An interview with Robin Morland

Material Information

An interview with Robin Morland
Robin Morland
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
43 minutes


Subjects / Keywords:
Panama Canal
Operation Just Cause


General Note:
Interviewed by Sarah Blanc

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
PCM 043 Robin Morland 7-7-2011
PCM 043


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The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz Office Manager : Tamarra Jenkins Technology Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix 241 Pugh Hall PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 Phone 352 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists, and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, SPOHP recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when c onducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interview transcripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SP OHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the original oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim document of it. The transcript is written with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interview ee; subjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a later final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and format I nterviewees can also provide their own spelling corrections SPOHP transcribers ref er to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013


PCM 043 Interviewee: Robin Morland Interviewer: Sarah Blanc Date of Interview: July 7, 2011 B: July 7, 2011. Mr. Morland, can we start just with some basic details about where M: Sure. Okay my mother came to Panama in 1916. She was a daughter of one of the first fifty Panama Canal pilots taking ships through the Panama Canal. She was four years old and she came down with three other sisters, a brother, and her mother and dad from Brooklyn, N ew York. My father came out in 1929 to work in a shipping agency in Panama n ot the company that he actually came out to work for two years later on a permanent basis. Firstly he came in 1929 to work for another company on a two year basis, and then he wa s finished and because they had other people coming out so he went back to England. He was from across the Mersey of Liverpool. He was from a place called Birkenhead. Anyway, so he was sad to go back because he had already met my mother who was like a juni or in high school. Anyway, they wrote long hand, of course, letters and what have you, but then the company that he came out to permanently work for in 1931 hired him on a permanent basis and that was the condition. If he came out o permanent So the company that I work for now, Charles Butler Fe nton and Company, CB Fenton & Company, hired him to come out and so h e started to work there in 193 1 B y that time my mother had graduated from high schoo l in the Panama Canal Zone. S he was


PCM 043; Morland; Page 2 like nineteen and they married in 1933. M y father was working on the Atlantic side but my mother was going to high school on the Pacific side but anyway W hen they got married in [19]33, my mother came over and in short they had six kids, two bo ys and four girls. M y father moved up the ladder with CB Fenton & Company to the point where he purchased the company in 1958. Then I started B: So i s my dad [laughter] M: I went to school there for a year and then I went to a small school in North Carolina, and then after -, with the exception of two years in the late [19]60s I went to South Africa. Anyway, so I there ever since. We were always deemed by the Panama Canal authorities, being the Canal Zone government or the Panama Canal Compa ny, to be somewhat integral to their operation of the vessels through the Panama Canal. S o many shipping agents were allotted certain areas of the Canal Zone to have their businesses, and we could also have homes in the Canal Zone. Not of Panama Canal hous ing or anything but separate areas where we could build our own places of residence. So we were very fortunate in that regard. We were issued, I think they called them authority cards in those days, but we could shop in the commissaries. We could do every thing that dependants of Panama Canal Company personnel also could do. So we were Zonians and very happy and


PCM 043; Morland; Page 3 proud to have been one like all of my American friends. I think and talk like an American, but I am not. m still dow n there and I am working with the company, t on a former U.S. Air F orce base now, which is a economic zone. So we still work with the ships going through the Panama Canal and I think that the family and every body who was born and raised down there, all the dependants of Panama Canal Company personnel have been very fortunate to have been raised in the Canal Zone and have had the experience of going into the Republic of P an ama and seein g how life was over there. T he benefits and the good life that the Americans were able to lead. It showed how lucky that we were. So being in a private company in the Canal Zone, my mother and father partook much in life in the Republic of Pa nama, whereas I feel that there were a few Zonians that go outside the area of the five miles each side of the canal. But it was a very unique utopia plac e because we had our own police our own customs, our own -e list. But for private companies, we corporate income tax or personal income tax to the United States. That is a B: M: other Zonians that you meet here that their family, but I was different as well as my sisters and my brother. So I have always been prou d to be a Zonian just like them Joe Wood is


PCM 043; Morland; Page 4 in law Burt Mead Seminole. Anyway, they live together over in Tallahassee not together but houses side by side. Basica lly I went to high school there and went to UM for a year and then a small school in North Carolina and then I came back to work in The Canal under Panamanian hands has really exceeded many expectations, and doing the job it was supposed to do Therefore decisions may take a day or two, whereas in Panama now they make decisions like that. Okay you can, well this W hereas with the U.S. government, you know, bureaucracy but well I have to call my boss this afternoon, morning. They wo hen the Panamanian government w ork under the American system. But a Canal, as you know Sar ah, a A part from the canal other things are just growing, their banking and investment and what have you. So we feel fortunate to hav e been brought up in that area; b o rn and raised there and to have b l l always be proud of that. T here are fewer of us as time goes on you know t the Panama Canal


