HISTORY OF BOCAS DEL TORO


Guaymi, Teribe and Bokota indians were the primitive inhabitants of Bocas del Toro, when Christopher Columbus, in 1502, navegated with his two ships into the bay called by the indians "Caroboro", today Admiral Bay.

Isolated from Panama but open to the rest of the world and the Caribbean, Bocas had an interesting history during the three following centuries.

During the colonial period (16th to 19th centuries) the spanish didn't have established populations in the region almost forgotten by their government.

The english took advantage of this fact establishing settlements like in Boca del Drago where it was reported, in 1745, that they were growing cattle and chickens.

The english presence played a very important role in the life in the Archipelago.

In the beginning of the 19th century, english ships from Jamaica, make an active commerce with the Central America coast, Bocas del Toro included, where traded goods by carey (marine turtle shell), live marine turtles, cocoa, mahogany wood and zarzaparilla.

In 1826 Bocas del Toro town was founded by Jamaica, San Andres and Providencia inmigrants, but still during the first years after this foundation, the town was a camp of traders in carey, some of them coming so far as the United States.

Most of the population were trafficants and adventurers of different nationalities, attracted by the new commercial oportunities.

In 1837 was created the Bocas del Toro canton, and during the next 50 years Bocas was part of the provinces of Chiriqui, Panama and Colon, this time as a distrit.

In 1880 begins the history of the banana in the region, being created Snyder Banana Co in 1890 and United Fruit Co in 1899.

Apart of banana, big land extensiones were destinated to grow sugar cane, cocoa and coconut. Still was very important the exportation of carey and live turtles. Also other businesses surged in the region like the shipment of merchandises and passengers to Colon and other caribbean ports, by the Surgeon Brothers company.

After the separation of Panama from Columbia, when Bocas was scenery of some confrontations, was created the Bocas del Toro Province, in 1903, and this period, until 1930, was when Bocas del Toro economy flourished due to of its agriculture, fishery, comercial and industrial grow, leading the province to be the third in importance in Panama.

At that time, in Bocas existed consulates of England, Germany, Costa Rica, United States and France, while three journals were published: The Telegraph, The Citizen and The Central American Express.

But a strange banana pest had been started to sick the banana plants about 1914 and in 1934 the destruction was absolute, beginning a period of decay for the islands.

In 1981 a road from Gualaca was built to connect the Interamerican Highway to Chiriqui Grande, the only way to reach Bocas del Toro by land. Paralell with the road Petroterminals Co started to transport oil from Alaska, in the west coast to the west coast of USA, using the oleoduct that still runs along the road.

This oil transportation was suspended in 1995, when the company started to build the new containers port, transforming the route Puerto Armuelles-Chiriqui Grande in a transistmic dry chanel.

A new road, now connecting Chiriqui Grande with Almirante, completes the union of this province to the rest of the country by land, ending the isolation of the region.

Tourism now is a new alternative that had arrived to the islands, and due to the natural richness of the Archipelago, looks like it is an alternative to stay.
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(Parts resumed from the book "Arquitectura Caribeņa" (Caribbean Architecture) by SAMUEL GUTIERREZ).