On Sunday, January 31, 2021, Professor Ricardo Ríos Torres passed away at the age of 86. He was a writer and historian with a life dedicated to education, culture and, especially, to the struggle for Panama’s full sovereignty over its territory.
Torres was President of the University Students Union that on May 2, 1958, together with Carlos Arellano Lennox, led the historic “Operation Sovereignty of 1958”. This group, along with other students, entered the Canal Zone to plant 65 Panamanian flags, to the astonishment of Zone authorities. A silent and peaceful movement.
About this event, Professor Torres himself wrote in La Estrella de Panamá on April 28, 2018: “On May 2, 1958, the student collective, with its own criteria and a new historical mentality, defeats the psychological aggression imposed by the country of the big stick. An unprecedented force defies the imperial eagle, it is an attitude without concessions, we lost our fear, paradigms are broken, and Operation Sovereignty determines the change of course in the canal negotiations. From the revisionist stage, we advanced to the abrogation of the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty of 1903, a saga that culminated on December 31, 1999”.
“The quixotic youth, with a thirst for sovereignty, makes history. The police of the empire threatens not to allow other patriotic acts in their fiefdom. The Federation of Students of Panama responds with the Patriotic March of November 3, 1959 Through the grounds of the 4th of July Avenue, dozens of Panamanians are attacked by the U.S. Army, there is no longer fear! More than 100 people were wounded by pellets and blows, it is undoubtedly the direct antecedent of January 9, 1964″.
Ricardo Rios Torres
On October 1, 2012 (53 years later, and already with the Canal in Panamanian hands) without escorts, personal photographer and without fanfare, Torres and five other close friends visited the expansion works of the Panama Canal, on the Pacific side. The conquest exceeded all expectations.
Throughout those almost nine years of construction of the expanded waterway, thousands of people visited the work on both sides of the Isthmus to learn about its progress. Among that swell of people coming and going, amazed by the magnitude of the work, the presence of Professor Torres, on any given day, could have gone unnoticed, but it did not. For the Historical Documentation team of the Expansion Program it was a great honor to attend to such an illustrious Panamanian patriot.
Professor Torres’ contribution as a writer should also be highlighted, as he has left an interesting number of literary contributions, among which his works stand out: Perspectivas (1982), Las Raíces Compartidas (1993); La Metáfora de los Espejos (1995); El Archipiélago Soñado (1997); Musas de Centenario (2003); La Calle del Espanto (2004); Memoria de Mis Memorias (Panama, 2008); among others.
The Panama Canal bids farewell to Professor Torres with profound solemnity. I echo the words dedicated to him in our social networks on the day of his passing: “At the Panama Canal we proudly remember those who fought to build a great nation. That is also our mission and legacy for future generations. Thank you for your work, great patriot. The seed you sowed fell on fertile soil, and now the Canal belongs to all Panamanians”.