Almirante is a natural port. It is named in honor of the discoverer Christopher Columbus, who in 1502 traveled these coasts of Bocas del Toro, then called Caribaró by the natives.
In 1905 the United Fruit Company began construction of a railway to connect the Changuinola valley with Almirante. The idea was to transport bananas, their green gold, as well as other goods and passengers.
Ever since then construction has not stopped. After the railroad, came a dam and an aqueduct to service the newly emerging town. On December 10, 1910 the port of Almirante was founded. In 1912 it was equipped with a power plant, an enormous three-story house for the banana company offices, a radiotelegraph company and the famous Banana Club.
In 1915, a 330 meter long dock was built to load the fruit for shipping and Almirante began to be populated with new neighborhoods. Then in 1920 a United Fruit hospital was founded, at the same time as a cocoa processing plant also emerged, which in 1934 would rival the banana.
In 1982 the University of Panama broke ground in Almirante, and five years later 22 kilometers of highway were built to bring travelers from Changuinola to Almirante.
But with the arrival of the road from Chiriquí to Bocas del Toro, Almirante's commercial importance as a port declined.
A native to the district of Changuinola, Bocas del Toro, the government deputy Mario Miller announced a few months ago his intention to drive the ranking of Almirante as a township up to the district level.
For some, this may seem like a play by Miller to seek votes for his re-election, since his party is not in good standing after the bloody events of July 2010. Protests against a socially and environmentally controversial Law 30 in Changuinola early that month were brutally silenced by the National Police, leaving 2 dead and 700 injured and crippled by bullet wounds.
Many ask what Miller might want from this project. In the preamble to the draft bill 117, which has already been adopted by the Government Commission of the National Assembly, Miller argues that it is time to renew progress of the historic port.
The lack of response to their needs by the government is what propels him to propose this elevation to a political-administrative category, in order to thus gain better attention from the government, with a budget structure and municipal autonomy.
According to the politician, Almirante has always had its industrial and tourist potential, which would make it a very competitive district on a national and international level.
Furthermore, he stresses that it is what his population requires, in light of its growth and the investments that are being projected for the area. One of these is to establish the category of duty-free for the port, thus providing for the creation of a duty-free zone which is necessary to improve the economy in this area of the country. Another option is a deeper port for big cruise ships to develop collateral maritime activity.
Miller seeks to revive the dream held by Harley James Mitchell, a representative-legislator in the 1980s who had proposed creating a duty-free port at Bocas del Toro. That plan was simply filed away upon the rivalry with the Duty Free Zone at Colón.
For business men like Simón Abadi Balid, the initiative sounds interesting and would receive their backing, for the future of Almirante and of their children.
Abadi said that the district faces serious neglect from the municipal authorities, in terms of maintenance of cleanliness, town beautification, supplies of drinking water, street lighting and public safety, and so this would be an opportunity for the government to directly allocate the necessary resources to this community.
He pointed out the strategic position that favors the port, where big ships continue to dock to pick up fruit, and that tourism could be stimulated.
Venancio Caballero, president of the Bocas del Toro Chamber of Commerce, believes that, "As a district, Almirante would be like a hub for development in Bocas del Toro." What's more, he argues that there are several projects to be developed in this area, such as a free zone and a multipurpose port, which is already under consideration.