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In the late 1840s and early 1850s, with the construction of the railway in Panama, the presence of Capitalism, as well as the constant arrivals of Americans to our country—then known as Nueva Granada—became very evident. This was due to the concession of free transit given by the Panamanian Government to the United States through the signing of the Mallarino-Bidlack Treaty. The Americans would sail down to Panama from the Caribbean arriving at the coasts of Colon, then cross the country and sail back north to California in search for gold.
Gradually, the mistreatment shown by the Americans towards the locals started to feed up a huge feeling of resentment in the hearts of the latters. Over the years, the Panamanian tolerance was fading, but they were forced to always give Americans a special treatment as stated by the treaty signed by the two nations.
On April 15, 1856, however, the straw that broke the camel’s back took place when the American Jack Oliver refused to pay five cents for a slice of watermelon (“Tajada de Sandía”) that he took from the fruit stand of the Panamanian Jose Manuel Luna, a native from Parita on the Azuero Peninsula. A big argument broke out in which guns, knives, stones and other weapons were pulled out from both parties. What appeared to be a little fight turned out to become a huge uncontrollable battle when a vapor train coming from Colon arrived at the station with about a thousand Americans who joined the conflict right away.
At the end, the battle lasted three days and left as a result several stores vandalized, many houses destroyed, eighteen people killed and twenty-eight people wounded.
After several mediation attempts to solve the situation between both nations, Nueva Granada pleaded guilty to what happened, which brought as a consequence the payment of $421,394 dollars to the United States as compensation. In addition, Panama also gave the United States the right to undertake military interventions inside the Isthmus as laid down in Article 35 of the Mallarino-Bidlack Treaty.
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