The Zone | Translation

The Zone | Translation


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Translated by Nick Perkins

[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante on NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón. 

This story begins with a fence in Panama City. Rimsky Sucre used to see it every day as he walked down 4th of July Avenue to his school, the National Institute. The school was on one side of the street, and the fence was on the other. And through the fence he could see green spaces unlike anywhere else in the city; Extensive gardens, perfectly cut and shaped down to the last detail, full of all sorts of trees.

[Rimsky Sucre]: Trees. Mahogany and other flowering trees. Orangey. Guayacan trees with yellow flowers, and lots of yellow and orange acacias. 

[Daniel]: And the large, spacious, luxury houses that could be seen through the trees looked just like the ones you see in American movies and TV series. There were also elegant, modern (for their time) concrete buildings. Ostentatious buildings. And streets without a single pothole… 

[Rimsky]: It was heaven on earth.

[Daniel]: The other side of the fence was very different to his side of the fence — the side with potholes in the street, with few parks and few trees, and with overcrowded houses made of wood and cement.

[Rimsky]: Entire families living in just one room. Imagine it: a five meter by five meter room.

[Daniel]: The side of poverty, of need. But over there, on the green side…

[Rimsky]: They had all the money in the world to ensure that everything was impeccable and clean.

[Daniel]: Impeccable. There was no other way of describing the area known as the Zone. The Canal Zone: 1,432 square kilometers that the country had ceded to the United States in 1903, when a treaty was signed to build the Canal. An area of US territory in the middle of the tropics, that stretched from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans.

The green fields. The trees… Rimsky was tempted to jump the fence and cross over to the other side.

[Rimsky]: I remember one time I was with a classmate that I was sort of in love with, and we were walking down those streets at sunset thinking that no one would see us. But then an American military policeman appeared and threw us out. He forcefully removed us, right back to the boundary.

[Daniel]: To the boundary, on 4th of July Avenue. In theory, it wasn’t a crime for Panamanians to walk around the Zone, but neither were they made welcome. 

Sometimes, he would jump the fence with his friends to pick mangoes. But the police were always there. Always ready to return them to what was legally Panama.

This made him mad. At school this anger was fed by the search for something specific:

[Rimsky]: The creation of a sense of nationhood and the need for them to recognize the colonial enclave.

[Daniel]: The need to always remember that that US bubble was an attack on the country’s sovereignty.

And this anger was, in part, what led to the end of the Zone.

Today we tell the story of an apparently perfect society in the middle of the tropics, and the consequences of literally dividing a country in two.

We’ll be right back after this break.


[Daniel]: Welcome back to Radio Ambulante. 

Our editor Luis Fernando Vargas will continue the story. 

Here’s Luis Fernando.

[Luis Fernando Vargas]: We’ll come back to Rimsky in the second part of this story. For now, let’s jump the fence…  

[Richard Wainio]: How are you doing, Luis? Are you in Costa Rica? I saw the 506 on the bottom of the email.

[Luis Fernando]: I asked him to tell me about life in the Zone. 

[Richard]: My name is Richard Wainio. I live now in the United States, but I was born and raised in Panama.

[Luis Fernando]: He lives in the United States, but he was born in Panama and grew up in the 50s and 60s inside the Canal Zone. His father was also born in the Zone. His grandfather was from Finland, and had emigrated to the United States before going to Panama in 1910 to work on the Canal.

Just like all children with at least one American parent, Richard has American citizenship, not Panamanian. People like him are known as Zonians. 

Richard understands Spanish and his wife is Panamanian, but he doesn’t feel comfortable enough to speak it for a whole interview. The thing is, Richard never needed to speak Spanish; he lived in the Zone, where even the newspaper was in English.

He grew up in the Caribbean Canal Zone, on the Atlantic side. It was a huge park to him. It was immaculate. And society was extremely efficient. 

[Richard]: We used to laugh that if… if anything happened, the wind blew through Balboa and a tree fell down, I mean, literally in the space of minutes, you’d see guys in yellow vests and hard hats out on the street to chop, chop, chopping up that tree and moving it.

[Luis Fernando]: They used to laugh that if anything happened, like a tree falling down, literally minutes later men would appear in yellow vests and hard hats and immediately clean up the mess, leaving everything in order. 

As a child he could walk alone along the entire Canal. In summer he would get up in the morning, his mom would give him 50 cents before going to work, and he would enjoy the Canal Company’s sports’ facilities and kids’ programs.