PCM 043; Morland; Page 5 Museum and you all picking up the ball to help out and the support of the museum because the American era should never die. And you all should be with and the Republic of Panama has a tendency to they feel that their anc estors were coerced to give this piece of land in exchange for some money maybe underhanded to a Panamanian official, and to protect them against the Colo mbian government who Panama was j ust a province of the Colo mbian government. So a lot of the Panamanians blame their forefathers for having bu t where woul d they I mean, they are making so much money with the canal now. But, you know, t nd they consider the liberation of Panama in 1989 when Noriega was taken out by the Americans, they deem it an invasion to their sovereign territory. So there is some hard feelings there, and I can understand both sides. But without the USA, there would be no Panama Canal, there would be no Panama Canal operated history. They have a museum down there there but they have a museum in Panama. But they touch on the American er a but not in the way that B: [laughter] M: even a l ittle bit better, quicker. W hile they widen the canal ships are still getting through. I n this very


PCM 043; Morland; Page 6 fast world now with technology, you just have to be, in our business, you have to be on the ball. We have a lot of competition. What we do, Sarah, we receive tolls, money on behalf of our princip les. We probably do about a 110, 105, 110 ships a twenty five or thirty agents. We had bigger business before. We had M aersk who ope ned up their own office after seventy four years we had them. Y ou heard of M aersk Shipping? B: Unh uh. M: Anyway, they were the owners of that ship that got hijacked off of Somalia about two years ago. Maersk Alabama I think it was. B: Okay. M: But anyway, we had some good clients a nd we lost them because they not through anything that we did wrong but we lost them because the world got smaller and they opened their own offices there. However, so we more or less babysit a ship when she comes to the canal or he comes there wha tever y ou want to call a ship. So t h e owner will send us tolls money. I nstead of dealing directly with the canal they go through an agent S o we receive that money from the owner and then we pay the tolls to the Panama Canal authorities so that that ship can go through the canal A nd then we take men to the doctor, we deliver cash to the master, if they need provisions in the way of foods or whatever they need we ensure that they receive these requests prior to their transit of the canal because once you transit you wanna go straight to sea instead of anchoring and waiting for so you want to utilize the waiting time to start transit, to take care of


PCM 043; Morland; Page 7 all the requirements, taking me n to the doctor and what have you and the n back five uh, sorry twenty four to forty eight hours in transit. So they come in and they wait i booked Y ou can al so book a ship or make a reservation to go through the canal a lot quicker than others so you pay a premium to go through the canal with a reservation system. we do. We pay all the invoices, on behalf of the ship owner, and for this we assess a fee. Regardless of how big or small a vessel may be. It could be a yacht, it could be a 200,000 ton ship. All the paperwork is the same, so we charge a fee not in accordance with the vessels size but in accordance with the work that we have t B: so companies that do something like this? M: Yeah twenty B: And do they vary drastically in the type of services that they provide o r are they pretty much the same responsibilities? M: Same responsibilities, same responsibilities. It used to be we handled more Scandinavia part of that. European and Asian, and not too man y Americans because the Merchant Marine of the United States is not too much anymore. Yes, all the agencies are supposed to do the same kind of work and many ship owners may not be happy with one agent and may change to another because of the poor service they may receive from another agent. Our tariffs are back to 1988


PCM 043; Morland; Page 8 more room to those that w but B: Yeah. To go way back you went t hrough all of your schooling, up until high school in the Zone. Correct? M: Yes, I did. B: So, y ou were in American schoo ls that whole time? M: Yes, I was. And, the Canal Zone, or Panama Canal people that was part of there they were dependents of their parents working for the Panama Canal so it my dad being private business, he had to pay tui tion. But he was happy to do that because the schooling was so much better in those days then what we would get in the Republic of Panama. B: And you also had wealthy Panamanian students that would come to those schools too right? M: Yes, that is very c orrect. Lots of Panamanians went to those schools B: Okay. M: And they also paid tuition just like my dad did. B: Was it a little mo re socioeconomically diverse tha n it sounds or was it pretty much like the top tier of the Panamanian students? M: Uh, I would say definitel y no I would say go to the Canal Zone schools either. I would say more mi ddle class to top tier went to Canal


