October 20, 2010
Panama Forest And Sea, and Panama Canal Construction Laborers
Panama Forest And
My classmate from Balboa High School, Espi
Holford, forwarded this site to me. It is a great collection of the forest
and sea creatures found in Panama.
The Forest area seen here is in the Gamboa area,
half way across the canal. The sea creatures are from the Pacific side of
the Isthmus. I think you will enjoy the beauty of the jungle and its
Panama Canal Construction Laborers
In many respects, the laborers of the Panama
Canal construction days were real heroes. Their great efforts made
possible the arrival of August 15, 1914, when the first steamship, the SS
Ancon, made the first inaugural crossing. Many gave their
lives, victims of diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, typhus, tuberculosis,
pneumonia, dysentery, etc., as well as accidents of many different
By 1913, the non-U.S. labor force in the
construction site consisted of the following:
From the Antilles Islands (Barbados, Martinique,
Trinidad and other islands): 29,667
Costa Ricans: 244
When one thinks of the Antilleans who came to
work on the canal, one thinks of Jamaicans. But the truth is that, as seen
above, they made an insignificant contribution. The reason for this
was that the Jamaican government prohibited its nationals from traveling to
Panama to work. Those allowed to leave had to pay a very high departure
tax and few could afford it.
The Chinese had played a part during the French
construction days but, contrary to the experience of their great contribution to
the construction of the continental railroad in the U.S., in Panama they were a
total failure as disease and depression decimated their ranks at a rapid
pace. They never played a part in the U.S. construction days.
The number of white workers joining the canal
labor force increased to the numbers shown above when the sanitation efforts
finally eradicated the mosquitoes carrying the dreaded diseases of Malaria and
Wages for laborers ranged from 10 cents to 13
cents an hour. These were considered good wages in those days.
Nevertheless, there would always be a great
difference between the U.S. workers and the non-U.S. labor force. The U.S.
workers were considered "gold roll" employees while the non-U.S. were classified
as "silver roll" workers and this also carried over to not only wage
differences, but also in benefits and social status within the Canal
Strikes were never a problem during construction
days and never interrupted the work. However, the great slides at Culebra
Cut did cause many disruptions to the project. Even in 1914, a few months
after the opening of the great project, a slide at Cucaracha Hill caused
interruption of service for some time.
As for relations with the labor force, Goethals
initiated the custom of meeting with the workers every Sunday morning to listen
to, personally, any grievance they may have. This served as a relief valve
for pent-up tensions and over 100 workers would file by The Great Chief on each
At the end of the great enterprise, many
laborers were repatriated at the expense of the United States, while many turned
to United Fruit in Panama to offer their services. However, there still
remained an overabundance of labor in the country which eventually led to labor
Group of Spaniard laborers. Photo taken at Culebra Cut on September 1913.
Part of the collection of the Panama Canal Commission
Material translated and edited from article by Alonso Roy, M.D., published in Epocas, July 1997.
Note locomotive in background
From The Past
Interior view of the department store "A La Ville De Paris", owned by H. de Sola and Company.
It was located on Central Avenue, in front of the side entrance to the Cathedral Church.
In the photo, taken by Carlos Endara on January 1906, during its Grand Opening, we can
observe Angel de Castro, one of the owners, leaning against the main counter.
Epocas, July 1997
- Luis R. Celerier