The Other Side Of Bocas Life on A Banana Plantation (continued)

 It did not end there with just building the infrastructure.  The executives required to run the plantations on a day to day basis were brought in from Panama City, the United States, England, among many other countries.  In order to make it attractive for these executives to leave and come reside for several years in a banana plantation in the middle of nowhere the compensation package had to be extremely attractive and it was.  These executives got very generous salaries, yearly bonuses, and most of their living expenses were paid by the company.  Executives would get, depending if they came with families or not, one, two or three bedroom houses, with A/Cs, and huge yards.  Power and water were generated and paid by the company.  There was a gardener assigned to the house if it was a single family or the maintenance department would take care of the common areas if it was an apartment or single person unit.  Maintenance would also take care of any other housing repairs needed.

Many executives got to live in areas destined for executive living in very large houses with huge lawns, the largest being those belonging to the division manager and assistant manager.  In Changuinola, Bocas del Toro, this area was called Farm 8.  The houses were situated close to a social club with all amenities such as pool, golf course, tennis court, movie area, bar, also built by the company for the executives and their families.  There was a commissary run by the company which constituted the town´s only supermarket in the beginning.  Later with more migration other stores cropped up.
For executives with families the company also provided schooling.  After a certain pay grade executive´s children would get access to bilingual schooling set up by the company.  In Changuinola there was the Farm 8 Bilingual School which ran from 1st grade to 7th grade after which students had the option of going to boarding school in the United States to certain schools which were recommended or any other school and the company would pay for schooling until the 12th grade.  Most executives chose bilingual schools to continue their children´s education.  The company imported the teachers and staff for the elementary school, in fact setting up an American School in the middle of a banana plantation.  In Farm 8 School there were teachers from the US, England, Europe, which ensured for the children of these banana people a fully bilingual education.

Living in the midst of their work these executives were on constant call but work would generally run from 8 am to 4pm then head home for dinner and then to the bar for drinks.  This was a daily routine for executives in a banana plantation not only in Changuinola but anywhere United Fruit set up plantations: the routine and the modus operandi were basically the same.  In the weekends there was always some entertainment planned but many times being so close to Bocas del Toro Islands the entertainment was going to the beach.  Now famous, Bocas del Drago used to be the weekend destination spot for company executives and their families during the weekends and holidays.  The company had a house and a small private dock on Bocas del Drago for employee use.
Times were much different then and circumstances were much different.   This was the way of life United Fruit, now Chiquita Brands, provided for its employees and this was the way it did business.  In those times during the 60´s, 70´s and 80´s the company had approximately 43,000 hectares of land in Panama most of it planted with bananas.  In the 1980´s the business began to decline and in the 1990´s the banana business took a big hit with the European tariffs which were raised for bananas coming from Latin America.

This is a time and lifestyle that is now gone.  All that remains are the old buildings, many of them wooden houses on stilts with shutters on the windows, and the smell of ripe bananas in the air.  When the airplane approaches the airport in Changuinola you see a small town nestled in the midst of a sea of green, tidy squares, resembling an immense green and white grid.  Welcome to the world of the banana people.



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