PCM 043; Morland; Page 9 say to a lesse r less than 30 percent of them went to Canal Zone schools. have a lot of I think more Panamanians went to school when I was in high school [door opens] in the [19]50s and the [19]60s Hello. Photographer : Hi. B: P : M: Thank you. P : Keep going [laughter]. M: Okay. So, not all of them went, not all the hierarchy or the middle class went to school in the Canal Zone because they were basically for dependents of Panama Canal company personnel. I was one of them. I am Panamanian but I was one of those that were fortunate eno ugh to go there. My dad being in business with the through the canal. We were very, very fortunate to grow up in the Canal Zone with a lot of my American friends. I think we got pr eference over Panamanians because we were integral to shipping. So, my dad we could of gone to school in the Republic of Panama too but my mom being from Brooklyn my dad just preferred for us to go to the American school s there. B: Do you remember anythin g from your history classes in those schools ? M: From my history? Basically it was the history that Panama or anything like that


PCM 043; Morland; Page 10 in United States schools. It was taught as if we wer e not in the Republic of Panama. It was taught as if we were in the United States. B: Okay. M: Really. B: So, did you have Civics and M: Yep. B: Everything? M: Yeah, yeah. Just like the United they wanted to make it as much American as much on the Republic of Panama. They focused on worldwide history. B: And when did you graduate from high school? M: When? B: Yes. M: 1960. B: Okay. So, you were out of the country then, during the riots there. You were in college, correct? M: I came back the riots were in [19]64. B: Okay. M: And I came back in [19]63. B: Okay, so you did come back. M: So, I was there. Yeah, that was a very tough time. I blame both sides. I think that sort of the Americans said you know, there could always be problems now. I


PCM 043; Morland; Page 11 think that that was I think it was decided then under LBJ, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Kennedy was assassinated in [19]63, the riots were January 9 th [19]64. I think they s aid that they would have to make a deal with Panama sooner or later. Then, Kissinger, I think, made some comments under Nixon in the early got a hold of it and he just moved it straigh been a lot of American rejection of what has happened. Even Reagan, when he was running but when he was running for the Republican nomination against Ford who took over when Nixon was left office not impeached but he resigned from the presidency and Ford took over. Ronald Reagan ran against Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination in [19]76 and he beat Reagan but Reagan always said, I will never give away the Panama Canal to th is ten horn dictator Omar Torrijos who overthrew a democratic government in the late [19]60s in Panama Anyway, and then Carter just moved it up when he became pre sident in [19]76 actually. H e beat Gerald Ford who had beaten Reagan and then Carter became president and he jus t moved the treaty up T hat happened in [19]77 and they signed it [19]77 an d it started in [19]79, October of [19]79 W here we would have dual policemen, a Panamanian and an American policeman in a car until thirty months later, until April of [19]82 and then Panamanians were controlling Panamanian police were controlling the Canal Zone U ntil the year 2000 when the full treaty went into effect where Panama was doing everything from post office to hospital and


PCM 043; Morland; Page 12 okay to live through have spent all my time down there b ut do look forward one day to moving up and I have a lot of Panamanian fri ends also chapter of my life and move to North Carolina, where I have a home already. B: I l ove North Carolina. M: I will always go back to Panama in January, February, and March of every year. but now I actually, you know, the last couple of years has been an eye opener for me because I see a lot of Canadians coming into Panama now B: I heard that. M: now, I said, gee, should the state very well. B: Have you been there for the winter?


PCM 043; Morland; Page 13 M: through Decem Decembers, including last B: Yeah. M: But anyway. Panama is always eighty five to ninety five. B: Um hm. M: Panamani ans, and what to expect and not where to go on certain days and That that. S of course. B: [laughter] spoken with today, you know I always get to what did you do after the treaty, who say, oh well y country anymore. between those two reactions M: Yeah, actually, find something for your family in the States. So, a lot of people left thinking that they would be rift or a reduction Americans that never left and none of them have been fired. In other words in


