By Raquel Sánchez and Carlos Lemos
With the sun on the horizon, dozens of fishermen rush to reach La Boca, a place that appears to be hidden on the banks of the Panama Canal, and in which every day is threatened to disappear to make way for progress: the fourth bridge over the interoceanic highway.
Some 30 artisanal fishermen drag their boats and little by little take out the merchandise that was captured in the early morning hours. The baskets with fish and shellfish are thrown in vats that they load in trucks that will take them to the food markets, a marathon day of few hours to achieve the fresh harvest of the sea.
But this life as many know will cease to exist, or that is what they fear, due to the construction of a mega project that will be erected to place a metro line and that will help alleviate traffic in the city. This will be a priority and the pier could close.
La Boca port, located on the Pacific coast of Panama, was previously an area under the surveillance of US troops during its military presence in Panama. Already in 1930 a system of tugboats or ferries was enabled, which moved people from Balboa to Farfán (west).
The infrastructure was abandoned after the inauguration of Puente de Las Américas in 1962, so the dock was adopted by fishermen who made their way to exercise their trade. A time when the idea of a prosperous place for fishing hardly flourished.
Sitting on a bank, watching his tourist boat, Gumercindo Díaz knows that there are no more years to go, but months, he already knew it since 2014, the date on which they carried out studies for the construction of this fourth connection over the sea.
Today that same place will undergo another transformation, the project that will connect the province of Panama West with the center of the city will be raised by a Chinese consortium and the infrastructure will have an approximate length of 6.5 kilometers with a cable-stayed design.
"When the consultations began there was a meeting with the society, not even the residents of the residential area knew that we were settled in the place; since then began the worries that it was going to happen with us," he explains.
He says that after a census was taken among the guild, the authorities informed him that access to the place would probably be difficult, and that the equipment and machinery would be there.
Díaz notes that they proposed to move a few meters from the maritime enclave, but the detail is that they would need a landfill and the facilities to place their work tools.
"I know it is a government project and they are the ones that rule, we do not want to be compensated, but to continue working, we know that if we leave here we will not go back," says Díaz, who is part of the Fishermen's Association of La Boca.
He points out that the other ports such as Coquira in Chepo (east), the Prosecutor in San Felipe and the one in Veracruz (west) are crammed, far away and with little security. The Caribbean is also not an option because it has bad weather or its waters are unstable.
Díaz says that many go out to the ocean every day and go for about eight hours, bringing species such as snapper, croaker, laurel, saw, sea bass and shrimp, the favorites of consumers.
But this about 48 year old and very extroverted man notes that now he is dedicated to tourist fishing, a more friendly option with the environment and more profitable for the economy.
With 20 years facing the sea, he says that although it seems unreal to fish 200 pounds of a fish, it is the same as taking about 10 people to do recreational fishing and capture 20 pounds.
"We know that every day there is less fishing, and more pollution, fish go to clean seas, so our vision is to transform the place into a recreational port," he said.
After the interview, Díaz goes to his boat that almost touches the rocks at low tide to get ready on his next trip that will take some tourists to fish, in what could be one of the last of the hidden dock.