British government honours West Indians who helped build Panama Canal

canal_plaqueMIRAFLORES, Panama — August 15, 2014, marked 100 years since the Panama Canal became operational. Built over the course of ten years, following previous failed attempts, the Panama Canal helped connect distant countries, boost trade and open up the world.

The vast majority of workers who made this project possible came from the West Indies, particularly from Barbados and Jamaica. Over 20,000 individuals travelled from Barbados to work on the canal, which is estimated to be a substantial percentage of the island’s population at that time, whilst Jamaican labourers had long been active in infrastructure projects on the isthmus.

To honour the contribution of the West Indian workers, Britain’s Foreign Office Minister for Latin America, Hugo Swire MP, recently presented a bronze plaque at the Miraflores Locks Visitor Centre commemorating the contribution the people of the West Indies made to its construction.

Speaking at the unveiling last month, the minister said he was “enormously honoured to be unveiling today a new bronze plaque here at the Miraflores Locks that will memorialise the important contribution of the people of the British West Indies in the construction of the Canal. I hope this plaque will be seen by all the visitors to the Canal for the next 100 years.”

Following the presentation, the minister had the chance to meet members of the West Indian community in Panama; in some cases direct descendants of those whose labours had build the canal one hundred years ago.

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