The Martyr’s Day is a special holiday in Panama. It is a special day Panamanians make sure to remember. This is a day to honor the martyr’s of January 6, 1964. It was almost 50 years ago when the flag pole incident happened.
Recalling the past event, it started after the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty which grants control of the Panama Canal Zone to the U.S. The Canal Zone became a U.S. territory.
In January 1963, President John F. Kennedy assented to fly Panama flag along the non-military sites in Canal Zone where U.S. flag was flown. But unfortunately this order was not carried until the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Panama governor at that time issued a decree limiting this order. The U.S. flag would no longer be flown outside Canal Zone schools, police stations, post offices or other civilian locations where it had been flown, but Panama’s flag would not be flown either.
As a result of that said action it angered the Zonians because they interpreted it as if a renunciation of sovereignty over the Canal Zone. As a response, they began demonstrating with the U.S. flag, the students of Balboa High School (a US school at that time) raised a U.S. flag in front of the institution. But their first raise was a failure; it was taken down by schools officials. They didn’t stop; the students raised another flag and posted guards to prevent its removal.
The crises arise when Panamanians responded to the flag raisings made by the Zonians. The Panamian students of Instituto Nacional marched in to the Canal Zone with their own Panama school flag. They wanted to fly a Panamian flag next to the U.S. flag flown at the Balboa High School. They figured out, if the US flag could be flown, why couldn’t the Panamanian flag be flown as well? The Panamian students were met by the Canal Zone police, Zonian students and adults. Half of them were allowed to approach the flag pole, while the police kept the others back.
The clutch between the two parties began when the Zonians approached the group of Panamian students while singing the U.S. national anthem and as a result, the Panama flag was torn.
When Panamanian protesters stormed the Zone, police began tear gassing them which escalated the situation until police responded by opening fire. The riot lasted for 2 days and left a bloody incident which took of at least 21 Panamian and 4 U.S. soldiers.
The January 9, 1964 incident provokes a significant change in Panama for the eventual signing of the Torrijos-Carter Treaty which dissolved the Canal Zone and lead to control of the canal being handed back to the Panamanians.
Let us not forget the day of the heroes, The Martyr’s Day. A special day we make sure to remember and an inspiration of patriotism.
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