Saturday, January 09, 2010

Día de los Martires

I'm not a nationalist, and I think that flag worship is idolatry. I'm not one to get all excited about flags, although I will admit that I get upset when I see the Confederate flag. However, I do understand the importance of the nation's flag to nationalists.

The Canal Zone in Panama was a stretch of land which was considered U.S. property in perpetuity according to the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty. It split the nation of Panama in two and it was like separate country with its own police force, courts, post office and radio stations. Panamanians could only enter the Canal Zone with permission. In 1963, President of the U.S., John F. Kennedy, ordered that the Panamanian flag be flown next to the U.S. flag at all non-military sites in the Zone. He was assassinated before the order was carried out. The governor of the Canal Zone, Robert J. Fleming, Jr., decided to limit Kennedy's order by not flying either flag in front of civilian locations such as schools and post offices in the Zone. This upset many Zonians (U.S. citizens living in the Canal Zone) who saw this as an attempt to deny U.S. sovereignty over the Canal Zone. Some Zonians began demonstrating with the U.S. flag. Some students from Balboa High School in the Zone raised a U.S flag on the pole in front of the school. School authorities removed it and the students walked out of class and raised another flag and posted guards to protect it. On January 9, 1964, students at the Instituto Nacionál, just outside of the Canal Zone, heard about the actions of the Balboa High students and decided to make a statement regarding Panamanian sovereignty over the Canal Zone and, after informing their school principal and the Canal Zone authorities of their plans, about 150 to 200 students, led by Guillermo Guevara Paz, marched to Balboa High where they planned to hoist the Panamanian flag on the same pole as the Zonian students had hoisted the U.S. flag. At Balboa High, the Panamanian students were met by the Canal Zone police and Zonian adults and students. After negotiations with the police, a small group were allowed to approach the flag pole. The Zonians surrounded the students and the flag pole, started singing The Star Spangled Banner, rejected the deal made with the police and a scuffle broke out. The flag the Panamanian students were carrying (which had historical significance, having been carried in anti-U.S. protests in 1947) was torn in the scuffle. The police escorted the students back to where the rest of their group was standing.

Word of the incident spread through the city, and crowds began forming along the fence which separated the Canal Zone from Panama City. Some people ran into the Zone and planted Panamanian flags. Some people threw rocks and the police responded with tear gas and bullets. The Canal Zone authorities requested help from la Guardia Nacionál (Panama's Armed Forces) but the Guardia stayed away from the fighting. Some protesters began to tear down the fence between the Zone and Panama and the police responded with more tear gas and more gun fire. Soon Panamanians were shooting back. Riots broke out and U.S. owned businesses were torched. Ascanio Arosemena, a 20 year-old student, was the first to be martyred. He was helping evacuate wounded protesters when he was shot. A six-month-old girl, Maritza Avila Alabarca, died of respiratory problems when her neighborhood was gassed. All in all, 22 Panamanians died in the incident and are considered martyrs. They are: Ascanio Arosemena, Luis Bonilla, Josi Del Cid Cobos, Teofilo Belisario De La Torre, Gonzalo A. France, Victor M. Garibaldo, Josi Enrique Gil, Ezequiel Meneses Gonzalez, Victor M. Iglesias, Rosa Elena Landecho, Carlos Renato Lara, Evilio Lara, Gustavo Lara, Ricardo Murgas Villamonte, Alberto Nichols Constance, Estanislao Orobio W., Jacinto Palacios Cobos, Ovidio L. Saldana, Rodolfo Sanchez Benitez, Alberto Oriol Tejada and Celestino Villareta. This incident led to the end of the idea of the Canal Zone being U.S. property in perpetuity and led to the eventual closing of U.S. bases and the transfer of control of the Canal to Panamá.


Muthah+ said...

Thank you for reminding me. Am thinking of Panama as Upstate NY is covered with snow.

David |Dah • veed| said...

How many Panamanians did the US kill to arrest Noriega?

Now the US should get out of Cuba as well. Pack up and move out of a military base where they are squatting on a sovereign nation that does not want them there.

Caminante said...

I can't remember but somehow the figure of up to 2.000 deaths and 6.000 wounded in the December 1989 invasion sticks in my head. May they all rest in peace. May we someday learn.

Leonardo Ricardo said...


Should the U.S. give back Sepulveda (Spanish Land Grant family) Blvd in Los Angeles? How about the Alamo? The Puerto Ricans are equally (almost exactly in half)divided as to Statehood or current status of Associated Free State/Commonwealth. Independence accounts for around 3% (somebody told me Bishop Alvarez is a Independista)...oh the Spanish American War, etc. I like many Puerto Ricans (I have a Cedula) love many things Norte Americano and the Cubans are mostly Republicans! Boggles the mind!

Good for Panama and President Carter, the honorable man/president.

David |Dah • veed| said...

Leonardo, the US does not claim the military base at Guantanamo Bay as sovereign US territory. It rented the area from the previous Cuban administration. The current government of Cuba has asked the US to pack up and leave since day one. The US refuses to do so. The US sends a rent check every year and the Cuban government has never cashed one!

But the situation between Mexico and the US is very different to that of Cuba. Unfortunately there is not much that can be done to make amends for the US's past dealings with Mexico. The US asked to buy what is today CA, AZ, NM, NV, CO and UT and the Mexican government said no. The US later found a pretext in the Texas situation to go to war against Mexico and stole the territory by annexation during the war. After the war, with US troops in our capitol, our arms twisted behind our backs, we signed a treaty where the US alleged to buy the territory for less than a third of the price for which they had offered to buy it. But it is theirs now, despite the morality of the negotiation, because the Mexican government of the time had no choice but to sign the treaty.

I cannot speak to Puerto Rico. They are Statesonians and appear to wish to remain so. The only real question is in what form, as a state, or as a territory. As you say they appear to be equally divided on that issue, but very few seem to want complete independence.

Doorman-Priest said...

It always staggars me that there is so much history I don't know.

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