Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘yellow fever and malaria

The Panama Canal Challenges: Glory and Infamies

Are there any “social responsibility” attached to corporations?  Apparently,  a few corporations are trying to project the image of “social responsibility” as a form of enlightened self-interest, such as working with stakeholders to give back to community. It is mostly a veneer.

A week ago, I watched a documentary on the channel ARTE about the challenges in the construction of the Panama Canal:  Started in 1906 and completed in 1914. Mountains were displaced a vast lake created on the Pacific end, and huge successive locks (ecluses) erected in order to elevate ships up mountains and down to sea level…

Stevenson had two decades experience building train rail-road tracks.  France had failed it its attempt of opening a canal through Panama. Stevenson figured out a way of making this adventure a feasibility and he convinced President Theodore Roosevelt to adopt this crazy project.  Huge excavating machineries were dispatched and plenty of money poured in.  It is said that over 300 million of 1900 hard dollars were invested in the canal.

Stevenson had this mind-fix from previous experiences that only Chinese workers were reliable enough for this endeavour.  A vast campaign for hiring and luring Chinese immigrants failed. I can assume that previous generations of Chinese who built the US rail-road tracks had settled down and refused for their offspring to experience the same humiliation, indignities, and dangers working for US vast projects.  Most probably, the wave of Chinese immigrations have trickled down for various reasons.

Stevenson had to bite his tongue and settle with what was available: 25,000 very inexpensive workers from the island of Barbados flocked in.

There were two kinds of payments: The 5,000 white workers, artisans, or “professionals” (mostly brought from the USA) were paid in gold; the workers from the Antilles islands and mostly from Barbados (about 25,000 at a time) were paid in silver coins.  Thus, you had the blacks (or silver workers living precariously) and the white or the gold coins people living in better housing conditions…

The second problem was health in tropical climate and infested environments.  Hundreds were falling ill every day from yellow fever, malaria…and as many dying in pain.  An US physician who survived yellow fever and made it his expertise to fighting yellow fever was hired to resolving this gigantic epidemic.

In 1907, the physician distributed mosquito nests for free and sprayed oil on the surfaces of every single pool of stagnant water in order to kill the mosquito larvae… The entire region, hundred of miles around, was sprayed with oil and not a single one died from yellow fever the next year.  This was over a century ago.  Currently, million die of yellow fever and malaria every year, and all that is needed is spraying oil on stagnant water surface!

Stevenson resigned by 1908, and Roosevelt hired a military General to taking over: Generals are not about to simply resign and go home.  Again, thousands died from unsafe working conditions and from dynamite jobs.

After the celebration of the opening of the Canal, the over 30,000 workers who survived returned home, as penniless as they arrived, no bonuses offered, no recognition bestowed on them, no special celebration for a job well-done… The Glory went to the US, the former president Roosevelt who could not attend the ceremony, being stuck in South Africa, and the current president Woodrow Wilson…

The Panama Canal undertaking was the best propaganda the US ever launched:  The European States had to admit that the US was the prime industrial State, the richest, and the most powerful.  Germany was second, in all categories before WWI.

By the way, directors in corporations receive the glory of the excellent job that the previous one had done. Carly Fiorina created a great design team at Hewlett-Packard and brought about a cultural change which make the changes of Lou Gerster (IBM) and Jack Welsh (GE) look like chump change by comparison.  It is her successor who was lauded for design excellence




June 2023

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