A review published in Trinidad by the ‘Trinidad & Tobago Review’ Jan 7, 2012 

West Indians made so many contributions to this country. The great journalist and historian George Westerman (1910-1988) was one of our biggest champions. We’re professors, diplomats and justices of the Supreme Court. We’ve been ministers of government. Most of us are labourers until today, although we’re not counted so we can’t really say definitely. What you can say is that it’s getting like we’re no longer West Indian any more. Our identity is fading. The young people are assimilating and our language and the culture are getting lost.

In the past, yes, that was a strong identity. It came with hardship, prejudice and pride. Many people will ask you if there’s prejudice in Panama. Ask me. I’m well educated, I’ve earned enough to live comfortably, I dress well. The perception is that if you’re doing well, you’re not Black again. Right away they can tell that I’m different. They don’t expect my appearance or behaviour. That’s because generations of West Indians in Panama were trained not to make waves. We don’t demand our rights like others do. The unwritten law in the Canal Zone days was ‘West Indian, keep your head down.’ If one person stepped out of line, they’d waste no time. The punishment was the entire fa 564 mily would be forced to leave. We were taught to bow your head. Even for my group graduating from high school in the 1960s that was, and for a lot of us still is, the mentality.

Nowadays we afro-antillanos are trying to pass along the sense of pride we have for what West Indians did for Panama. Only today a lot of our children and grandchildren don’t speak English, only Spanish. They want to be regular Panamanians, so we’re losing that advantage. Some of the young folks only make B/300 (US$300) a month when instead they could have gotten B/500 a month working at the call center. Then again, the best way we use to keep the poor down is to screw up the public education in the country. I am the product of a public education and we made it, but that can’t happen as readily today.

I’m proud of the SAMAAP association, our standard bearer. (Sociedad de Amigos del Museo Afro-Antillano de Panama is the main support entity for Panama’s distinctive West Indian museum.) SAMAAP is bringing back the steel bands and other parts of the culture. They don’t always get the support, though. When Panama recognized the etnias (ethnicities), if it weren’t for SAMAAP we would have been left out of the caucuses. Prof. Melva Gooding is one of the people who represent us. I’m so glad we selected her. She’s well-spoken, she fought for our recognition, and 1a94 she speaks her mind. Enrique Sanchez is another person who took up the banner and made additional inroads as our representative.

At last we have May as the month to celebrate the etnia negra (African ethnic group). A man in Bocas del Toro province, Claral Richards, pushed for that for many years. Mind you, African people populated Bocas from the 1500s. By the mid-1800s when emancipation was on the horizon, plantation owners ran from Jamaica and established a beachhead in Bocas. That was the first wave of West Indians in Panama. More came with the [transcontinental] railroad in the 1850s and the French canal attempt at the end of the 19th century. Of course when the Americans called for canal workers, that was the biggest influx. The Jamaican government refused to send people officially because their country would have had to bear repatriation costs. Barbados co-operated, so the largest contingent of contracted workers came from there. Anyone who could get a passage came, from Martinique, Guadeloupe, Trinidad and Grenada, to St. Lucia, Guyana and Dominica. Remember they had us as ‘silver’ workers on the Zone while the majority of whites were on the ‘gold’ roll. We had worse housing, different churches, separate drinking fountains and even separate lines at the post office, just like jim crow, yet without us the canal would never have seen the light of day. West Indians withstood diseases like malaria and yellow fever, injuries from dynamite blasts, and all of the maltreatment and segregation. We cut the continent in half and our impact is felt here until now, in our cuisine like sorrel and fruitcake, in the language and in our attitude.

They don’t tell you that the Tajada de la Sandía massacre was sparked by a Jamaican. It was the first instance of American transgression in our country. In April 1856, after the gringos began coming across during the California gold rush, one of them cheated Manuel Luna, a watermelon (sandía) vendor, out of five cents. Luna objected. The American pulled out a gun. Other vendors rallied to assist Luna and it became a huge melee that marked the first time that Panamanians died in a revolt against foreign exploitation. In school we are taught about this proud moment in our history as an early example of the defense of our sovereignty, only no one ever says that it was a West Indian who initiated it.

In my case, my grandfather was Jamaican, I have a bunch of Bajan relatives, and we have the French creole set. All of this infuses our expressions, like tout mun bagai! My grandmother worked in the commissary and cooked for the white people on the Zone. My father was a water-bearer at age 13. Other relatives had small shops in Calidonia. Everyone had something doing. Yes, man, the West Indians came to Panama City and Colon, and even those who didn’t dig no ditch, worked in hospitals and in homes. When it came time to return, many stayed back to educate their children, and became homeowners. You’d get French and English island people marrying each other and supporting each other. It’s rare to see a West Indian beggar. We had that work ethic and ended up doing better than the average poor Panamanian. Some of us migrated to the States since we could speak English. That was a big West Indian advantage.

When the Canal was finished in 1914, children born to West Indians had a problem. They didn’t have an official nationality. Panama didn’t want us, the Americans rejected us and the British said you weren’t born in their islands so you didn’t belong to them. After a long while the Panamanians accepted us and here we are. The interesting thing was that we had all these people come from all over the Antilles. All the different island people mixed and participated with each other and with other Panamanians too, to the point where we ourselves don’t know what’s the difference among the islands. Panama was the first place where large numbers of West Indians mixed up and came together as a unified ethnic identity.