[Richard]: I’d play basketball and do things. I’d go to the movie theaters. We’d hang out all day. All the kids. We’d… we’d be running through the jungle and we’d be fishing.

[Luis Fernando]: He played basketball, went to the cinema, and spent all day with his friends running through the tropical jungle and fishing. 

The Zone contained mini-cities with their own police force, their own schools, their own fire departments, their own hospitals, restaurants… Their own military bases. There were also shops and supermarkets that were subsidized by the Canal Company, with lower prices than in the rest of Panama. And all this infrastructure was for just 36,000 US residents who were made up of military personnel, Canal workers and their families. It was 1964, and at the time Panama had a population of just over 1.2 million.

And everyone in the Canal had a job.

Everything you needed to live well could be found within just a few kilometers. 

[Richard]: It was an incredibly special world to grow up in. As a kid, you know, it was safe. It was fun. No place on earth like it. It was in many respects a utopian society with virtually no crime.

[Luis Fernando]: There was nowhere else on Earth like that. Richard says that it was, in many regards, a utopian society, and there was almost no crime.

Or at least it was for the white Americans. The Zone was segregated, and lower-income employees were given homes in specific neighborhoods that were much more modest that the high-ranking employees’ homes. Many of these employees were Afrodescendants, and many of them were descendants of the West Indians who came to Panama to build the Canal. They were not American, but Panamanian and other nationalities.  

And as we said earlier, Panamanians living in Panama City could, in theory, cross into the Zone. But they couldn’t buy anything, couldn’t use any of the facilities, and if they were caught doing anything suspicious, they could be thrown out by the police. The only way they could enjoy any of the facilities was if a resident had invited them, or if they worked there – the Canal Company did employ some Panamanians.

But the Zonians traveled all over Panama. It was common to see them on the beaches, in the mountains, hunting, shopping and eating in restaurants. It was also normal to hear about Zonians falling in love with Panamanians, getting married and living in the Zone. 

The inequalities were evident. 

[Richard]: So it was, you know, a sore spot.

[Luis Fernando]: And many Panamanians were not comfortable with the situation. 

[Richard]: Those that really didn’t like it referred to it as a cancer. 

[Luis Fernando]: So much so that people who didn’t like the situation referred to the Zone as a cancer.

[Richard]: But that said, that cancer literally created Panama as a country and helped Panama develop into arguably the most advanced area in Latin America at the time.

[Luis Fernando]: But according to Richard, this cancer literally created Panama as a country, and helped Panama develop into one of the most advanced countries in Latin America at the time. 

[Richard]: Basically, Panama was… was barely a livable place up until the arrival of the Americans in 1904. 

[Luis Fernando]: He says that Panama was barely habitable when the Americans arrived to build the canal in 1904. 

According to Richard, 19th-century Panama was…

[Richard]: It was just a swampy, mosquito-infested, disease-ridden area where there were more Indigenous people than… than anything else.

[Luis Fernando]: Nothing more than a mosquito-infested, disease-ridden swamp where there were only Indigenous people. 

[Luis Fernando]: However, that’s not exactly the way it was. 

[Marixa Lasso]: My name is Marixa Lasso. I’m the director of the Panamanian Historical, Anthropological and Cultural Investigation Center at the Panamanian Ministry of Culture.

[Luis Fernando]: She’s also a writer. Among her books is “Erased: The Untold Story of the Panama Canal”, an investigation into the Zone’s creation and the effect it had on the country’s history. 

[Marixa Lasso]: Panama has been a trading center since the Spanish conquest. European goods arrived here; silver came up from Peru. It is a very important place

[Luis Fernando]: At that time, Panama City was what today is known as Casco Viejo, a walled area protected from English pirates and privateers. It was one of the most important ports on the Pacific Coast – literally a bridge between the north and south of the continent.

And the part of the country that would became the Zone already contained a network of Panamanian towns that had existed for centuries before the arrival of the Americans in 1904.

[Marixa]: The towns along that route were Panama’s spinal column.

[Luis Fernando]: These were colonial towns with Spanish churches and a mixed population of Spanish, Indigenous and mainly African descent – the latter living first as slaves, then as free people –that transported goods from one ocean to the other by boat and mule.

[Marixa]: I have great admiration for the river people who, with just oars, transferred thousands of passengers arriving on steamboats. Those Panamanians developed the route over many centuries.

[Luis Fernando]: Inspired by the California Gold Rush, in 1850 a number of American private companies began to construct the world’s first interoceanic railroad in Panama. It was easier to take a boat down to Panama from the Eastern Seaboard and cross the isthmus – the narrowest point on the continent – than it was to cross the entire United States.

