The story of Costa Rica's forgotten World War II internment camp

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tags: WWII, Costa Rica, internment camp



In downtown San José, just west of the Cementerio de Obreros, sits a forgettable lot of urban real estate where the municipality and the Public Works and Transport Ministry park garbage trucks and heavy equipment. But on this same spot 73 years ago, an internment camp was erected by the government to hold hundreds of German-Costa Rican prisoners after the United States and Costa Rica entered World War II in December 1941.

Costa Rica’s popular image today as an environmentally friendly, neutral country without an army hardly meshes with the idea of Tico troops rounding up people into camps. But at the behest of the U.S. State Department, that is exactly what happened following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Concerned about a so-called fifth column — a group of Axis nationalities conspiring against the U.S. and Allied war effort — the State Department leaned heavily on Latin American and Caribbean governments to expropriate property from Axis nationals and either imprison or deport them to the United States or Germany through a Special War Problems Division. The little-known division was responsible for amassing a blacklist of Germans and Italians in Costa Rica, along with orchestrating the policy of internment across Latin America, the Caribbean and the U.S.

There are few people still alive who remember these events firsthand, but to mark the 73rd anniversary of the Pearl Habor bombing this month, The Tico Times spoke with several who either experienced them or whose families were impacted by them.




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