Posts filed under 'Panama'

1903: Victoriano Lorenzo, cholo

Add comment May 15th, 2019 Headsman

Panamanian indigenous leader Victoriano Lorenzo was shot on this date in 1903.

He was a cholo (mixed-race; Lorenzo had both African and Amerindian ancestry) peasant who in the 1890s rose to become the most prominent indigenous leader in Cocle, a Pacific-facing province on the isthmus back when Panama was still a part of Colombia.

Lorenzo (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) would lead indigenous forces in the Thousand Days’ War — a civil war between Colombia’s Conservative and Liberal Parties. Lorenzo fought in alliance with the Liberals; they lost the war, and with it the native land rights that Lorenzo fought for.

While the war was settled by the last days of 1902, the now-ascendant Conservative government accused Lorenzo and followers of continuing to fight and put him to a rial on grounds of murder and robbery that culminated in his public shooting in Panama City. The affair was so irregular that it’s commonly maligned as an “assassination”.

Scholars have interpreted the strange circumstances of his death as Conservative vengeance, the destruction of a hero and powerful symbol for impoverished people, the establishment of oligarchy, and as the forgetting of indigenous people as emblematic in the new Republic of Panama. Lorenzo has been interpreted as a martyr and the first victim of North American imperialism related to the Canal because he was held aboard the United States ship Bogota before his assassination. Seven days before his assassination, Esteban Huertas publicly announced that there was nothing more dangerous for the Canal construction than “guerrillas” and their activities in the mountains of Cocle …

The Conservative narrative of Lorenzo as “guerrilla” fighter permeated Panamanian national history, and schoolchildren learned to see Lorenzo negatively. National Panamanian history depicted Lorenzo shamefully as a “dirty cholo” …

In contrast, northern Cocle oral history memorializes, in cyclical time, Lorenzo as a cultural hero who continues to live, and understands his fight for land rights and political autonomy as the same fight of Urraca that is still ongoing today. People identify strongly with a liberation theology quote attributed to Lorenzo shortly before his death, “I forgive all. I die like Jesus Christ died,” wherein the cultural hero continued the cycle of death to defend land in this epoch. Rufino Peres J., born in 1941, recalls:

My people were illiterate, when he lived. They wore plant fiber loincloth (pampanillas) to go to Penonome … Why did they kill Victoriano Lorenzo? He died fighting for our land, and they formed a war, and that Victoriano Lorenzo, a cholo, won that war! It was not the president who won the war; it was Victoriano Lorenzo. They could never kill him: they used machetes, sticks, smoke, and they didn’t kill him. How was that? Then Victoriano Lorenzo went to the Presidency, and there they killed him. But Victoriano Lorenzo has stayed in History. So, now, whenever a campesino starts any kind of movement, they are scared because because we are the blood of Victoriano Lorenzo.

He uses the word blood (sangre) to mean how much someone is dedicated to the land and lineages in struggle, and adds, “Now youth don’t have blood like before, they have to be ready to die.” (from The Blood of Victoriano Lorenzo: An Ethnography of the Cholos of Northern Cocle Province, Panama)

Panama broke away from Colombia later that same year of 1903, and its new constitution abolished the death penalty outright. Independent Panama has never conducted an execution — so Lorenzo’s appears to be the isthmus’s last.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Murder,Panama,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Soldiers


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