Rio Abajo

The Stone Church or "La Iglesia de Piedra" is one of Rio Abajo's most prominent landmarks.

By Lydia M. Reid

Rio Abajo, which literally means “down river,” is an excellent example of one of the Silver communities in the Republic of Panama apart from the Canal Zone that was founded and originally urbanized by the Westindians who came to settle in Panama.

The known history of Rio Abajo dates from at least the 19th century when it was a vast grazing area devoted to the raising of cattle.  From that point until 1914 during the construction of the inter-oceanic canal, a group of people originating from the English speaking Caribbean settled there and gave rise to urban settlements.

Its rural, wide open countryside, in fact, was its first attraction for a people who were anxious to leave the squalid, crowded and expensive tenements of the big city and have a chance at owning a property of their own.  Very soon their countrymen from the Barrios of Santa Ana, Calidonia, San Felipe, as well as paisanos of non-Westindian origins were joining them in this new community in the western area of Panama City.  Included in this group would also be the Westindian laborers and their families who were either being evicted from Canal Zone housing or were being displaced on the workforce.  In Rio Abajo, for the first time, land prices were within their reach and they could afford to buy a piece of the country.

From 1925 to 1932 the rise of popular movements mostly initiated by Westindian laborers due to severe housing shortages in some sectors of Panama City led the Antilleans to go and reside in Rio Abajo, located near the banks of the Rio Abajo River.

In a show of unity and strength on the part of the Westindians’ who struggled for recognition of their rights as workers and legitimate residents and citizens of the Republic of Panama, many of them were empowered to buy land previously owned by the following: the de la Guardia, Remón, Espinosa, Ledezma, Quesada, and Lefevre families.

By 1933 initial attempts were made by the Westindians to upgrade the village of Rio Abajo to a Corregimiento, but this initiative was vetoed by Mayor Carlos de la Ossa, who considered that the Westindian community did not have within its local ranks qualified people to staff the offices of the Corregimiento.

In the year 1937, however, municipal agreement N° 20 dated June18 the Corregimiento of Rio Abajo was created. Its population according to the 2000 census is 28,714 (13,346 men and 15,368 women).  As soon as the 2010 Census results are in we are sure that the population figures will be much larger as Rio Abajo is one of the most rapidly growing districts in the City of Panama.

Rio Abajo’s extension is: its total area is 33.8 km² with a population density of 6.3 per square kilometer.  Its limits are as follows: to the north is the District of San Miguelito; to the south is the Corregimiento of Parque Lefevre; to the east it borders with the Corregimiento of Juan Diaz and to the west it borders with the Corregimiento of Pueblo Nuevo.

Its political divisions are known as Barrios or Barriadas and they are the following:  Villa Lorena, Villa Gabriela, Victoriano Lorenzo, La Rosita, La Marina, San Cristóbal, Villa Elena, El Porvenir, Blas Bloise, Altos del Río, La Boca Town, El Progreso N ° 1 and N ° 2, Marcasa, La Florida, Villa Maria, Villa Rica, Los Yoses, Río Abajo Centro de Calle 4ta and 19na.

Public services: Corregiduria and Centre for social work, police, agency of posts and Telegraphs, municipal library, substations nursery school, Centre for health, National Bank, savings, Polyclinic San Cristóbal, ULAPS Social Security Fund and the Office of the Republican band. Public Schools: Clara Ofelina Wattley, San Martín De Porras, Bilingual School El Arco Iris (Rainbow), Bilingual Educational Centre Children Of The Future, Arabe De Libya, and Mateo Iturralde.

State sponsored nurseries:  Joaquina de Torrijos, Clara Wattley, Rainbow Bilingual School and Armando Salazar.

Its six Parks are the following: Forestal of Hato Pintado, Anapolis, Luis Branca, Nidia Endara, Altos Miramar, and Miguel Negrito Quiñónez.

In upcoming posts we will track the evolution of Rio Abajo and the expansion of the Westindian people into this new part of the city.

3 responses to “Rio Abajo

  1. I attended a very close friend’s funeral service at the Stone Church, “La Iglesia de Piedra”, in January—Harold Jury who was a U.S. Marine stationed in Panamá twice during the Vietnam war. During one of his tours Harold married his wife Dolore who’s mother has a house down the side street by the church. After leaving the Marine Harold & Dolores resided near Oklahoma City where Harold eventually retired from a tire company & Dolores from the Oklahoma schools as a Spanish teacher. Over the years they had built a house on Dolores’s mother’s property & were building a second home in Chiriquí province near Volcan. They lived between Oklahoma in the summer months & Panama in the winter. Their children were visiting in Panamá in January when Harold passed away. The U.S. Veterans’ of Foreign Wars performed an excellent memorial service during the church service. Dolores is a dear friend & I have had the opportunity to meet her mother, very nice lady. Harold, R.I.P. & SEMPER FI Lou Seldon
    Question: Silver people, a reflection on the medium of pay received by West Indians during the building of the canal?


  2. Thanks for this. From my research for what I hope will be the sequel to Panama Fever, Digging Down Gold Mountain, I understand that Pueblo Nuevo was also one of the neighborhoods that early Westindian immigrants settled and developed in the 19th century. As was La Boca, where a devastating fire was allowed to rage unchecked due to tension between the Spanish and English-speaking communities.

    Season’s Greetings and my best to you both.


    • Mr. Garvey,

      It’s always good to see you on our blog! We’re really looking forward to your sequel to “Panama Fever.”

      Pueblo Nuevo was another area settled heavily by the Westindians that was outside of the Canal Zone. It is adjacent, geographically, to Rio Abajo. La Boca was a Canal Zone township. Thanks for that note on the great fire- from descriptions of the town in the days of construction we are led to believe that all was peace and tranquility between the different “Silver” Roll groups.

      We wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a very Prosperous New Year!

      Roberto and Lydia Reid


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