Words cannot express the pleasure that I feel to be here with you today in Panama City.
Panama, through the legacy laid by the fore parents of many of the persons present, has become an indelible part of Barbadian history.
I have looked forward to this opportunity, this privilege, to meet with you, my Panamanian family, for the first time, after having greeted several of you at the Barbados Network Consultation, our biennial Barbadian Diaspora Conference, in 2012 and again in 2014.
On behalf of the Government and people of Barbados, I extend a warm Barbadian welcome to you all. I extend also welcome to the many friends of Barbados in Panama who are here with us today.
My team and I traveled here to be a part of the VII Summit of the Americas, but could not be in Panama and not take the opportunity to interact with you, the descendants of those Barbadians who traveled to Panama to work in the construction of the Panama Canal and Railway. So here I am with my team today.
What ties us together is far more than geography, far more than the fact that both countries can be regarded as Caribbean states. What links us is the extent and impact of substantial emigration to the Isthmus from Barbados at a time when the population of Barbados was estimated at 180,000.
The number which left for Panama was therefore stark, as that 60,000 was at that time in effect one-third of the island???s population, including many skilled labourers such as blacksmiths who left to participate in the greatest civil works project of the 20th century, the creation of a canal that united the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, traversing the Isthmus of Panama.
We do know that nearly 20,000 Barbadians were recruited or contracted for work on the building of the Canal; but we also know that far many more joined the exodus from Barbados, either as relatives of the contracted workers, or as individuals who paid their way in the hope of some form of employment, or simply as illegal immigrants or stowaways.
The Prime Minister’s full speech at the Town Hall Diaspora Meeting in Panama may be downloaded by clicking here.