Panama Canal Zone, 1904-1914

Spaniards on the Silver Roll

Spaniards on the Silver Roll

Structural violence on worksites can become latent violence


Spanish laborers, American supervisors, labor unions, President Theodore Roosevelt, US Army


During the construction of the Panama Canal in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt mandated two payrolls for laborers on the Panama Canal: gold for US citizens and silver for non-US citizens. The gold roll was extended to citizens of the newly mandated nation of Panama later that year. In 1909, US Army Colonel George Washington Goethals, Chief Engineer and Chairman of the Isthmian Canal Commission (ICC), reinterpreted Roosevelt�s mandate to be divided by race, where white laborers would be placed on gold roll and nonwhite laborers on silver, of which there were black-Caribbean, Panamanian, and Spanish laborers. When hired, Spanish workers were promised healthy working conditions and luxurious amenities, but upon arrival, they learned that these were only available to the gold roll workers. The many Spanish laborers in the canal zone repudiated their silver-roll status, causing conflict between fellow laborers as well as their white American supervisors. Tensions rose until Spaniards began regularly declaring strikes, staging Marxist revolutions, and attacking their Caribbean coworkers. The US Army responded with deliberate acts of violence that were not investigated further.

Peace Engineering Takeaway

Rather than instituting top-down methods based on what Interpeace or other groups believe to be problems, Somalilanders collaborated with Interpeace peacebuilders to develop solutions. A Somalilander initiated the connection with the researchers at Notre Dame, sending an email to ask for help with voter verification in preparation for elections. Researchers placed priority on an iterative design process by collecting feedback from Somalilanders and conducting studies to determine success during elections. With the Somaliland government, NGOs like Interpeace, external contractors, and academics collaborating on a peacebuilding project, it is still necessary to ensure that local communities are still driving the project with their needs and providing feedback.
Last updated January 2018. Powered by Webflow.