PCM 043; Morland; Page 14 fact I was speaking with the fellow that your partner is interviewing now and he just spoke to a Panama Canal p ilot, American guy taking ships through the canal, B just raking it in. Panama has kept the American pilots but when they leave they replace them with Panamanian pilots. So, only the peop le who lost their jobs, they would be put into another position. You know, If you were in customs for years and years, well they would never reduce your salary but you may have to do something entirely different that is not your expertise release you. So I feel badly for the people who were told they better get out and find get fired all those jobs that are available in the States would be taken. I turn out that way and many people are very sad that they left Panama so B: [laughter] I definitely picked up on that. M: R eally, really life is good. I mean life is good. The Panamanian supermarkets are Number one economy actually number two in all of Latin America. Chile is number one, Panama is number two and number one by far in Central America. If you go to Panama City and then you go to San Jose, Tegucigalpa, San Salvador, these other capitals, Managua, of these other Central American countries, I Panama is


PCM 043; Morland; Page 15 booming, really cosmo and beautiful malls. When you go to these other atmosphere right now in Panama. We had a big boom about seven years ago and then it sort of went down for a couple years and then it started back about three years ago. Beach resorts are going up. Breezes is there now, not that Breezes is a big deal but I mean B: [laughter] It will drop. M: be U.S. military bases international airports now into Panama City and then catch another flight or a bus or a taxi up there. A lot of things are going forward, very rapidly. B: Okay. M: b I live in a very quiet area because but I would never go into places I lombians, Venezuelans there now B: Is it all cartel related? M: the nice hotels are and what have you, you can walk outside but be with place it used to be. B:


PCM 043; Morland; Page 16 M: read about it all the time. I read three Spanish a lot of things Tourism a day, maybe something like that T hat come on in to the Republic of Panama to spend m oney in the hotels and what have you. They think each stay is about three or four days and maybe they spend eighty to a hundred dollars a day. I tell you, retail is very strong in Panama. B: You over a third of the democratic government there. W ere you already involved in your company at that time? M: Yes. I started in [19]63 and yes, there was an overthrow but it had no effect on the Canal operations. B: Okay. M: No effect whatsoever. Ships kept going through, the Canal Zone government was fine, people came to work. It was a pretty quiet takeover. B: Okay. M: Let me say something else. Also in the late [19]80s, before Noriega was taken en [19]89. December of [19]89. What the United States government did because they were s till operating the Panama Canal. So, all the banks shut down in [19]88. This was before the invasion, or the liberat ion. What the United States did is that agents used to have guarantees up for their


PCM 043; Morland; Page 17 money and what have you but the banks shut down for like forty four days in the shut down. There was no way for agents to receive money from Copen hagen or Oslo or Seoul or Tokyo to guarantee for the vessels to go through the canal. The U.S. government took agents word that when the banks reopened, they would be repaid for all the ships that went though the Canal. So, the U.S. government accepted on credit because our credit used to go through the banks and the Canal Zone government used to deal only with the banks and not with the agent. So, the banks on our behalf used to put up for guar antee all the vessel expenses. So, t here were no banks anymore. People would fly to Miami and bring in cash of $8,000 to pay thei r employees and what have you. But t he U.S. government allowed I think about fifteen or twenty million dollars worth of shipped tolls to go throug h without receivi ng any money. Then w hen everything got back to normal and the banks reopened and what have you, they were repaid every penny but it showed the United States did that. I mean, they took so that they would not interfere w ith worldwide ship traffic to effect worldwide ship owner operations and produce getting to other ports and what have you. They allowed ships to go through the Canal without receiving any money, the U.S. government. Really. And not many and I think people make it a point to say how good the United States did in that instance. That was wonderful. I think it was about forty four days the banks were closed.


PCM 043; Morland; Page 18 B: Was that under Reagan or Bush? M: That was under in [19]88. That would have been under well that was in [19]88, [19]89. Reagan and then who came after Reagan was Bush right? B: Yeah. M: It would hav e been the Republicans anyway. So, t hey did wonderfully, really. They got every penny from the agents and some agents did establish accounts in So, our accounts when we moved when we had the open accounts our accounts went sky high without paying the United States government. Unt il the banks reopened in Panama and then we sent that money all the way over to our banks and then we paid the U.S. government. That was a very interesting time also. B: Yeah. M: Yeah, yeah. B: So, when you go back to the Zone now, what is there? M: Canal Zone. So, when I go back there now, yes, your question was? B: Is it still a portrait of its M: Many of the areas are still the same The U.S. ran the Canal sometimes at a surplus, sometimes they were in debt but whatever surplus they had they used to build tennis courts and what have you for