The works brought a wave of migrants to Panama with them, some of them workers in search of opportunities, and others slaves.

[Marixa]: West Indian immigrants began to arrive in these towns and mix with the colonial Afro-Panamanians, Spaniards and English. Chinese immigrants arrived, and also brought their culture with them.

[Luis Fernando]: And in 1881, the French began an attempt to build a Canal and there was a new wave of migrants.

[Marixa Lasso]: So you have to see them as waves, waves that were enriching life in those towns.

[Luis Fernando]: Work on the American Canal began just as the French Canal was starting to look like a failure, and a new wave of immigrants arrived in Panama from all over the world in search of work. What would later become the Canal Zone began to look more like a series of cosmopolitan towns than a swamp.

[Marixa]: These places were full of life, with workers from all over the world speaking Chinese, English, Spanish, Spanish with many different accents; with public facilities, Protestant churches, Catholic churches. And they speak of a village with a Chinese temple, with commerce, banking, businesses.

[Luis Fernando]: The 1912 census – conducted two years before the Americans completed construction of the Canal – records a population of around 62,000 in that small slice of the country.

[Marixa]: That means it was the most densely populated area in Panama. To put it into perspective, Panama’s largest region, Chiriquí, had a population of around 57,000.

[Luis Fernando]: The Zone was not always envisaged as the exclusion zone it became. The USA’s original intent when signing the treaty was a continuity plan – it wanted to take control of that densely populated zone and complete the necessary construction work. However, little by little this idea became less popular among the American Canal authorities. 

[Marixa]: We’re talking about the early 20th century, when not only American, but imperial thinking on hygiene, health and sanitation held that the natives, the non-white natives, were carriers of disease.

[Luis Fernando]: This contributed to segregation laws, such as the mandatory distance imposed between Isthmian Canal Commission buildings and so-called natives’ buildings. But who were these natives? Well, basically, anyone who wasn’t white.

[Marixa]: A Chinese immigrant could be described as a native. Anyone who wasn’t part of it. So an urban area started to develop that on one side stayed as it was, but new spaces were being created in which natives and non-natives were segregated.

[Luis Fernando]: This wasn’t done on a whim; there was much debate in the United States, and a commission of Congress visited Panama to evaluate whether the Canal Zone should be depopulated.

After much discussion, the segregation plan won. 

Some 40,000 so-called natives were displaced from the zone: the place that they and their families had called home for decades. 

At the same time, new towns began to appear in the Canal Zone. But now they were only for Americans. The Zone became an example of what the United States was capable of.

[Marixa]: A pristine place with very few people. It was like an urban diorama exhibit where everything works. 

[Luis Fernando]: As I was told time and time again when people were describing the Zone to me, the gardens – expansive private lawns like those of the American suburbs – had a purpose. 

The Zone is in the tropics, and during construction of the Canal, diseases such as yellow fever and malaria were very real problems. But the mosquitos that transmit them don’t land on the ground, so if there are fewer trees and more grass, the mosquitos have fewer places to breed.

Everything in the Zone was about controlling disease and protecting life in the tropics.

But, as we heard earlier in this story, the other side of the fence was overcrowded and life was precarious in a society where things didn’t work well at all. 

These contrasts would have repercussions.

We’ll be back after this break. 


[Daniel]: Welcome back to Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Before the break, we heard about how the Canal Zone was for almost 50 years an (in theory) ideal society, at least for white Americans. No crime, comfortable and free housing, cheap food and work for all. While in Panama, poverty and crime were big issues.

One thing is learning about rich countries’ excesses from the radio, TV, or a newspaper. Another very different thing is seeing them every day, right there on the other side of the street behind an easily scalable fence.

The question was not whether this was going to blow up. It was when.

Luis Fernando Vargas takes up the story.

[Luis Fernando]: The end of the 50s marked the start of serious tensions between Panamanians and residents of the Zone. There was a dispute over a symbolic object: Panama’s flag.

In 1958, Operation Sovereignty saw a group of students enter the Zone to plant Panamanian flags in symbolic places. The police quickly removed the flags after the students left and there were no incidents, that time. It all happened peacefully.

But a year later, a patriotic march was called with the same objective: raising the Panamanian flag in the Zone. This time the call went out to the general public. The first group of protesters were able to enter and plant flags, but the next groups were blocked from entry and unrest broke out soon after a policeman in the Zone ripped one of the flags out of the ground. Water cannons, tear gas, firearms. More than 100 people were wounded.

