Martyrs’ Day in Panama

Martyrs’ Day is a day celebrated in Panama and is a national day of mourning. It commemorates the January 1964 anti-American riots over the sovereignty of the Panama Canal Zone. The riot began when the Panamanian flag was ripped, and students were killed. This day of mourning is observed on January 9th every year, with people retracing the steps of the original protesters and laying wreaths on memorials.

It’s also a day on which people reflect on the incident—now known as the Flag Incident—and remember those who were killed. On this day, people also use the hashtag #MartyrsDayPanama on their social media accounts.

The History of Martyrs’ Day in Panama

Although the United States had helped Panama achieve independence, there was significant resentment towards the U.S. concerning the Canal Zone and the fact that it wasn’t under Panamanian control.

As a result, protests broke out in the Canal Zone, and U.S. President John F. Kennedy agreed that the Panamanian flag should be flown beside the U.S. flag at all non-military locations in this zone. Unfortunately, Kennedy was assassinated before his order could be carried out, and the next month, Panama Canal Zone Governor Robert J. Fleming modified the orders so that no flags would be flown in the Canal Zone.

Many Zonians were incensed by the decision not to fly the Panama flag because they saw it as a U.S. renunciation of sovereignty over the Canal Zone. Zonians began flying the U.S. flag everywhere they could. Students walked out of class at Balboa High School, raised an American flag, and posted guards to prevent it from being removed.

News of what happened at Balboa High School reached the Instituto Nacional. Approximately 200 students demonstrated and carried the Panamanian flag to Balboa High School. About 5 or 6 Panamanian students approached the flagpole with the flag of Panama, and the Zonians attempted to stop them from raising the flag. A fight broke out, and the Panamanian flag ended up getting torn. Violence eventually broke out, and 21 Panamanians and 4 Americans ended up getting killed.

Observing Martyrs’ Day in Panama

This day of mourning is observed with people retracing the steps of protesting students, laying wreaths on graves, and listening to public speeches by politicians.

Where is it celebrated?
Panama (National holiday)
When is it?
This year (2024)
January 9 Tuesday
Next year (2025)
January 9 Thursday
Last year (2023)
January 9 Monday