LONDON — Jamaica's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom (UK), Anthony Johnson, says Jamaica and the Caribbean have shared historic, cultural and trade links with Latin America that stretch back for centuries.
He argued that the relations between the English-speaking Caribbean and Latin America over the past three centuries have been of great importance to both regions in the provision of employment opportunities to the Caribbean and in industrial growth on the mainland.
“Significant numbers of Jamaican-descended persons now live in communities dominated by Caribbean persons in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador and significant industrial development in Latin America could offer further opportunities for important economic collaboration between the regions, in areas such as tourism and technology transfer,” the High Commissioner said.
Mr. Johnson was the special guest lecturer on July 19 at Canning House, the home of the Hispanic and Luso Brazilian Council, a non-political, non-profit organisation that was founded in 1943 to stimulate understanding between Britain, Spain, Portugal and Latin America.
Speaking on the topic: ‘Historic Relations between Jamaica (and the English speaking Caribbean) and Latin America’, the High Commissioner told the audience that the Caribbean was not an area to be marginalised as it was in fact a great area for investment and trade with Latin America.
He said that despite being the geographical gateway from Europe to the Central and South American mainland, there has been relatively limited contact between the islands and Latin America. However, the impact of the islands has been quite significant, although the facts are not well known.
Mr. Johnson noted that the construction of the Panama railroad between 1850 and 1855, was done with some 5,000 Jamaican workers and resulted in a Caribbean community of Bocas del Toro which, until this day, remains a bastion of Jamaican activity.
The High Commissioner also cited the 86,000 Jamaicans who migrated to Costa Rica to build a railroad from the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose, to Limon.
“Only 63,000 (of the Jamaicans) are recorded as returning. The balance of those who survived established another English-speaking community at Limon. This community also became a bastion of Protestant Christianity, which has spread across Latin America,” Mr. Johnson said.
He said that National Hero, Marcus Garvey, visited this area, and called attention to the plight of the workers, and that this was among the earliest and successful trade union interventions in Latin America.
Turning to the construction of the Panama Canal, High Commissioner Johnson noted that once again it was Caribbean labour that worked in sometimes appalling conditions, to bring this project to completion.
He also pointed out that the influence of Jamaica and the Caribbean led to the establishment of Protestantism in Latin America.
“Latin America is a stronghold of the Roman Catholic Church. From the early 20th Century, Jamaican communities in the region have been the bastion of Protestantism. The current wave of Protestant activity in the region, is based in the United States, but many of the new churches have the Jamaican communities as their point of entry. This religious renaissance has brought about greater collaboration between Jamaican and indigenous communities in Latin America. The Anglican, Baptist, Methodist and Seventh Day Adventist Churches in Jamaica have had these links for over one hundred years,” the High Commissioner added.
He noted that the influence was both ways. “A Jamaican migrant, Alexander Clarke, born 1887, worked in Cuba, Colombia and Panama in the early 20th Century. He returned to Jamaica after changing his name to Alejandro Bustamante, in the 1930s. He founded the modern trade union movement in Jamaica – the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) – one of the largest and strongest trade unions in Caricom,” he added.
Mr. Johnson also mentioned Albert Spencer, son of Jamaican workers who still has the record for the most goals scored in the Copa America football competition, and is a national sports hero in Ecuador.
By Vivienne Siva, JIS Reporter