Panama’s young pay little heed to Martyrs’ Day

A day set aside to honor students who died  in a symbolic act  nearly 50 years ago was treated by most  citizens as just another day off.

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But for historian, professor Escarreola Rommel Palacios it was an opportunity to express via La Prensa.com the need to teach current generations the story of an act that marked a crucial point in the consciousness of Panamanians.

On Saturday January 9, 1964 at 6:00 pm, in the former Canal Zone students from the National Institute organized a demonstration calling for enforcement of an agreement previously reached between the U.S. and Panama. 

Students climbed the fence surrounding the Canal Zone and raised a Panamanian flag Students reacted when the flag was torn by an American police officer. It was followed by a  "clash" the 200 strong student group student group. The group of at least 200 students from the National Institute confronted U.S. police officers who shot at them from the Canal Zone to the area where the National Assembly is now located. According to the historian, there is evidence that the police opened fire with rifles used for hunting. 

When  residents of El Chorrillo, Calidonia, Bella Vista, and other areas heard the firing, they joined in the fray. The clashes killed 23 people and injured 500 others. The event was says Palacios a symbol of the struggle of a generation to achieve sovereignty in the former Panama Canal Zone.. And that feat, he said, must be taught to current generations because "It was a very symbolic act that must be appreciated and studied by the youth of today, that is forgetting the events of January 9.

Many of them did their forgetting on the beaches of Panama and there was little public recognition of the event that lead to the singing of an agreement for the hand over of the Canal at the turn of the century, and the renaming of Avenida Julio 4 to Avenida de Los Martires, where a memorial to the students still stands.

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