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As explained in greater detail in the Latin American Program, the US sought to extend its authority over Latin America before and during World War II, to promote both national security and business interests. Except for Argentina, Brazil and Chile, the Latin American countries complied, many for their own reasons. Brief overviews of some of the Latin American camps are included here.
This national prison for men was built on an out island of Cuba in 1931, modeled on a prison in Illinois. It was comprised of four circular buildings with 465 cells and two six-story rectangular ones, pictured to the left. The Isle of Pines was used as place of exile from the 19th century until 1959 and was known as a place of great misery from which escape was virtually impossible.
During World War II, in cooperation with the US (which offered to fund the project), President Fulgenico Batista interned 114 Germans, 350 Japanese and 13 Italian Cuban resident aliens. On April 8, 1942, the NY Times reported that Cuba had selected the Isle of Pines for “concentration purposes,” and that to date internees had been held at Tiscornia immigration station. German women had been interned in the jail of Arroyo Arenas outside of Havana. US Ambassador Spruille Braden stated that because the matron of the Cuban women’s prison reportedly rented prisoners out as prostitutes, he arranged for a separate facility to be built for Axis female internees.
The internees reportedly lived in barred cells, initially dining and mingling with the common prisoners. But after several months, the Cuban government arranged for them to dine in the internment buildings, fenced off the internment area and provided contained internee exercise areas. Reports vary on sanitation; one stating that sanitary conditions were acceptable, another stating that illness due to bad nutrition and lack of hygiene was rampant. Prisoners were locked inside for a month or more at a time and were infrequently allowed outside for exercise or sun. Families were only allowed 5-minute visits per month. (Japoneses en Cuba, Rolando Álvarez and Marta Guzmán, Japan Foundation, 2002; Nazis and Good Neighbors, Max Paul Friedman, Cambridge University Press, 2003, 148.)
Color pictures are of the rectangular building which held Japanese Cubans, but the German building was identical. Steven Wake who visited the site with a research group in August 2005 graciously provided the images.
Run by the United States military, Camp Empire temporarily housed civilian internees, including women and children, from all over Latin America. (See Eckardt Family Story) The male prisoners, most of whom ordinarily ran businesses, oversaw farms and ranches, were salesmen or teachers, were treated as brutally here as if they were convicted criminals. They were forced to engage in strenuous physical labor in intense heat and high humidity, clearing tangles of brush with machetes, while armed guards with vicious dogs stood watch. Even the worst of U.S. internment camps proved more comfortable. (Friedman, Nazis and Good Neighbors, 148.)
In Nicaragua, the dictator, Anastasio Somoza, complied with US requests, and ordered all German citizens arrested, as well as several Italians and Japanese. About 120 were sent to a prison in Managua known as the Anthill where they had to stand or squat on the bare floor of a large roofless cell enclosed with wire. There they depended on food from their families to survive, and there were no washing facilities. German doctors were not allowed to visit the prisoners, most of whom became ill. Approximately half of the internees, the elderly and those married to Nicaraguans, eventually transferred to a slightly better confiscated German farm. Spain’s Vice-Consul offered his assistance and was promptly charged with spying, then jailed for a year. Thus, the internees had no diplomatic representation. Even the local Red Cross leader would not help them. He was Somoza’s personal secretary. (Friedman, Nazis and Good Neighbors, 148-149.)
By early 1942, Costa Rican officials began building on to a large prison facility on the outskirts of the city. It was common knowledge that it would be used to imprison arrested Axis nationals now housed in jails around the country or awaiting deportation in the city’s local penitentiary. “Family members could obtain access by bribing the guards with bottles of whiskey... The director of the secret police...summoned Germans to his office for private interrogations, demanding cash from the men and sex from the women in exchange for leniency.” No prisoner could be released without the say so of U.S. officials. (Friedmann, Nazis and Good Neighbors, 149 and 279, note 49.)
Starr Pait Gurcke, whose husband and brother-in-law both spent over 6 months in the facility, recalled that there was no bedding for the men at all. Families had to provide mattresses and decent food for the prisoners. Unless bribes were paid, visits were allowed for only about fifteen minutes, two or three times a week. Men and women had to stand apart in the central courtyard during these visits, and armed guards were stationed both in the area and above, in watchtowers.
Hotel Sabaneta, Fusagasugá, Colombia
|Ruins of Hotel Sabeneta Fusagasuga, Colombia (courtesy of Rosita Welcker)|
German internees in the area of Fusagasugá, Columbia were held in the Hotel Sabaneta. Unlike some Latin American holding facilities, conditions were relaxed. In 1944 around 100 Germans were interned there. A fence was created around the hotel, but some local Germans were able to rent rooms in town and merely report in to the guards periodically.(Friedman, Nazis and Good Neighbors, 149.)(See also: The Welcker Story)