Remembering the West Indians Who Built the Panama Canal

Above: the new plaque memorializing West Indian workers at the canal

By the Caribbean Journal staff

The Panama Canal turns 100 on Saturday, and Panama is being joined by countries around the world in celebrating its centennial.

But the dream of the canal would not have been realized if not for the efforts of tens of thousands of West Indians who made the journey from the Caribbean to work on the 10-year project.

Indeed, more than 20,000 people traveled from Barbados to work on the canal, a substantial percentage of the country’s population at the time.

And Jamaican labourers had also been active in infrastructure projects in Panama during the period.

To mark that contribution, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Officer Minister for Latin America, Hugo Swire, recently presented a bronze plaque at the Miraflores Locks.

Swire said he was “enormously honoured to be unveiling today a new bronze plaque here at the Miraflores Locks that will memorialize the important contribution of the people of the British West Indies in the construction of the Canal.”

Swire was joined at the ceremony last month by descendants of those who built the canal.

The plaque was paid for by the British Embassy in Panama, with the agreement of the Panama Canal Authority and in consultation with community groups of West Indians in Panama.

“I hope this plaque will be seen by all the visitors to the Canal for the next 100 years,” Swire said.