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Monday, January 9, 2012

The 'Day of the Martyrs' - January 9, 1964

Day 102 Monday (Lunes) - Playa Coronado
Remembered 48 years later, Respect. Respect. Respect.

LIFE  Magazine
Excerpts from the Editorial on p. 4: 
That President Johnson's first international crisis has occurred in Latin America 
ought to come as no surprise, if only because Latin America is Castro's stalking 
ground. But Panama need not have been the trouble spot. Crisis there had been 
forecast for years, by observers and by events. [...] 
As owner and operator of the Canal Company, the U.S. government has blindly 
allowed the Canal Zone to turn into a pretty fair imitation of a colony, complete
with a colonial mentality. In the Zone, discrimination against Panamanians 
has existed since the beginning, backed up by wage differentials, special 
privileges for Americans and all the paraphernalia of extra-territoriality. 
Isolated and pampered, permitted to stay on as settlers instead of being rotated 
back to the states, the few thousand Zonians developed a misplaced sense of 
patriotism which made them roundly disliked and which -- as expressed by 
the high school kids and their flag -- touched off the latest anti-American demonstrations.

Two flags
LIFE Magazine: "It all began because there was one vacant flagpole at Balboa High School."

In 1960, after a series of riots in Panama, President Eisenhower ordered that Panama's flag should fly side by side with the Stars and Stripes at the U.S. Canal Zone building. President Kennedy later extended the order to the rest of the enclave. Since the chief objections to this broadened directive came from American students, with parental encouragement, zone officials ordered that, as of Jan. 1, no flags should be flown in front of schools. Outraged, Zonian teenagers saw the empty flagpoles as a challenge not to be ignored.

On Jan. 7 and 8, amid rising tensions, students at Balboa High School ran up a U.S. flag. On the third day, demonstrating Panamanian students entered the school grounds and sang their national anthem, but the Balboa students blocked them from raising their flag. there was a scuffle -- and the Panamanians retreated in outrage, claiming that their flag had been ripped by the Zonians.  

Irate Panamanian, holding flag which he claims Americans desecrated, shows it to President Roberto Chiari.

James Jenkins, 17-year-old senior at Balboa High:
"I guess you could say I'm the guy that started this whole thing. I'm sort of the ringleader. I circulated the petition to keep our flag flying. Then me and the others raised the flag. The school authorities left it up because they knew we'd walk out."

On January 9, 1964, at 4:50 PM, around 200 male and female students exited the Instituto Nacional heading to the Balboa High School to hoist the Panamanian flag. During the walk, students stopped singing the national anthem to pay respect to the sick at the Gorgas Hospital. Two police cars headed the peaceful manifestation. Guevara Paz and Francisco Diaz made a deal with the Zonian officials to accept a six-student delegation, among them the Instituto Nacional flag bearer, and a classmate who was carrying a banner which read: "Panama is sovereign in the Canal Zone". The delegation arrived close to the flagpole area to sing the national anthem and raise the Panamanian flag at the Balboa High School, where mainly zonian students attended.
On the balconies and at the entrance of the high school was a hostile crowd of approximately 2000 zonians. Suddenly, the six-student delegation from the Instituto Nacional was surrounded by hundreds of students and adult zonians.
mapWhat really occured?
The Instituto Nacional flag bearer named Carranza describes it as follows:
"They slowly gathered around us. One shouted, then another one, then everybody. They started pushing us, and tried to take away the flag violently, while they insulted us".

The feeling of patriotism fogged the "Instituto Nacional" students eyes when a policeman from the "Canal Zone" ripped apart the Panamanian flag by using a stick. During the commotion, multiple hands pulled and tore the flag.
In the middle of "raining sticks", the students ran to protect the flag.
Somebody pointed at the United States flag on top of the Administration building, with the intention of getting back at the offense, however, zonian patrol cars and police had already taken their weapons out, and from the civil population homes, guns were already showing.


