For all of Panamá’s 1500 miles of coastline, there is only one actual beach town. That honor goes to Puerto Armuelles, situated on the western end of the country near the border with Costa Rico. Other Panamá towns are near the beach, but none are actually on it.
Puerto Armuelles is named for Colonel Tomás Armuelles, a hero in the Coto War, staged in the 1920s. This war was fought between Panamá and Costa Rico over a small piece of land. Panamá won the war but then 10 years later returned the land to Costa Rico.
The United Fruit Company arrived in 1927 and really built the town, laying the street grids and building houses by the thousands for its workers. It created a class structure as company towns do. The workers’ houses were built on stilts to escape the dampness and bugs (picture the movie The African Queen). The executive’s homes were large and painted every color available, giving the town a unique flavor.
United Fruit Company was the first company to use refrigeration during open sea transport and then gave their bananas the unique name of Chiquita. They introduced the brand in 1944 and advertised it with a catchy, calypso beat jingle which made it a household brand name.
That brand name was registered three years later and is still known today.
In 1990, United Fruit Company changed its name to Chiquita Brands International and expanded into ready-made salads, and health foods. The banana was still the queen, however, noticeable by the little stickers on the bananas. These stickers began to appear in 1963 and are still affixed today by hand so as not to bruise the bananas.
About this time, the workers began to strike and carry on activities harmful to the company. In 2003, Chiquita Brands sold out to a cooperative of local banana farmers, but these farmers seemed not to know how to run a company. They faltered and Panamá began negotiations with Del Monte Foods, who eventually took over. By 2018, the company was employing 20,000 workers in 70 countries.
When Chiquita Brands left Puerto Armuelles, the town’s population was cut in half to about 23,000 and, by 2010, it had fallen another 2500. All is not lost, though. The banana industry continues, but now there is oil flowing in and out of the community.
The other industry in Puerto Armuelles oil transporting. As supertankers became larger and larger, they could no longer traverse the Panamá Canal. Supertankers coming from the Mideast and elsewhere found the Blue Ditch, a small island about 6 miles offshore from Puerto Armuelles. Because the depth there is great enough to accommodate these large tankers, storage tanks were erected and the crude oil subsequently off loaded onto smaller tankers which then went through the Canal.
In 1982, the search for a better way to get the oil across the country resulted in building a pipeline. It runs from Puerto Armuelles to Chiriqui Grande in the province of Bocas del Toro. The pipeline has to go over the continental divide, so pumping stations are needed along the way. Not only does the pipeline get oil from the Pacific side of Panamá, it reverses to bring other oil from the Atlantic side of the country. Seemingly never being satisfied, the Canal began construction to accommodate the large supertankers, resulting in two ways for oil to cross the country.
Such is called progress. Panamá has become the leader in Central America through its economic policies, as well as the hub for shopping and international flights. Currently, Panamá ranks ahead of its neighbors in its drive to become a stable and progressive Westernized country.
Fact: Panamá is outside the hurricane path
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Thanks to Barrie Thomson, Jr. for suggesting this topic.