Panama’s 2010 Census Promises to be Interesting for Persons of African and Indigenous Descent

This is the official logo image of Panama's 2010 National Census


Lydia M. Reid

This year’s Census in Panama will be conducted on Sunday May 16, 2010 beginning at the hour of midnight May 15 and ending officially at 7:30 PM on May 16, 2010.  The entire operation is governed by the Contraloría General de la República, Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censo.

Officially called The National Census of Population and Housing of 2010 it will be a “de facto” census, and as such, will be conducted in a single day.  On Sunday, May 16, 2010 all people present in the territory and territorial waters of the country, including foreigners, will be counted at the “moment” of the census. Theoretically this “moment” corresponds to midnight May15 until 7:30 PM May 16, 2010.

This type of registration is uncharacteristic of the seven censuses carried over the years 1911, 1920 and 1930 which varied in duration between one and three months.

The 1940 Census in our Republic was distinguished by three characteristics: 1) it was conducted practically in a single day 2) it gathered broader social and economic statistics of the population and succeeded in gathering information from the remote regions inhabited by indigenous peoples, i.e. indigenous Indian people.

By the 1950 Census, the Republic of Panama carried out its first official National Census of Housing and Agriculture, this being its most significant difference since it was touted as the first “Housing Census” in our history.  This is probably concomitant with the severe housing shortage that poor and working class people had been suffering for decades but was starkly manifested in official statistics in that particular year.  The responsibility for this important task was placed under the Department of the Census within the newly created Department of Statistics and the Census, having been authorized by legal decree- Law No. 12 of September 8, 1949.

The carrying out of each successive Censuses after 1950 saw improvements and some technical changes but it has not been until this year’s Census that some fundamental and, in some circles, polemic questions, will be asked of the Panamanian population.

For our purposes we’ll focus on the question of race and racial identity since this is a controversial issue, at times leading to explosive debate and heated passions in our tiny Isthmus.

In Section IV (Page 4) of the Census Questionnaire for 2010, at the top of the page are situated questions 5 and 6 which read, “Does an Indigenous person live here?” and “Does someone in this house regard him/herself as Negro (Black) or of African descent?”  Further down the questionnaire you will see the qualifying questions as to which tribal or ethnic group the person belongs.  In “Section V- General Characteristics for All Persons” question 8 asks to which particular tribal group does the person belong, and question 9 asks “Do you consider yourself?:

  1. Negro(a) Colonial
  2. Negro(a) Antillano(a)
  3. Negro(a)
  4. Other (Specify)
  5. None

This historic piece of Census information is probably the first time that Black and indigenous people will be asked their opinion and how they view themselves, particularly Black persons.  Already there is controversy arising from even asking the question and from persons including those of Afro-Antillean descent whom we identify as “Silver People.”

Some individuals of all age groups would not like to be identified by their race at all but, to these individuals we clarify, we live in a racially partial world full of misconceptions and mis-perceptions and just plain racial hatred.  However much you would like to forget your racial identity there are those people (and this includes members of your own racial group), governments and organizations that will forever keep reminding you of your race.  They are not very nice and their prejudices and erroneous notions can and do affect your economics, where you can live and if and how you may travel, not to mention what you may study and to what vocations or professions you may aspire.

We encourage you all to cooperate with this historic Census of 2010 and take the opportunity to thoroughly think out the question of your own racial identity, particularly those of you who are of African descent.  We further encourage you, the descendants of the Afro-Antilleans whose forefathers can be traced to the “Silver People” to answer question 9 by stating that you identify yourself as:

Other:  Silver People

This would recall the great human sacrifice that our forefathers made during our country’s historic development  during the construction of the Panama Railroad, the Panama Canal (both French and American periods) and the significant participation of the Silver People in the successful development of the Banana Empire in the Province of Bocas del Toro.  It would also become a show of solidarity for the vindication and restitution of the cultural, linguistic and economic heritage left to us by our ancestors, the Silver People.  We can safely say that no other Black ethnic group in Panama has left this cultural legacy and no other group gave up as many lives as the Silver men and women to accomplish these ends.

You may view a sample copy of the Census 2010 Questionnaire here.  We thank the people at for supplying us with the pdf download link here.

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