Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, With the Annual Message of the President Transmitted to Congress December 5, 1905
Minister Barrett to the Secretary of State.
Panama , May 8, 1905 .
Sir: Referring to my telegram of April 29 in regard to the clash between the Panama police and Jamaican laborers in the employ of the Canal Commission, I have the honor to inclose copies of self-explanatory letters written, respectively, to the Panama minister of foreign affairs and the British consul, together with a copy of a letter written by Captain Shanon, of the Zone police, to Governor Davis. As soon as I receive the report of the Panama Government on the incident I will forward it to the Department.
I have etc.,
Minister Barrett to the Minister of Government and Foreign Affairs.
Panama , May 8, 1905 .
Mr. Minister: Referring to our different conversations in regard to the incidents that occurred on Thursday, April 26, when there was an apparent clash between the police of Panama and a certain number of Jamaican laborers in the employ of the Isthmian Canal Commission, I have the honor to request that your excellency will provide me as soon as convenient with a copy of the report of the investigation of the incident which you assured me as being conducted.
As both the United States and Panama are actuated with the mutual desire to make the Isthmus attractive for labor in order that the great work of the canal may go forward without delay, I think that I express the truth when I say that it behooves both the Canal Commission and the Panama Government to do everything in their power to prevent a repetition of these incidents. While I appreciate greatly the cooperation manifested by the Panama Government in directing its police to assist the American officials, if necessary, I also recognize the necessity of the police exercising caution and coolness in dealing with any situation that may arise. Such conditions must characterize the police of every country, the United States as well as Panama, when a crisis occurs, or a general riot may be precipitated.
There is no question that the cause of the trouble on the 26th did not originate with the Panama police and they are absolved from all blame in that respect. There is no doubt, moreover, that the responsibility for the first incident at the Chiriqui Barracks rests with the American foremen and the laborers and not with the Panama police. In view of this fact both this legation and the Canal Commission took steps immediately to see that there was not a recurrence of the troubles and to reprimand and punish those who were to blame, showing a readiness on the part of the Canal Commission and the United States to do what is expected in the circumstances.
As to the second incident that occurred near the Canal Building, I must say in all frankness that I saw the police there act in a way which would have caused me to censure any police whether they were in Panama, the United States, or Europe. They certainly seemed to lose their heads and to ruthlessly attack many men who were in no way annoying them. There were numerous other witnesses who were even closer to the scene than I was and whose opinion coincides with my own. There is no doubt in my mind that the police intended to do what was right, but at the same time they appeared to lose control of themselves at a critical moment. Had I seen the police of the Zone acting in the same way I should have demanded that an investigation should be held immediately and the responsible men punished.
Your excellency will understand, as I emphatically stated in my conversation with His Excellency the President and yourself, that I am making no complaint whatever against the Panama Government and am finding no fault with the police as Panamans, while at the same time I recognize fully the responsibility of the American foremen and the Jamaican laborers, but I am simply inspired with a desire to prevent a recurrence of such an incident and to develop conditions here in the employment of labor which will be of advantage to the United States and Panama alike.
I take, etc.,
Minister Barrett to the British Consul.
Panama , May 8, 1905 .
My Dear Sir: Referring to your note of recent date, I beg to submit to you the following memorandum of what I have done in the matter of the clash that occurred between the Panaman police and certain Jamaican laborers last Thursday, April 26.
Immediately after seeing part of the unfortunate incident, which occurred not far from the legation at the corner of the canal building and the Plaza, I immediately repaired to Government House and made an earnest protest in person to President Amador and Minister Guardia against the tactics of the police in dealing with Jamaican laborers who were acting peaceably at the time. I stated to the President and the minister of foreign affairs that while I did not excuse the blame that might be attributed to the American foremen and laborers for what occurred first at Chiriqui Barracks, I was sure from the sight of my own eyes that the police had acted beyond their authority in what occurred near the canal building, and that I hoped the government would promptly hold an investigation to inquire into who was responsible, and that they would punish or severely reprimand those that were to blame.[Page 711]
Both the President and his minister informed me that I could be sure that if the police had done anything which was not justified they would take steps at once to look into the matter. I also emphasized the bad effect that a recurrence of such an incident would have and stated that both the United States and Panama should strive in harmony to prevent clashes of this kind.
Recognizing, moreover, that there might be blame resting upon certain officials of the Canal Commission for their treatment of the laborers, I summoned the chief of the department and several of his assistants who were in charge of these laborers and told them that they must use the utmost care in the future in dealing with the Jamaican laborers and see that they were not treated harshly, that they received proper food, and that in case differences arose in the future, steps were to be taken in the proper way to settle them without calling on the police. I am further aware that the commission officials in charge of this kind of labor are exceedingly anxious to prevent any recurrence of an incident of this kind and that it is their desire to make it an object for Jamaican laborers not only to remain on the Isthmus but to come here in greater numbers. If there is any fault with the commission officials I can assure you steps will be taken to remedy the evil.
