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

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   bandera,
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 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
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'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,
pt II  

                (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

la novela2017 - Se reeditará ‘9 de enero, la novela'
‘Es un libro en el que yo novelo los testimonios, las entrevistas e investigaciones que hice', dice Villa.
Entre las historias que el escritor recoge está la del sindicalista colonense Andrés Galván, sindicalista colonense que apoyó la causa de los estudiantes de 1964 y fue uno de los protagonistas de La Marcha del Hambre de 1959.

Igualmente, recoge el testimonio del historiador Luis Navas, hermano de Juan Navas, herido en la gesta del 9 de enero.
‘Ellos me dieron muchos elementos emocionantes que pude corroborar con las noticias de la época y otras entrevistas', explica Villa.

La Estrella de Panama

Metro Libre

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.

full LIFE coverage

Two flags

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

n 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."


bandera, bandera

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.

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

Police Captain Wall addressing Balboa students

Zone students won't back down
Fighting breaks out

Ascanio 2
Ascanio Arosemena, in striped shirt, helps a wounded  boy to the hospital,
minutes before being killed

estudiantes portada

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 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 

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."

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.

My friend 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.
The Panamanian president broke relations with the US for some time, but caved in after a while. "

LIFE reporters with the US soldiers

Panamanian sniper by the Pan Am Building.
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."

"Somebody's hit!"
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
taunting soldiers
U.S.soldiers are taunted by 'slum dwellers'

tear gas
tear gas

Protests outside the Presidential Palace
during a protest
student communist
Student Communists
funerals for slain students


Pan Am

The Pan Am building is looted and burned

Chase Manhattan Bank damaged
movie poster


James Jenkins leaves Panama
              flags Two flags flying



en memoria

My photos of the memorial

The former Balboa High School building with covered entryway conaining the memorial, which has a name on each column.



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, Alberto
Tejada and Celestino Villareta.
Gonzalo A. France (?) and Evilio Lara have been listed among the dead elsewhere.

The Goethals Memorial fountain, with the former Balboa Elementary School
Centro de 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."



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.

Jim Jenkins 2014:

TVN-2 - La historia que todo panameño debe conocer pt I, pt II (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

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