Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Colombia in World War II

A sailing ship called a 'goleta,' like Colombia's The Resolute, sunk by a Nazi U-boat in 
Today is the 70th anniversary of Japan's 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States into World War II - and pulled Colombia in in its wake.

Colombia, like most of Latin America, formally backed the Allies during the war, lending use of its territory and natural resources, but did not participate in fighting. Colombia was, however, strategically important because of its nearness to the Panama Canal, which the Allies feared could be attacked by Germany or Japan.

At the war's start, many Colombians still resented the U.S. for its role in turning the province of Panama into an independent country in order to dig a canal across the isthmus. But U.S. Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had improved relations with his Good Neighbor Policy. Also, then-Colombian Pres. Eduardo Santos (the great uncle of current Pres. Juan Manuel Santos) was a Liberal and had studied in France, and so sympathized with the French, who were suffering under Nazi occupation.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, Colombia broke relations with the Axis powers and allowed the U.S. to station troops in the country - a relationship which has continued until today. Colombia had also accepted some Jewish refugees from Europe during the pre-war years, but, like most countries, shut the door in the late 1930s.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Colombia declares state of beligerance towards the Axis powers.
In June, 1942, a Nazi U-boat sank the Colombian sailing ship The Resolute, killing six sailors. (Some sources say the Germans sank three Colombian ships.) In response, Colombia declared a state of 'belligerancy' against the Axis powers. In 1944, the Colombia destroyer ARC Caldas, escorting a tanker on its way to Panama, sighted and sank a German U-boat, apparently Colombia's only hostile action during the war.

The Hotel Sabaneta in Fusagasugá, where
several dozen Germans and Italians
were interned during the war.
More troubling, Colombia, like much of Latin America, participated in the U.S.-backed policy of monitoring, expelling and interring Japanese, German and Italian citizens. A group of prominent Japanese and Germans were even put aboard a ship headed toward New Orleans and then the Portuguese colony of Mozambique in Africa, altho it's not clear whether they got there. Many other citizens of German, Italian or Japanese origin had their property confiscated.

Another group of several dozen Japanese and German citizens was interned during the war, under the protection of the Spanish and later the Swiss embassies. They apparently suffered little except for boredom, in a hotel in the tropics.

One colony of Japanese farmers in Cauca province received particularly close observation by Colombian officials, because of fears that they might build an airstrip, from which planes could attack the Panama Canal.

Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango: Colombia and Allied Cause in World War Two - Thanks to the BLAA for the photos of the hotel and the El Tiempo headline. 

The Japanese Community in Colombia During World War II

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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