Of course, at Rinsky’s school they talked about what was happening. 

[Rimsky]: History teachers. Geography teachers. But also lots of other teachers: math, Spanish, physics, chemistry. The topic of nationalism was ever present on the National Institute’s curriculum.

[Luis Fernando]: Zonians did not often cross into Panama during those years. They were less trusting. In 1963, following four years of negotiations, a treaty was signed stating that both the American and Panamanian flags should fly in the Zone. But when the treaty came into force on Janury 1st 1964, the Americans ignored it. 

Eight days later, Rimsky was having lunch at home with a friend at midday. He was getting close to graduating high school.

[Rimsky]:  And we were saying that it was time to raise the flag, that we had to go to the Zone, that it was time, that we couldn’t keep allowing the Zonians’ violations and intolerance to continue, that we couldn’t take it anymore.

[Luis Fernando]: They walked back to the National Institute on 4th of July Avenue, on the boundary between the Zone and Panama City. 

[Rimsky]: And we saw lots of young people on the other side of the fence. They were young people, teenagers, in James Dean-style jackets, and they were burning Panamanian flags.

[Luis Fernando]: It wasn’t the first time they’d seen them. They’d been holding vigils around the American flag at Balboa School, one of the Zone’s most prestigious schools. 

[Rimsky]: They’d been doing that for a number of nights. I mean, there was provocation.

[Luis Fernando]: When they got to school, they told their friends what they’d seen, and after the 2pm break they asked to speak to their class. 

[Rimsky]: We told them about the situation, we analyzed it, and we told our teacher that it was time to go to the Canal Zone and raise the flag at Balboa School.

[Luis Fernando]: The plan was for the students with the best grades to take it. 

[Rimsky]: I remember going into two sixth grade classrooms and there was a stampede. The kids, all the best ones, stampeding to the principal’s office to ask for the flag.

[Luis Fernando]:  Rimsky didn’t go into any more classrooms. He left his friends to do that while he went to make signs. An art teacher gave them some materials and they found some more at the student association.

[Rimsky]: He gave us some leftover oil paint, some card and manila paper that I think he took from a classroom. A roll of manila paper.

[Luis Fernando]: They got to work. Most of the signs read, “Panama has sovereignty over the Canal Zone.”

[Rimsky]: A few read, “Yankee go home,” “Yankee killer,” and other stuff.

[Luis Fernando]: But that was the minority. Just a few of them. A group of students collected the flag from the principal’s office and left the National Institute by the front door.

[Rimsky]: And those of us with signs left by the back door. We met up on the avenue that goes from 4th of July Avenue almost to the administrator’s house.

[Luis Fernando]: The Canal administrator was the highest-ranking person in the Zone. There were 180 students. They went through the gate into the Zone as an unstoppable mass, and sang the Panamanian national anthem outside the administrator’s house.

They continued on to the administration building. There was a hill on one side with Balboa School at its base. Rimsky and his schoolmates stopped there; they could see armed police in front of the school below. And not just police…

[Rimsky]: The Balboa School flagpole was surrounded by students, parents and other people. We wondered whether to go there or not. After less than five minutes we decided to go. 

[Luis Fernando]: They went down the stairs to the lawn. They spoke to the police and school authorities outside Balboa School and told them what they wanted. 

[Rimsky]: We wanted to raise the flag, sing the national anthem and leave peacefully. 

[Luis Fernando]: They let six people in. Rimsky saw a large group of Zonians surround them as they approached with the Panamanian flag.

[Rimsky]: A crowd began to surround them, shouting all sorts of insults.

[Luis Fernando]: The pushing and shoving began. 

[Rimsky]: No one was protecting them. Even the military police in their battle helmets were surrounding them. They didn’t have their standard-issue hats on.

[Luis Fernando]: Suddenly he saw the police start beating the six Panamanians with their batons. They tried to defend themselves from the attack.

[Rimsky]: They broke the flag with a stick.

[Luis Fernando]: The stick he mentions is a police baton.

[Rimsky]: The flag was ripped by accident, we don’t really know, but with a police baton.

[Luis Fernando]: It was turmoil, the flag got ripped again, and the six Panamanians went running back to the other students. 

[Rimsky]: When they got back to the fence where we were waiting for them, they cried out that the flag had been ripped. It was a cry of pain. Of momentary hate. Of rage.

[Luis Fernando]: And they decided right there and then…

[Rimsky]: “Let’s go to Panama. Let’s go to the National Institute and tell the principal who lent us the flag and the other teachers what’s happening and what happened.” 

