Obrázky stránek

was confined for and in nearly every case the answer was: “For beating a policeman," at which the representative of the force who stood nearby, leaning negligently upon his rifle, smiled appreciatively.

Presently my eye fell upon a white man, who stood a little apart from the rest in the shadow of a tree. He was a fine looking young fellow, — hardly more than a boy, in fact, — clean-skinned and muscular, with a frank engaging countenance. Then, and in the course of several visits to him afterwards, I learned his story. We will call him Jones. Jones, then, was the son of a man holding the position of superintendent of an important division of the subway system in New York. The boy had been well brought up, but the desire for adventure led him to leave home against his father's wish. He came to Panama without letting his people know of his whereabouts and secured work in connection with the dredging operations of the Canal. His quarters were in Colon and there he seems to have got into bad company. One of his companions, a Panaman named Dufour, suggested a robbery to him. Jones declined to take part in the affair. It was carried out, nevertheless, and Dufour was arrested on suspicion, which pointed very strongly to him. Jones, who was known as a companion of the suspect, was haled before a magistrate in Colon, where an examination was held in Spanish, of which language the boy did not understand half a dozen words. There was no one present to represent or befriend this American citizen and employe of the Isthmian Canal Commission.

Jones and Dufour were confined in Chiriqui Prison. In a few days the latter, whose father is a well-to-do saloon keeper, procured bail and with that his troubles ended. The Panaman authorities would rather have the bail than the man at any time. The former means so much net profit; the latter more or less expense. When a person secures his liberty on bail, no more need be heard of his case, unless he is very insistent in his demands for a trial.

Jones, held merely on suspicion of having some knowledge of the crime, was cut off from the world at large and apparently forgotten. When I came across him, he had been several weeks in confinement. He had no means of communicating with anyone who might help him. His fellow-prisoners were negroes, or Panamans of the lowest class. He had not sufficient clothing, nor even the means of writing a letter.

The Canal Zone authorities made no enquiry about this man. After he passed into the keeping of the Panama Government, the Commission apparently washed its hands of him. There is something obviously wrong about such neglect. An American citizen in the remotest part of the world would be looked after by the nearest consular representative of his country under similar circumstances. In this case the consul was absent from his post on leave and his deputy did not seem to have known anything about Jones. The Panaman authorities should be required to notify the Commission immediately after making an arrest of a Canal employe and it should be the duty of the district attorney, or his assistant, to protect the man's legal interests.

I was impressed with the truth of the boy's story, and also convinced that there was very little of the criminal in his make-up. I decided to see what I could do for him and as a first step called upon the vice-consul with a request that he would secure for me permission to visit Jones in the prison. In response, I received a letter from the Governor of the Province, saying that a pass would be issued to me if I would state on what day I proposed to make the visit. This did not suit my book at all, and I decided to try a simpler method. Driving to the prison, I alighted with as great an air of importance as I could assume and bustled through the gateway, the sentries on either side presenting arms. Walking to the guardhouse I briefly asked the captain on duty for Jones, and a policeman was immediately ordered to show me to the man's cell. I found him much more cheerful and uncomplaining than I believe that I could have been myself under the circumstances. He was anxious to be brought to trial, of course, and somewhat indignant because, on the day before, he had been informed that the authorities had decided to charge him with being the principal in the robbery.

To cut a long story short, I despaired of moving the wheels of justice through the viceconsul and appealed to Mr. Squiers, the American Minister at Panama. He took the matter up with as much expedition as possible, considering the painful deliberation with which official business is conducted in all LatinAmerican countries.

Jones had been in prison about a month when I went up-country, where I was absent three weeks. On my return I learned that Mr. Squiers had written to the boy's father - who knew nothing of his whereabouts during all this time — and had come to an understanding with the Panaman authorities that when money to send Jones home should be forthcoming, he would be quietly released.

I returned to the States and, about two weeks later, received a Panama paper containing the account of Jones' escape from the prison. No doubt he would have been released soon, but it gave me some satisfaction to learn that he had settled the matter for himself. What afterwards became of him I have never learned.

Two more illustrations of Panama justice will be given to show that, while always devious in its course, it is quite as apt to work in favor of the guilty as of the innocent.

One of the Panama Railroad Company's locomotive engineers was one day annoyed by a negro insisting upon jumping upon the footboard of the engine which was being used for switching. At length, completely losing his temper, the engine driver struck the negro on the head with a coupling pin and killed him.

« PředchozíPokračovat »