Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

of Panama by the buccaneers rudely awakened the Spaniards to the fact that their position on the mainland was no longer secure, and that their important cities must in future be strongholds. This consideration precluded all thought of rebuilding Panama on its original site and a new one was sought in a less accessible location. The point selected was a spit of volcanic rock jutting into the bay. Here the new city was founded, in 1673, by royal decree, the formal dedication taking place on the spot which is now occupied by the central plaza. Extraordinary inducements to build were extended to the former inhabitants of the old capital, which was entirely abandoned by official order.

The work of fortifying Panama was carried out regardless of cost. Upwards of $11,000,000 were spent upon the walls and auxiliary defences. Most of the large buildings were constructed with a view to withstanding attack. A great wall completely surrounded the city. It was from 30 to 40 feet in height and in places as much as 60 feet broad. On the inland side, a deep moat stretched from one arm of the bay to another, cutting off the point on which the city stood. This moat was not filled in until some time in the fifties.

Panama as reconstructed was the strongest city in the New World. Sharp, and other pirates, came and looked it over, but decided that it offered no opportunity for successful attack. The armament of the battery, which stretched along the sea wall, was sufficient to annihilate a fleet of that day. Another condition made the position peculiarly difficult of approach. In the Pacific, the tidal oscillation is about 22 feet, so that a vessel anchored near the shore in deep water, may find itself high and dry a few hours later. The rock upon which the city is built runs out into the sea with a gradual slope, and, at low tide, a mile and a half of tufa is exposed. This is extremely slippery, and a party attempting to reach the walls over it would have had great difficulty in maintaining a foothold, not to mention the risk of being cut off by the returning tide.

The old walls of Panama have been pulled down for the most part, but small portions remain here and there. One of these is to be seen on Central Avenue, almost opposite the church of La Merced. This remnant affords a very fair idea of the size and composition of the wall on the land side. One of the main gates was near this spot. The battery, or sea wall, remains practically intact. It used to be a favorite promenade of the population of Panama. For Americans the old sea wall should have a peculiar interest. Here, in the days of the “ forty-niners,” parties of voyagers to California used to spend much of their time eagerly gazing seaward for a sight of the vessel which was to bear them on the way. Sometimes the weary wait would extend into weeks, and frequently an epidemic of yellow fever, or some other virulent disease, would break out in the meanwhile. Under such conditions U. S. Grant, who was on his way to the Pacific Coast with a detachment of troops, passed many dreary hours sitting on these weather-worn parapets. The spot is associated with memories of many prominent and picturesque characters. Here the debonair Lola Montez, in male attire and smoking a cigarette, habitually walked of an evening, with a score of attendant admirers. One who was present, has described an occasion when De Lesseps stood in the midst of a group of distinguished visitors and from the sea wall presented to their imaginations a picture of crowded sails bearing down upon the entrance to the finished canal. This was only two years before the debacle, but the great promoter spoke with such eloquent conviction that his hearers were persuaded against their better judgment and returned to France, as he had determined that they should, with glowing reports of the enterprise.

Under the sea wall, or rather built into it, is the prison. The long narrow cells run through to the face of the battery and at that end long slits in the wall give entrance to light and sea air. At the other end, grated doors look upon a small courtyard, in which one or two police, armed with rifles, patrol day and night. The cells are cool, but necessarily damp. The unfortunate who is consigned to this prison has an indefinite stay before him, for the wheels of Panama justice move spasmodically and, unless they be greased, with deadly slowness.

In the early eighties a case containing $50,000 in gold, which was designed to pay the crew of an American war vessel in Panama harbor, mysteriously disappeared from the warehouse of the Panama Railroad. Seven Americans were arrested on suspicion and thrown into Chiriqui Prison, as it is called. There was no evidence against these men. Indeed, it was said that they were arrested to shield the true culprits, who were generally believed to have been Panamans. After several months without trial, the Americans were released, but never received any indemnity for the confinement, which probably wrought permanent injury to their health.

A few years later, two British subjects were incarcerated in the same place for months without any specific charge being brought against them, and despite the protest of their consul. These occurrences, and others of a similar nature, took place under the government of Colombia and during the French occupancy of the canal district, but, as I shall presently show, like miscarriages of justice have happened since Panama's independence and during our tenure of the Canal Zone.

One afternoon I leaned upon the parapet of the sea wall, looking down into the prison courtyard. Beneath me stood about a dozen of the prisoners, begging in whining tones for nickels and cigarettes. Their brown backs were bare. In fact, they wore but one garment, a pair of trousers. As I learned later, this condition of semi-nakedness was deliberately maintained for the sake of facilitating cleanliness. I asked one after another what he

« PředchozíPokračovat »