Rioting in the Panama Canal Zone claimed ten lives early today (10 January) -- and the Republic of Panama severed diplomatic relations with the United States.
Rioting in the Panama Canal Zone claimed ten lives early today (10 January) -- and the Republic of Panama severed diplomatic relations with the United States. American students at Balboa High School defied orders requiring the joint display of Panamanian and U.S. flags and mobs of Panamanians invaded the zone in protest.
The United States maintains control of the Panama Canal Zone, under the terms of a 1903 treaty which grants the U.S. perpetual control of the Zone in return for an initial payment of ten million dollars and an annual "rental" fee. The Zone, which contains the Panama Canal, bisects the Republic of Panama, The Republic has long argued that the Zone is a part of Panama and that it should enjoy titular sovereignty there.
In the late 1950's Panamanian students demonstrated repeatedly along the Canal Zone border, seeking to enter the Zone and put up Panamanian flags. They claimed also that American employees of the Panama Canal Zone Company received preferential treatment over Panamanian employees. (The Panama Canal Zone Company is a U.S. government-owned corporation which operates the Canal. Most of its employees are Panamanians). In November of 1959, a major riot broke out in which six Panamanians were killed, and agitators began demanding that Panama take over the Canal. American soldiers had to use tear gas and fire hoses to put down the 1959 demonstration.
Following the 1959 riots, the U.S. agreed that Panama held "titular sovereignty" over the Canal Zone. In September of 1960, the Panamanian and U.S. flags were hoisted together in a Balboa park. Unrest continued, however, and in January 1963 it was agreed that the Panamanian and U.S. flags should fly side by side throughout the Zone.
This week, American students raised the U.S. flag alone outside Balboa High School. They apparently had the backing of their parents. The Governor ordered that American flags were not to be displayed unless the Panamanian flag was also displayed on an adjacent flagpole. Disregard of this order by the students led to the latest outbreak of violence.