Panama Day is celebrated in Barbados on August 15. It marks the inauguration of the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914. Barbadians commemorate the occasion as we are especially proud of our countrymen who played a major role in the construction of what is considered today, an engineering marvel.
When the first group of Barbadians left these shores to travel to Panama, they faced an uncertain future. They were unaware of the gruelling conditions that awaited them and the fact that they might not survive.
Panamanians celebrate the Foundation of Old Panama City. It is significant to note that as the Canal and the city were being built, a new Barbados was also emerging. The remittances of the workers played a substantial role in the development of Barbados. Indeed, it is believed that the middle-class Barbadian was created at that time.
The Government of Barbados is making a concerted effort to connect with Panamanians of Barbadian descent. This undertaking, motivated by a burning desire to embrace family, also presents avenues for economic opportunities.
While the President of Panama and I have exchanged official visits in 2015, exchanges at all levels are encouraged. We have already started to welcome Panamanians of Barbadian descent. Many have indicated their desire to return and bring family and friends.
The Barbados-Panama story offers a positive lesson in the outcomes of migration. The nationals of both the state of origin and the receiving state achieved their objectives. The successful completion of the Panama Canal relied on the labour of migrants who were willing to work tirelessly and possessed the fortitude to overcome harsh conditions. It provided an opportunity for many Barbadians confronted by limited job prospects.
Barbados and Panama established diplomatic relations in August 1975 and have since maintained a cordial relationship. The key features of the bilateral relationship include cooperation agreements in culture and tourism and a Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement. These agreements are building blocks which can serve to solidify the ties between the two countries.
As Barbadians celebrate Panama Day this year, we should reflect on the courage and tenacity of those Barbadians who braved the unknown in Panama so many years ago. The same resilience that was required to meet the demands of constructing a superstructure in exacting conditions is now required to confront the challenges that our nation faces today.