Wednesday, May 05, 2021

In the midst of total quarantine, Panama commemorates Martyrs' Day

Panama lives an atypical commemoration of the 57 years of the patriotic deed of January 9, known in the isthmus as the Martyrs' Day, which left a more than 20 young people dead.

In 1964, hundreds of Panamanian students decided to enter the Canal Zone demanding sovereignty and respect for the Flag of Panama.

In this patriotic gesture, which wanted the Panamanian flag to fly alongside that of the United States, the youths were intercepted by US officials.

After this they sang the National Anthem of Panama, however, they were booed and attacked by students from Balboa High School, and in the middle of a struggle the Panamanian flag was torn.

After spreading the word about the destroyed flag, thousands of students from different educational centers came out to demonstrate. US troops intervened, using their weapons against young Panamanians who tried to defend themselves with sticks and stones.

On that date, Panama had already 61 years of having separated from Greater Colombia, but before the separation, the United States and Colombia signed on January 22, 1903, the Herran-Hay Treaty, in which the United States government was assigned the control of a 10 km wide strip on the Isthmus of Panama, to build a canal between the Pacific and the Atlantic.

For this reason, Panamanians could not enter the Canal Zone without a special permit.

This treaty that limited Panamanians, motivated the 'Operation Sovereignty' in 1958, in which university students planted 75 Panamanian flags in the canal zone in a peaceful manner, where the phrase 'he who plants flags, reaps sovereignty' was born.

Later, in 1962, the Panamanian President Roberto Chiari and the American President John F. Kennedy, signed an agreement that established that the flags of both countries should fly in civilian places in the Canal Zone, however, the Zones did not comply with the agreement that entered into force on January 1, 1964, which sparked the January 9 protests.

Fast facts

During this patriotic feat, which culminated on January 12, the Santo Tomás Hospital treated 324 injured people and the Hospital of the Social Security Fund (CSS) more than 15 injured.

Ascanio Arosemena, a student leader who helped several of the wounded in the patriotic feat, was the first to die during the struggle for sovereignty in January 1964.

After a score of deaths, buildings and cars burned, President Chirari decided to break relations between Panama and the United States in response to the army offensive.

Some 13 years later, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter and General Omar Torrijos signed the agreement between the United States and Panama establishing the transfer of the Canal to Panama in 1999.


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