West Indians are being honored for their important role in shaping Panamanian history, as the South American country readies for the expansion of the Panama Canal. During the construction of this historic waterway, beginning in the 19th century, the labor of Caribbean immigrants to the country was key in creating the vital channel.
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) stated, “The history behind this construction is compelling. We also take note of one aspect of the construction which is not often highlighted – the contributions of the laborers. Over 100,000 people journeyed to Panama to work on this project. Many of them never returned.”
Caribbeans who were enticed to arrive in Panama were presented with a different reality than promised when they arrived: horrid living conditions, diseases, and established segregated communities by foreign corporations that created conflicts, as those immigrants who arrived were Africans who spoke English.
UNESCO looks to eradicate the erasure of West Indians on the island with their new collection:
“The extraordinary history and heritage associated with the construction of the Panama Canal has been recorded since the 19th century, through a magnificent collection of stamps, archival records and photographs, which have been inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register and are being shared with the world. The collection also highlights the recruiting process which was ultimately responsible, both directly and indirectly, for the extraordinary pattern of West Indian emigration – one of the most significant movements of voluntary migration to emerge during the post emancipation period after 1838.”