Places of Origin of Antillean Canal Workers
Courtesy of Leticia Thomas, PhD

Number Employed by Contract

Place of Origin 1904-1914

Barbados 9,900

Curacao 23
Fortune Island* 361
Grenada 93
Guadaloupe 2,053
Guyana 332
Jamaica 47
Martinique 5,542
St. Kitts 942
St. Lucia 296
St. Vincent 55
Trinidad 1,427
Total contracted workers 31,071

Source: Adapted from Westerman, 1980.

Note: Includes only workers hired on their home island by official contract, not workers who had remained on the isthmus after previous construction ventures nor workers who migrated independently.

*Now Long Cay, Bahamas.

submitted by @tameeksb

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The famous picture, which appears in many books and documentaries, subtly blame Haitians for not being good stewards of their natural resources. The reality is much more complex, and has historical and international roots.

They say that a picture is more powerful than many words. And this one just fits perfectly with the age-old rhetoric of barbarous (dark) Haitians being the shameful people of the Americas. How can we counter the proliferation of pictures like this one, which are read in a context of unconscious prejudice, when the ones who can better reply to these charges do not have the resources to show more telling pictures of community collaboration, resilience, and cultural strength?

Of course, there is always the risk (as Spivak once warned) of misrepresenting the underdog. 

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It is now incumbent on all of the smaller nations of the world, and indeed, on all governments and persons that believe in the concepts of international law and morality, to forcibly register a strong and profound protest against the manner in which the operative principles of the United Nations and the fundamental precepts of international law were flouted and desecrated by the powerful nations of France, Britain and the United States of America ( and their NATO allies) in their actions against the people, government and nation of Libya, and against Libya’s political leader, the late Muammar Qaddafi, over the period of February to October 2011!


Santo Domingo, Nov 14 (Prensa Latina) - The second national strike in four months starts at six o’clock on Monday to peacefully reiterate demands not complied by the government, including current laws in the country, Fidel Santana, leader of the Alternative Social Forum told Prensa Latina.

Electricity rates have increased since the July 11 strike, following demands by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The approved 2012 budget did not meet the allocation of four percent of GDP to education.

For the University, only 15 percent salary increase was aproved, but not the resources requested by Rector Matthew Aquino Febrillet to pay debts to food suppliers.

The strike demands a general wage increase for the public and private sectors, including the police and the military, the modification of the Hydrocarbons Law to extend the current weekly periods for fixing the domestic prices of fuels, and a mechanism to ensure more transparent pricing.

Meanwhile, police have stationed thousands of troops since yesterday afternoon and warned they will not allow any disruption of the free movement of people.

 Imagen activa


Mary Jane Seacole (1805 – 14 May 1881)

A woman who succeeded despite the racial prejudice of influential sections of Victorian society’.

Mary Jane Seacole (1805 – 14 May 1881), sometimes known as Mother Seacole or Mary Grant, was a Jamaican nurse best known for her involvement in the Crimean War. She set up and operated boarding houses in Panama and the Crimea to assist in her desire to treat the sick. Seacole was taught herbal remedies and folk medicine by her mother, who kept a boarding house for disabled European soldiers and sailors.

Confident that her knowledge of tropical medicine could be useful, and after hearing of poor medical provisions for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War, she travelled to London to volunteer as a nurse. Relying on her experience in the Caribbean, she applied to the War Office and asked to be sent as an army assistant to the Crimea. She was refused, mainly because of prejudice against women’s involvement in medicine at the time.

The British Government later decided to permit women to travel to the affected area, but she was not included in the party of 38 nurses chosen by Florence Nightingale. Instead, she borrowed money to make the 4,000-mile (about 6500 km) journey by herself. She distinguished herself treating battlefield wounded, often nursing wounded soldiers from both sides while under fire. When the conflict ended in 1856 she found herself stranded and almost destitute, and was only saved from adversity by friends from the Crimean War who organised a benefit concert. In later years, she expressed a desire to work in India after the Indian Rebellion of 1857, but was unable to raise the necessary funds.

Seacole was honoured in her lifetime, alongside Florence Nightingale, but after her death she was forgotten for almost a century. Today, she is noted for her bravery and medical skills and as “a woman who succeeded despite the racial prejudice of influential sections of Victorian society”.Her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857), is a vivid account of her experiences, and is one of the earliest autobiographies of a mixed-race woman.

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“Unfinished Spaces” Portrays Vindicated Architects of Cuba’s Forgotten Art Schools

Excellent documentary on the National Arts School in Havana. This film covers Fidel and Che’s grand plan for a state-of-the-art school; that plans abandonment; and, decades later, its rebirth in a new Cuba.

From the review:

“Unfinished Spaces” is a critically acclaimed documentary about the ambitious design and construction of the Escuelas Nacionales de Arte, or National Art School in Havana, Cuba in 1961, which was to feature schools of ballet, modern dance, music, drama and plastic arts. The university was the brain child of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara who wanted to establish a prestigious, cutting-edge arts university for the people of Cuba. The project was abandoned due to cut funding and ideological differences, but the three architects responsible for the design, Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti and Roberto Gottardi, were still excited when in March 1999 they were called to lay out a budget to preserve the languished schools.