[Luis Fernando]: On the way, they angrily broke some windows and threw trash cans onto the road to stop police cars from chasing them.

[Rimsky]: When we reached the city, we started telling everyone on 4th of July Avenue what had happened. “They tore the flag, they ripped up the flag.” And people started raging. The people that went to the principal’s office contacted the media and university students. 

[Luis Fernando]: All this commotion led to dozens of Panamanians trying to cross the fence that divided the city from the Zone. A few hours later, the dozens had turned into hundreds, and the American response was to open fire from the Canal Zone.

[Rimsky]: And the city and the entire republic went up in flames.

[Luis Fernando]: It literally went up in flames. There were three days of disturbances across the country. Some American businesses in Panama City were set ablaze and shots rang out all through the first night.

[Rimsky]: They were prepared to go to war against a population armed with stones.

[Rimsky]: The National Institute was riddled with high velocity bullets. You could fit your index finger plus a few more into the bullet holes. The National Assembly building. The National Library.

[Luis Fernando]:  Well into the night, Rimsky went to 5th of May Square, not too far from his school and one of Panama City’s main squares.

[Luis Fernando]: And he was moved by what he saw when he got there.

[Speaker 2]: I said, “Flags. Flags. So many flags!” People were pouring in to plant flags.

[Luis Fernando]: To plant them in the Zone.

[Luis Fernando]: On the second night of the disturbances, President Roberto Francisco Chiari decided to break off diplomatic relations with the United States until it signed a new treaty returning the Canal to Panama.

The official record is that, over those three days, 21 Panamanians and 4 Americans lost their lives. That was the beginning of the end of the Zone. 

The United States and Panama resumed diplomatic relations four months later. And tense negotiations went on between the two countries for the next few years. In 1977, 13 years after the events of January 9th, an agreement was reached and the Torrijos-Carter treaty was signed, reforming the terms of the original 1903 treaty.

This new document established that the Canal handover to Panama would begin in 1979 and the process would take 20 years. Upon completion, the Zone would disappear. There was one condition: if the United States felt that the canal was in danger – and the treaty was vague on the definition of danger – it could militarily intervene in Panama and take possession of the Canal.

Richard Wainio, whom we heard from earlier, saw this transition from American to Panamanian control from up close. As an adult, he even became Director of Executive Planning, one of the leaders of the process.

The transition process was slow and there were many stumbling blocks. For example, all Canal transit pilots back then, roughly 230, were American.

[Richard]: And it takes literally 10 to 15 years to be trained to become a full pilot at the Panama Canal. And you have to have the right background before you can even get a job to enter those trainings.

[Luis Fernando]: Richard explained that it takes 10 to 15 years to train a pilot to navigate the Canal, and that they needed to complete their education before starting training. A similar thing was true for many of the 4,000 specialized Canal operations posts. People had to be trained, and that took time.

As the Americans started leaving the country, the Zone began to change. Most of them took their pensions. People who were 48 or older, or who had been working for the Canal for 18 years, were allowed to leave immediately. And if they had already completed 23 years of service, they could choose to retire, regardless of age, and quote-unquote “return” to the USA, a country that many Zonians had never lived in. A faraway country visited only on vacation and seen on TV.

Those who stayed experienced dramatic change. For example, the American legal system disappeared and they suddenly became Americans living on Panamanian soil.

[Richard]: You look out your window and there was a Panamanian cop standing in front of your… your house instead of an American cop. 

[Luis Fernando]: Richard tells me that when you looked out of the window, there was a Panamanian cop in front of your house instead of an American one. They started to feel like they were in a foreign country. 

And this all happened in the midst of Manuel Noriega’s military dictatorship. The 1980s were a tumultuous decade in Panama. There was a serious economic crisis and social tension.

Noriega’s anti-American rhetoric was fueled by the USA’s 70 years in Panama. In spite of this, Noriega was a CIA informant on drug trafficking, and a double agent who also sold US intelligence to rival nations and drug cartels.

[Richard]: And so, for that decade, that first decade was a very traumatic decade for Americans that were still living there.

[Luis Fernando]: It was a very traumatic decade for the Americans still living in Panama. 

Richard speaks from a position of privilege, of course. The fact is that if it was traumatic for Zonians, it was even more traumatic for Panamanians. They were living in country in crisis that was ruled by a dictatorship. 

