
 
 
Plaque at Plaza de Chiriqui (Plaza de Francia)
where Victoriano Lorenzo was executed.
 
Who Was Victoriano Lorenzo? - Victoriano Lorenzo is now considered one of the great heroes of Panamanian history, although his story and motives are debated in different sectors in Panama. Born around 1870 to poor campesinos around Penonome in the province of Cocle, Lorenzo was considered a "Cholo", of predominantly indigenous blood.  Although he never attended school, a priest in Capira taught him how to write and read.  In 1889, he was named an alderman of El Cacao where he lived with his wife and other members of his family.
 
In 1890 he had a confrontation with another alderman, Pedro de Hoyos, over the unjust collection of taxes from the indigenous community.  Hoyos attacked Lorenzo with the object of killing him. Lorenzo, in self-defense, killed Hoyos.  Even though Lorenzo turned himself in to the authorities, he was tried and given a 9 years sentence at the Bodegas de Chiriqui, what we know as Las Bobedas, where dangerous criminals were incarcerated.  Because of his high intelligence, he became an "auxiliary" at the jail and later was a secretary to the jail officials.  He learned to be a tailor as well as a barber and read about the law.
 
Returning to his town, he wrote to the vice governor of Panama (which was still under Colombian rule) complaining about the farmers being forced to work, under guard, on a new port for the owners of the shipping line.  He, apparently, won his case and was later named secretary to the governor of the Indigenous Council and little by little became the most popular leader of the Cholos in the area.
 
Because of the injustices committed by the higherarchy over the natives, in 1900 Victoriano Lorenzo joined the Liberal forces fighting the Conservatives supported by Colombia.
 
SOURCES:  La Prensa, May 11, 2003

- Luis R. Celerier
Longview, Texas