a night in Panama…

Losing Hands of Stone – movie trailer on YouTube image



Went to the opening night of the movie “Hands of Stone” (Manos de Piedra) last night, and in the darkness of a movie theatre had a wonderful time experiencing bits and pieces of life in Panama in the 1960’s, through the eyes of an impetuous, angry and resourceful little boy growing up in a barrio in Casco Viejo.

The movie (IMDB): “Follows the life of Roberto Duran, who made his professional debut in 1968 as a 16-year-old and retired in 2002 at age 50. In June 1980, he defeated Sugar Ray Leonard to capture the WBC welterweight title but shocked the boxing world by returning to his corner in the November rematch, saying ‘no mas’ (no more).”

Having read a little more on the history of Panama than my fellow movie goers, I was fortunate to be able to recognize and follow several incidents that Roberto Duran lived through and experienced at first hand – in particular the January 9, 1964 riots over the flag incident. It was refreshing to see historical events through the perspective of Panamanians.

From Wikipedia, on the flag incident and what preceded it:

“Public demonstrations and riots arising from popular resentment over United States policies and the overwhelming presence of United States citizens and institutions had not been uncommon, but the rioting that occurred in January 1964 was uncommonly serious. The incident began with a symbolic dispute over the flying of the Panamanian flag in the Canal Zone.

For some time the dispute had been seriously complicated by differences of opinion on that issue between the Department of Defense and the Department of State. On the one hand, the military opposed accepting a Panamanian flag, emphasizing the strategic importance of unimpaired United States control in the Canal Zone and the dangerous precedent that appeasement of the rioters’ demands would set for future United States-Panamanian relations. The Department of State, on the other hand, supported the flag proposal as a reasonable concession to Panamanian demands and a method of avoiding major international embarrassment. Diplomatic officials also feared that the stability of Panamanian political institutions themselves might be threatened by extensive violence and mob action over the flag issue.

The United States finally agreed to raise the Panamanian and United States flags side by side at one location. The special ceremony on September 21, 1960 at the Shaler Triangle was attended by the new governor of the zone, Major General William A. Carter, along with all high United States military and diplomatic officers and the entire Panamanian cabinet. Even this incident, however, which marked official recognition of Panama’s “titular” sovereignty, was marred when the United States rejected former president Ernesto de la Guardia’s request to allow him to raise the flag personally. De la Guardia, as a retaliatory measure, refused to attend the ceremony and extended invitations to the presidential reception after the ceremony only to the United States ambassador and his senior diplomatic aides; United States Canal Zone and military officials were excluded.

Panamanians remained dissatisfied as their flag appeared at only one location in the Canal Zone, while the United States flag flew alone at numerous other sites. An agreement was finally reached that at several points in the Canal Zone the United States and Panamanian flags would be flown side by side. United States citizens residing in the Canal Zone were reluctant to abide by this agreement, however, and the students of an American high school, with adult encouragement, on two consecutive days hoisted the American flag alone in front of their school.

Word of the gesture soon spread across the border, and on the evening of the second day, January 9, 1964, nearly 200 Panamanian students marched into the Canal Zone with their flag. A struggle ensued, and the Panamanian flag was torn. After that provocation, thousands of Panamanians stormed the border fence. The rioting lasted 3 days, and resulted in 21 deaths, serious injuries to several hundred persons, and more than US$2 million of property damage.”

About the movie: while some might not have found it particularly captivating, I did – probably because I might have ignored its flaws, as I immersed myself in Panamanian culture, social structure, and a little bit of its history.

4 thoughts on “a night in Panama…

  1. Hola Wendy,
    The 1964 riots were a bad time for the US and Panama. There were a succession of minor events which lead to the riots and gunfire. Some sources point to the involvement of Cubans in Panama since it was an opportunity for Fidel to stir trouble for the US without having to actually involve Cuba and his dictatorship.

    As is often the case, students started much of the unrest which later resulted in border clashes along Avenida 4th of July as it was called then at the base of Ancon Hill. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancon_Hill Ancon was the location of Quarry Heights, an extensive military command center.

    An extensive photo collection of the canal zone and Panama is here:http://www.chagres.com/
    Do not open the link until you have finished the day’s chores, you will be there awhile.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hola Jim,

    Thanks for stopping by, and for the added information. Yes, so I’ve read, about the students’ involvement in the riots, and Ancon hill and Quarry heights… Bad times indeed. The movie brought things to life too. The Cuban connection? Now that’s interesting information I have not run across. Sounds quite plausible – will have to do some further reading (finding the history of the region rather interesting in so many ways). It’s also wondrous how much meta-history is buried behind and beneath the history that’s available to the general public. Real-life spy stories and skulduggery! (Which reminds me about The Taylor of Panama – I did see the movie, years ago when it first came out, on the big screen. Took a little memory mining to remember. Worth watching again though, given my current interest and burgeoning knowledge of the country (whole new perspective).

    Thanks for the link – will have to save it for a quieter evening (maybe even weekend) – long rough day/week at work today and it’s only Tuesday!

    – Wendy


  3. Oh, Monday workdays. I remember those. I once had a 9/80 schedule; 9 hours a day for 2 weeks with every other Friday off. I asked if I could work the Fridays and skip a Monday, nope-gotta work Mondays. Don’t miss that!


    1. Oh dear – how very inflexible of them! Must Work Mondays!
      Going to have a look at your link to the photographs now. Recovered somewhat from the early part of the week (bit more than the usual Monday syndrome though – think “Massive Merger! Integration! Organizational Announcemant! (That last one was on Monday). Exhausting, A work in progress for months to come.


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