The massacre
On the way back, Guillermo Guevara Paz and Rogelio Hilton, president of the association for the senior class at the Instituto Nacional, and classmates destroyed a construction scaffolding from the Gorgas Hospital and threw it on the streets in an attempt to deter the ferocity of their followers.
They started hearing similar noises to firecrackers, but since it was not the 4th of July, the US independence holiday, they realized they were gun shots.
They did not come from police patrols, but from the houses next to the Episcopal church, where numerous adult zonians were.

It was around 6:30 pm when they crossed the "4th of July" avenue and arrived at the "Calle J" bus stop. News spread along the city and canal zone limits.
Hundreds of students and people, indignant about the offense to the Panamanian flag, started throwing rocks at the students and adult zonians.
The first wounded began to appear; Ascanio Arosemena's shoulders were bloody from all the wounded he had carried, but a bullet from a caliber-22 rifle made him the first martyr.
Ascanio Arosemena
A high school student who was shot and killed while trying to help the wounded to safety, the first of 22 Panamanian dead.

Points of view
No U.S. sources refer to the civilian 'Zonians' doing any shooting. A report by Captain Gaddis Wall of the Canal Zone Police said "Since there was scuffling, pushing, and physical struggle between the Canal Zone police and the Panamanian students, the four Panama students holding the flag apparently tore it themselves during the scuffle." The LIFE magazine reported, "When rumors spread that their flag had been desecrated, a mob, spurred on by Castro agents, gathered in the streets and snipers began to attack U.S.-owned buildings." Fears of Cuban influence were apparently strong. Another article from La Prensa by Betty Brannan Jaén indicated President Lyndon Johnson was convinced the disturbances were 'inspired by Communists.'  LIFE: "The fighting, which resulted in the deaths of four U.S. soldiers and 19 Panamanians [actually 22], began after U.S. and Panamanian students clashed over whose flags would fly in the U.S.-administered zone. But it was fed by years of Panamanian discontent over the canal, by troublesome Castro agents, and by the presence of patriotic but misguided Americans who did not realize that they were away from home."
The LIFE reporters interviewed other U.S. 'Zonians' - "There were other interviews - many of them. These Zonians scattered the blame widely among Latin American politicians, Communists, Castroites, hoodlums, hot-tempered Panamanian students, irresponsible Panamanian radio broadcasts. None accepted any responsibility whatever for the shedding of blood."

A Panamanian friend  remembers, "I was 8 years old on January 9, 1964. Up to this date, I can still hear the shots from the US army against the Panamanian nationals. Those of us that lived those years will always remember that, as well as the apartheid-driven canal zone." He also said, "I lived about one mile from the site, and remember hearing the shots as it was yesterday. I also remember crawling in the floor, in case a bullet went thru a window. Most of the killing was done by snipers that were strategically housed in the Tivoli Hotel, which doesn't exist anymore. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute now stands at that site. The fellows in the Tivoli really had a ball shooting at anything that moved. Being a kid, that really had an impact on me."
The Tivoli Hotel 

Rubén Blades:
"Something snapped [in me]. I couldn't justify this. They [the U.S.] were supposed to be the good guys."
(New York Magazine 8/18/85
"They turned friends into enemies. Even today, that's the pity of U.S. policy in Latin America."
(People 8/13/84)     
Three more days of riots

"Rioters rescue a comrade shot trying 
to enter the U.S. zone. The man was 
not shot by U.S. troops. [...] In the 
early stages of the rioting, before 
the Army took over, the Canal Zone
U.S. police were in charge. Using
tougher tactics, they were reported to 
have fired directly into the mob." (LIFE)
From the Latin American Data Base : "Riots ensued, street fighting 
between U.S. military personnel and Panamanians, resulting in $2 million 
in property burned or otherwise destroyed (mainly US), 28 dead, 
300 wounded and 500 arrested. Panama broke relations with the US for 
several days.

From Historical Text Archive :  President Chiari demanded an OAS
and United Nations investigation of what he called US aggression 
and suspended diplomatic relations. 

Shortly thereafter, negotiations on a new treaty began.

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