Nevertheless, I think I can understand the fear the Zonians were feeling. Their families were living in a bubble of perfection and comfort, and had never experienced the harsh reality of Latin America. They were gradually losing everything they had ever known. It must have felt like being exposed to the world for the first time. And honestly, who wouldn’t want to close their eyes and shut out the situation?

Tensions between the USA and Panama reached a head on December 20th 1989, when 27,000 American soldiers invaded the country and toppled Noriega. Among the USA’s justifications was the security of American citizens living in the county, and the Canal. 

Richard believes that the invasion was necessary if the Canal was to be handed over to the Panamanians. 

[Richard]: The one thing I know for sure is that, as long as Panama had dictators, as long as Noriega was there, the U.S. was not going to move forward and turn that canal over to him. So, he had to be removed in 1990.

[Luis Fernando]: And he says thanks to that, Panama was able to prosper in the 2000s.

Richard left his post in 1998, one year before the Canal was fully handed over to Panama. He stayed in the country for a while before deciding to go to the USA, but he visits Panama all the time.

As for Rimsky, he never liked the way the Torrijos-Carter treaty handed the Canal back to Panama.

[Rimsky]: We remained under the Pentagon’s umbrella, as General Torrijos himself called it. We still ceded our sovereignty, and now not just over the Canal strip, but over the whole country if the USA unilaterally believes that interoceanic transport in the isthmus is in danger.

[Luis Fernando]: He believes that the invasion was the first example of Panama ceding its sovereignty under the deal.

[Rimsky]: There were uncountable deaths. We don’t know how many. But what happened? Panama can’t even claim compensation for the deaths.

[Luis Fernando]: This is why Rimsky believes that there is a long way to go before Panama is truly Panamanian.

As he walks along 4th of July Avenue – now called The Avenue of the Martyrs – remembering the events of January 9th 1964, Rimsky doesn’t see the fence dividing Panama City from the Zone anymore.

But he does see two opposing cities, one on each side of the street. One side still has wide green spaces and ostentatious buildings, and the other still has brutal, deteriorated concrete. One city is born of infinite possibility, and the other is full of pressing needs. 

There are no boundaries today, and the majority of Zone buildings are occupied by Panamanian people and businesses. They are now called reverted areas. 

In one of these zones is the so-called Knowledge City at the old main military base of Fort Clayton, now just called Clayton.  

Knowledge City is hard to describe. It does have people, homes, stores, technology companies, educational institutions, green spaces and places to eat, all packed into a very small area. It doesn’t look like a neighborhood. It looks like an experiment that dropped a city inside another city.

A military base that was returned to Panama has been turned into an experiment: a small city that is perfect for life. A symbol. A mini-zone for people who for decades had no right to own their own land. 

But Rimsky still perceives boundaries between Panama and what used to be the Zone. 

[Rimsky]: They drive slower over there than we do here. There is less crime over there than there is here. There is less environmental pollution over there than there is here. We are still trying to maintain the garden city concept over there.

[Luis Fernando]: And, in a way, he is right. Knowledge City is not for Panamanians, at least not for all Panamanians. You can’t get there by bus. The people living there are upper middle-class. It is still a place for the privileged few.

History repeats itself in the Canal Zone. Its shopping malls and middle-class neighborhoods are not for all Panamanians, especially not the descendants of displaced peoples who mostly live in poor communities. 

In some ways, the Zone is still the Zone.

And the scar it left is deep. 

[Daniel]: In addition to “Erased: The Untold Story of the Panama Canal”, Marixa Lasso wrote another book that we recommend: “Myths of Harmony: Race and Republicanism during the Age of Revolution, Colombia, 1795-1831”. 

Luis Fernando Vargas is an editor at Radio Ambulante. He lives in San José, Costa Rica. This story was edited by Camila Segura, Natalia Sánchez-Loayza and me. Bruno Scelza did the fact-checking. Sound design is by Andrés Azpiri, with music by Rémy Lozano.

We thank Gabriela Noriega for helping Luis Fernando understand Panama. 

The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Nicolás Alonso, Pablo Argüelles, Aneris Casassus, Diego Corzo, Emilia Erbetta, Camilo Jiménez Santofimio, Rémy Lozano, Juan David Naranjo, Selene Mazón, Ana Pais, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, and Elsa Liliana Ulloa.

Carolina Guerrero is our CEO.

Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios. It is produced and mixed using Hindenburg PRO.

Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thank you for listening.



Luis Fernando Vargas

Camila Segura, Natalia Sánchez Loayza and Daniel Alarcón

Bruno Scelza

Andrés Azpiri 

Rémy Lozano

Laura Carrasco


Episode 18