Chinese recently brought over, have shown themselves good workmen. Time contracts are unknown; Government officials in the islands discourage negro emigration to the Isthmus; and changes are arising constantly from sickness, dissipation, return to homes, or fear of revolution. Many leave through fear of climate, lack of guaranteed hospital attendance, and the exorbitant rates of the Isthmus.
On Saturday the laborers are paid. Sunday is spent in dissipation or pleasure, Monday in recuperation, and it is not till Tuesday that a full force is at work; hence the number of working-days in a month seldom exceeds twenty or twenty-two. Twenty thousand laborers are wanted; and as the West Indies do not supply them, the company is trying to solve the difficult question of labor in the populations of Western Africa and Southern China.
The main hospitals are at Colon and Panama, but physicians are assigned also to each section of the works. There is, too, a sanitarium on Taboga, an island fourteen miles from Panama. The entire medical staff consists of thirty physicians and fifty apothecaries. It must be increased and other hospitals provided, if additions be made to the force of laborers. The hospital service has been much criticised, and it has been asserted that contractors discharge the sick, who die for lack of medical attendance. During my stay of six weeks on the Isthmus I saw nothing to confirm such statement. The hospital records show a death-rate of seven per cent to January, 1887; but this does not include those who, on account of illness or disease contracted here, have left and died elsewhere.
In the original act of concession, Colombia agreed to surrender to the Canal Company a border 200 metres wide on each side of the canal, and 500,000 hectares (1,235,571 acres) of public lands as the work progresses. The first grant of 150,000 hectares, made when the Colombian Government conceded that one third of the total work necessary for the construction of the canal had been done, is situated near the Chiriqui Lagoon and along the Tuira River. Besides this, the company has bought 34,653 acres between Colon and Panama. On the 9th of October, 1886, the first grant was increased to 250,000 hectares, the Government conceding that one half of the necessary work had been finished. The company owns, therefore, 652,438 acres of land, besides the border of 200 metres on each side of the canal.
By this, however, neither the Government nor the company concede that one half of the necessary excavation has been made; but that the present excavation, plus the quarters for officials and workmen, the hospitals, and the plant of machinery, represents one half of the total work required to finish the canal. Undoubtedly, quarters and machinery are important factors of the total work, but they do not represent twenty per cent of it; the Government would be sufficiently liberal in conceding to-day that one third of the total work has been done.