It must be remembered that these men are somewhat difficult to deal with and that they complain, no matter how good provision is made for them. You and I by our visit to the barracks at Chiriqui observed this fact, and consequently there must be a certain amount of charity in judging stories about the treatment of laborers by their American employers. The fact that it is for the interest of the Canal Commission, even more than the laborers, to see that they are well cared for should be a guaranty against a repetition of these troubles.
I called again yesterday at Government House and had a long talk with the President and Minister Guardia on this subject. They informed me that a very careful investigation was being made along impartial lines and that if the police were found guilty of exceeding their authority they would be severely punished or reprimanded. Minister Guardia promised to provide me with a copy of the report of the investigation and said he would also deliver one to you.
If you have any correspondence with the authorities in Jamaica or with your home government, I would ask you to suggest that they bear in mind that in the inauguration of a great work of this kind there must be a certain amount of difficulties and troubles of this kind and that the future treatment of the laborers must not be judged by some unforeseen incident, such as this, resulting from the acts of a few hot-headed persons. The desire of the Canal Commission is to make the Isthmus attractive for laborers.
Hoping that this memorandum covers your wishes, and extending to you my expression of high esteem,
I remain, etc.,
The Chief of Police to the Governor of the Canal Zone.
Headquarters Police Department,
Ancon, C. Z. , April 27, 1905 .
Sir: I have the honor to report that to-day, about 1.50 p.m., as I was coming from the Hotel Central to my office in the canal administration building, I saw about 60 or 70 Jamaicans, apparently contract laborers, come running up the street in a very excited condition from the direction of the Chiriqui reservation and prison.
I immediately stopped them and found that they were contract laborers employed by the department of waterworks and sewers. They told me that several Panamanian police had shot at them, and six of them were more or less bruised up, some having bruises on their heads, wrists, and arms. Others were bleeding from wounds which apparently had been made by being stuck with some sharp instrument.
After a great deal of talking and trouble I managed to quiet and pacify them, and they told me that they had been ordered by the policemen to go to work at about 12.45 p.m., and that the policemen had gotten behind them with their bayonets and had beat them and inflicted a great deal of personal injury on the six men, whom I proceeded to pick out and arranged on one side of the street.
They also complained that they could not get enough to eat and about twenty had refused to go to work because they had no dinner. Several of the men had their dinners in small buckets which they were going to show to the British minister.
I told them that I would take their representatives, being the six men I had selected that were injured, and that I would go with them to the minister, and if possible adjust their difficulties; also that I would find Mr. Davis, engineer of waterworks and sewers, and have him assist me in adjusting their troubles. I started with the others, about 80 of them, to place [Page 712] them back on their work, as they seemed willing to allow me to adjust their difficulties and were willing to go to work.
At that moment a detachment of about 25 Panamanian police, under the command of a lieutenant, came up on double-quick time, armed with rifles and fixed bayonets, halted, came to an “Order arms,” and for about a minute stood still and seemed to be awaiting orders.
I immediately held up my hand and pointed to the six men standing against the canal building and said in English: “There are the six wounded men.” I do not know whether my remark was understood by the lieutenant or not. Just at that moment one of the wounded men referred to started to go by the police and come to me, and with that the commander of the detachment drew his saber and struck him over the head with it, knocking him down. I called out to them to “Hold! hold!” but seemingly the actions of the commander started the entire detachment, and some with drawn bayonets, others clubbing their guns, they charged into the Jamaicans, hitting right and left. The Jamaicans ran in all directions, followed by the police.
Mr. Barrett, the United States minister, saw the whole occurrence, as he was standing on the balcony of the legation at the time. Immediately upon seeing the riot he ran downstairs and asked me to at once accompany him to President Amador’s residence. I did so, and related to President Amador, at the minister’s request, the entire occurrence, as I saw it.
On leaving the minister I returned to the scene of the scrimmage and from there went to the police station, met Mr. Davis, engineer of waterworks and sewers, and he turned over to me 20 Jamaicans with request that I should take them to the hospital and have their wounds treated, which I did.
These men were all suffering more or less from stabs, cuts, and bruises. I got them to the hospital, and they are at present being treated.
I wish to say that the Jamaicans, as far as I could see, up to and after the time of the arrival of the detachment of police, were very peaceful and quiet, and at no time did I see one Jamaican make any attempt to fight or strike policemen or anybody else.
I know nothing of the occurrences at the Chiriqui Barracks; all I know is what I have related in this report, which I respectfully submit.