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
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
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
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