The Balboa High School (BHS) was a public high school in the former Canal Zone under the administration of the U.S. Department of Defense. It was the Alma Mater for thousand of students who then populated the extinct Panama Canal Zone. The history of the BHS is intimately bound to the history of the Panama Canal and the Canal Zone.
Aside from thousands of American dependents of the Panama Canal Company (later Panama Canal Commission), Canal Zone Government, and U.S. armed forces, the Balboa High School was also the Alma Mater for many Panama’s business and political elite. For example, Guillermo Ford, who later became Vice-President of Panama, studied and graduated at BHS.
Construction of the first permanent building to house a high school in Balboa was completed in 1917. What came to be Balboa High School was not started until 1942 and completed through additions in 1948, 1949, 1963 and 1969. Prior to that, the high school was located in part of Building 710, known for most of its history as the Balboa Elementary School and in a temporary wooden building.
In January 1964, the Balboa High School was the scene of a controversial confrontation between high school students from Panama’s Instituto Nacional and groups of students and parents from the Balboa High School. The confrontation got out of hand, and for four consecutive days, the Panama Canal Zone was an area of intense violence.
The ensuing bloodshed led the government of Panama to break off diplomatic relations with Washington. “The pushing, the shoving, the tearing, the shooting and looting, and burning, these unfolded over the next few days. By the end of it all, 27 souls had lost their lives and the Panamanian and American government weren’t speaking to one another.”
I can’t tell you exactly what happened at the premises of the BHS that unfortunate day of January 9, 1964. I wasn’t there, plus I’m not a historian to give you an unbiased opinion of what led to those violent incidents. I found two sources that might clear the picture for you. The first is an article dubbed, “As Befits the Occasion” written by Eric Jackson which is self explanatory and extracts of the book, “Yankee No: Anti-Americanism in U.S. Latin-American Relations” authored by Alan McPherson.
The BHS campus is currently a training center for the Panama Canal Authority—Centro de Capacitación Ascanio Arosemena. A new annex was created at the front entrance of the building to accomodate a pantheon for the Panamanians who were killed during the 1964 riots. The architectural style of the addition is similar to that of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The BHS was closed in 1999 in anticipation for the handover of the Panama Canal to the Republic of Panama, the removal of the last U.S. armed forces from the Isthmus, and the closure of the U.S. Southern Command in Panama. It was the end of an era than lasted almost one hundred years.
I was at the BHS campus on Sunday, March 22, 2009 and took several pictures of this historic educational landmark in the former Panama Canal Zone. This is what I saw that early morning. Here we go.
For those of you who have a keen eye for photographs, the streetlight in the previous picture might seem out of place. It’s not a proper thing to do according to the rules of photographic composition. But there is an underlying message in this image. The street lamp is there with an intentional purpose.
When I shot this picture I thought that the street lamp constitutes a symbol of trust between the United States and Panama who have traveled together a journey of almost one hundred years. There were problems during the trip, but who doesn’t have problems in a long relationship?
The pole itself represents the Panama Canal that is deeply beloved by both nations and by the whole world as well. The light bulb on the left represents a flame of hope, optimism, and friendship of the American people in its new relationship with Panama. The light bulb on the right represents the challenge, responsibility, and gratitude of the Panamanian people towards the United States for building a waterway that united the globe like never before.
In a nutshell, the street lamp my dear readers, represents friendship in a new relationship between two nations after middday December 1999. Friendship between two great allies at the beginning of a new Millennium. Good Day.