PCM 043; Morland; Page 19 Canal people. It was not supposed to be a profit making organization. It was a canal constructed for worldwide shipping and they did a wonderful job. But it g money. They wanted to break even but c over all their expenses to make life fine in the Canal Zone, for the people that worked for the Canal Zone government. And there were many Panamanians also that worked for the Canal Zone government. I think four out of five employees were Panamanians. I think the work force was eight, nine, ten thousand people in the Canal Zone and so maybe two thousand were and the buildings are older now and not kept, you know, maintained as well as the Americans kept them but it still looks very much the same. Some areas have changed. I live in an area that the FAA built in the late [19]40s Federal Aviation Authority. And then they turned over that area in [19]54 to the Canal Zone government, Panama Canal Company. I live out in this area now and I like it very much. The housing that was constructed in the Canal Zone by the American people was very s olid, not needing much repair. I mean t he building where my mom came to live when she was four years old in 1916, is still right there. Poured concrete, I mean, really strong [clears throat]. Excuse me. The Americans really established something really good there and much of it is still there. All the army, air force, naval, and marine bases are there. And now Panama owns all of that. In fact, we now work out of a former U.S. Air F orce base on the other side of the Canal on the west bank called it was called


PCM 043; Morland; Page 20 Howard Air Force Base. But now a company called Panama Pacifico has established, through the government of Panama, Panama Law, that anybody can move in there and not pay any taxes if all of your business is international. We local one Panamanian client except taxi drivers that we pay them and w hat have you. We add a little bit for insurance and what have you to build a ship owner because it costs you know, we pick up crew members at the coming in. Then crew member s come off and we take them to the hotel or straight to the airport so, we were thinking of having our own van service but S o even though you can get insurance but they wanna limit your liability. And Panama traffic is awful. B: Really? M: The drivers are terrible [laughter]. Yeah, really. Anyway, so, we are in this tax free area now and benefitting from we used to pay taxes to pay taxes. I think the Republi c of Panama has granted us permission to go in there because they want other international maritime companies coming from were operating Panama Pacifico are called London a nd Regional Panama. It was the former Howard Air Force Base which was the largest U.S. Air Force Base in the Republic of Panama. My sister, by the way, who Joe Wood knows very well and his wife Beth she was the Southern Command. I think SOUTHCOM is in Miam But, she was the Four Star


PCM 043; Morland; Page 21 General Secretary. She was s ecretary to Wesley Clark, Barry McCaff rey who was the drug czar George Jou lwan who speaks on CNN from time to time raq. B: M: My sisters name is Mary Coffey She was the SOUTHCOM Secretary for the four star general who was in charge of the army, n avy, air force, and marines for about twenty five years. Twenty five years Anyway be here tonight I youngest son in Kansas and now Michael Coffey have you met this guy son. Mary I normally come here maybe once every three or four years and especially when my class has I just had my fiftieth class reunion last year but I made a commitment. I told somebody I would be here this year so B: Good! M: And happy to do this on behalf of the Panama Canal Museum and the interview B: Is there anything else that you wanted to share before we wrap up the intervie w? M: Uh, not really


PCM 043; Morland; Page 22 B: M: B: Sure. M: told you something about my life in the Panama Canal which was a little bit different than other people who you all have either worked for the Panama Canal or were dependents of Panama Canal personnel who were working with the Canal. Whereas I was in private business in the Canal Zone and we benefitt ed a lot from shopping in the commies and w hat have you. Whereas my father and some people were jealous of the fact that we were able to operate in the Canal Zone and not pay or corporate or personal income taxes to the Republic of Panama. And they have to shop in Panamanian stores which are very nice and what have you but imports when there that has great American variety there but the prices are like double what you woul d buy them for been they will never forget their time there. When you first hit Panama, even today, I mean, you like it okay ma at all. It was, and is still, despite all the changes in the Canal not being Ame rican anymore and what have you; still a great place to live. B: Yeah.


PCM 043; Morland; Page 23 M: in law who lives in Tallaha big FSU guy. You know, Joe is a University of Florida guy. They live next to each other in Tallahassee. B: So this is probably a conversation [laughter] M: Well, no but Joe is an easy happy t o donate to this latest cause that they had and really happy about the University of Florida really coming in to keep this thing burning for many, many B: All right. M: B: Okay. Well wrap this up. Once again this Sarah Blanc here with Mr. [end of interview] Transcribed by: Emily Nyren March 28, 2013 Audit edit by: Sabrina Mijares, April 12, 2013