National Library


General Victoriano Lorenzo was shot on this spot on May 15, 1903 without any reason by enemies of the Panamanian people.

General Victoriano Lorenzo was shot on this spot on May 15, 1903 without any reason by enemies of the Panamanian people.

I came into Panama City in an attempt to do a bit of research on Victoriano Lorenzo. The National Library, which is really quite a nice place to work, has 179 items in their catalog on Lorenzo. I spent the morning sorting through them, trying to find the most useful things to read. I’m really doing this backwards, because normally I would do this type of historiographic overview at home before coming on a research trip, and spend my time here looking for primary sources rather than trying to bring me up to speed on the issue.

When I gave the librarian my book requests an older man next to me said in a very pronounced tone “Victoriano Lorenzo.” We started talking, and he said he was Harry Castro, a columnist for La Prensa. He said that Lorenzo was a bit of a complicated character, that he had killed people. He also said that he had pictures of Lorenzo’s execution. I asked the columnist what he thought of the General, and he was very noncommittal on the topic.

Another way in which I am doing this project backwards is that I first went to the library to read books and then went to bookstores to buy them. I found a row of street stalls in Casco Antiguo selling used books, and asked one vendor if he had anything on Lorenzo. He said that it was very hard to find books on him. I asked why, and he said that Panama doesn’t value its history, and historians have largely ignored his importance. He started talking about how important Lorenzo was, how he was sold out by both the Liberals and Conservatives, and how he was always on the side of the poor.

This, of course, is precisely the issue that interests me. Did Lorenzo have an ideology? Was he like Indigenous leaders in the Andes who made strategic alliances with the Liberals, only to be sold short when they were no longer beneficial to them? Or was he like Sandino in Nicaragua who was to the left of the Liberals (or, alternatively as his enemies claimed, nothing more than a common highway robber)?

Eloy Alfaro

Eloy Alfaro

When I returned to the hotel after visiting the site at Plaza Francia where the government shot Lorenzo I walked up Ecuador Street right past a statue of Eloy Alfaro. This old Liberal leader lived in Panama in the 1890s before returning to Ecuador and overthrowing the Conservative government (with Indigenous support) in 1895. I wonder if he had any contact with Lorenzo, either while he was here in Panama or after he took power in Ecuador. I wonder if Alfaro would have sold out Lorenzo.

I found a couple books in the National Library and in the bookstores on labor movements in Panama. They talked about a huge strike at the Santa Rosa Sugar Refinery in 1965, culminating in a march to the capital to petition for their rights. We visited the refinery this last week as part of our class. Curiously, they said nothing during our tour or in their museum about this history of labor struggles at the refinery. The most important and interesting parts of history always get written out of the official versions.

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