Of all the "Ugly American" incidents my country has been involved in since the end of World War II, from the Cold War to the present, this one is personal to me because it happened to take place on my birthday. I've compiled information from various sources, hoping to provide English speakers some background to this piece of U.S. and Panamanian history. ~Alison
Articulos en español: Articles in English
La Prensa 2003: La bandera que no se doblega
La Prensa 2002: Cómo Washington respondió al 9 de Enero
La Prensa 2009: El 9 de enero en Colón
La Estrella 2012: Los carentes recuentos de la gesta del 9 de enero
Conmemoran gesta patriótica del 9 de enero de 1964
La llama encendida: Los Mártires del 9 de enero
Grabaciones secretas del 9 de Enero del 64 -> El temple de ‘Nino’ Chiari ante LBJ
El origen de estas grabaciones
Entre la rebelión y la inmortalidad
Canal 13 2012 videos: Relato, Conmemorando
La Prensa 2015: Familiares de los caídos y sobrevivientes del 9 de enero solicitan aumento de pensión vitalicia
Los sucesos heróicos del 9 de enero
Pintan muro en honor al 9 de Enero
La Prensa 2015: Fallece uno de los sobrevivientes de la gesta del 9 de enero
La Prensa 2016: El Kolectivo vuelve a pintar mural en homenaje a los mártires del 9 de enero
Incident on the Isthmus AH 1968
Panama: Made In U.S.A. AH November 1989
The Strange Affair of The Taking Of The Panama Canal Zone AH October 1976
Panama Pledges Aid to 1964 Canal Riot Participants AP wire 2012
Panama's young pay little heed to Martyrs' Day Newsroom Panama 2012
Panamalou blog - Panama’s historic flag back home, will be on view to public
TVN-2 - Especial 2016
La historia que todo panameño debe conocer pt I,
(includes interview with James Jenkins)
La Prensa - Bandera restaurada de la gesta de 1964 llega este sábado a Panamá
Panama America - video 50 años de la gesta patriótica
The Flag Which Doesn't Bend
The history as reported in La Prensa (excerpts translated by Jorge Alegria)
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 aproximately 2000 zonians. Suddenly, the six-student delegation from the Instituto Nacional was surrounded by hundreds of students and adult zonians.
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.
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
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.
Police Captain Wall addressing Balboa students
Zone students won't back down
Fighting breaks out
Ascanio Arosemena, in striped shirt, helps a wounded boy to the hospital,
minutes before being killed
sources refer to the civilian 'Zonians' doing any
shooting. A report by Captain
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 on 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
"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."
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.
says, "In the process, Panamanians destroyed some US
property on the other side of the fence (Panama's side),
including the Pan American Airlines offices. There was
also some stealing of US property.
LIFE reporters with the US soldiers
The soldiers sit in the Masonic Temple with empty rifles, [initially] under orders not to fire. "When [photographer] Wayman and I arrived the battalion had suffered casualties of three dead and 16 wounded by gunfire and 43 more injured by glass and rocks and tear gas burns."
Sp/4 Alfred Corbett was hit in the arm by a sniper's bullet. Corbett was reportedly a native of Panama and lightweight champion of the U.S. Armed Forces (here helped onto a sandbagged truck.)
|More LIFE photos
U.S.soldiers are taunted by 'slum dwellers'
James Jenkins leaves Panama
Relato del 9 de enero de 1964 por Álvaro Ménendez Franco
|Actos conmemorativos de gesta
del 9 de enero en el Jardín de Paz
The names on the columns:
Maritza Alabarca, Ascanio Arosemena,, Rodolfo Benitez, Luis Bonilla,
Alberto Constance, Gonzalo Crance, Teofilo De La Torre, José Del Cid ,
Victor Garibaldo, José Gil, Ezequiel Gonzalez, Victor Iglesias, Rosa Landecho,
Carlos Lara, Gustavo Lara, Ricardo Murgas, Estanislao Orobio, Jacinto Palacios,
Ovidio Saldaña, AlbertoTejada and Celestino Villareta.
Gonzalo A. France (?) and Evilio Lara have been listed among the dead elsewhere.
Memorial fountain, with the former Balboa Elementary
Capacitación Ascanio Arosemena
From a Panama News article about the 2003 march commemorating the anniversary: "This student represented the purest, clearest example of dignity," Father Sanjur said at the small, unpretentious grave of Ascanio Arosemena. "This must be remembered by every Panamanian, so that we can be a sovereign and prosperous nation."
In the January
2004 issue, Eric Jackson finishes an editorial with: "And
what should happen at the old Tivoli site on January 9th?
Were it up to me --- and it’s not --- I’d have an honor
guard from the US Embassy’s Marine Corps detachment, an
honor guard from the Panamanian National Police, the flags
of both nations, flowers and a salute for all of the
fallen of both sides, 27 people who died before their times
and in so doing changed the course of history."
Mr. Jackson has done considerable research, detailed here in Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 . There is added commentary in 2006. Here is an update for 2014. (Currently unavailable)
A life-sized monument in the form of a lampost, with three figures
climbing it to raise their flag, as documented on the cover of LIFE magazine.
Martín Torrijos, Marcelina Chávez de Arosemena
Llama eterna por lo caídos 9 de enero de 2008
EFE/ "Mi hijo murió por sus ideales y por el amor a su patria. Espero que las actuales y futuras generaciones lo recuerden siempre, al igual que al resto de los mártires que ofrecieron su vida hace 44 años".
Esas fueron las primeras palabras de la señora Marcelina Chávez de Arosemena, madre del mártir Ascanio Arosemena encender el pebetero de "La Llama Eterna" que flameará los 365 días del año en el mismo lugar donde se suscitaron los hechos en 1964.
Acompañada del presidente Torrijos, del administrador del Canal, Alberto Alemán Zubieta y del ministro, Dany Kuzniecky, la madre del "Mártir" le tocó encender el pebetero que se construyó en honor a esos panameños que ofrendaron su vida por la soberanía de la patria.
GOBIERNO Y JUSTICIA
Decreto Ejecutivo Nº 9
De 8 de enero de 2010
"POR EL CUAL SE CONMEMORA EL CUADRAGÉSIMO SEXTO ANIVERSARIO DE LA GESTA HISTÓRICA DEL 9 DE ENERO DE 1964".
ALCALDÍA DE PANAMÁ
Decreto Nº 150
De 7 de enero de 2010
"POR EL CUAL SE DICTAN MEDIDAS CON MOTIVO DE CONMEMORARSE LA GESTA PATRIÓTICA DEL 9 DE ENERO DE 1964".
CONSEJO MUNICIPAL DE COLÓN
Acuerdo Nº 101-40-62
De 29 de diciembre de 2009
"POR EL CUAL EL CONSEJO MUNICIPAL APRUEBA EL PRESUPUESTO DE INGRESOS Y DE EGRESOS DEL MUNICIPIO DE COLÓN PARA EL PERIODO FISCAL DEL 1 DE ENERO AL 31 DE DICIEMBRE DE 2010".