Subversive Historian – 01/09/09

Panama Canal Zone Riots

Exactly forty-five years ago on this day in people’s history, nationalist riots erupted in Panama over control of the Canal Zone. On January 9th, 1964 students from the Central American nation sought to raise the Panamanian flag over Balboa High School in the zone when their symbol of sovereign integrity was torn in an ensuing altercation. Years prior, clashes between the U.S. forces and protesters occurred when Panamanians attempted to plant their flag in the U.S. controlled Canal Zone. Attempting to diffuse building tensions, President Kennedy ordered in 1963 that Panamanian Flags should fly side by side U.S. flags in all non-military sites in the zone. The decision angered many U.S. residents known as “Zonians,” as did a subsequent move by the Canal Zone’s governor to remove all flags from civilian sites. Zonians responded in defiance by raising the U.S. flag in places such as Balboa High School. When Panamanians responded, riots ensued and U.S. soldiers fired into angry crowds killing twenty-three. January 9th is now known in Panama as “Martyrs Day.”

As for how this episode in Latin American relations should be remembered in the U.S; as Howard Zinn has often said “there is no flag large enough to cover the shame.”

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