Specter of a Nazi Threat: United States-Columbian Relations, 1939-1945

Friedman, Max Paul. Specter of a Nazi Threat: United States-Columbian Relations, 1939-1945. The Americas (April 2000).

On 11 September 1941, U..S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt took to the airwaves to warn his country that “Hitler’s advance guards” were readying “footholds, bridgeheads in the New World, to be used as soon as he has gained control of the oceans.” The most recent sign that the Nazis were coming, the president told his rapt national audience, was the discovery of “secret airlanding fields in Colombia, within easy range of the Panama Canal.”

In Bogotá, the response was pandemonium. U.S. ambassador Spruille Braden, astonished that “the President has gone out on a limb with this statement,” sent his staff scrambling across German-owned farms and rice fields to try to produce evidence for the assertion ex post facto. Colombian President Eduardo Santos scoffed at Roosevelt’s claim, telling Braden, “in the final analysis all of Colombia is a great potential airport.” A resentful Colombian Senate voted unanimously that no such airfields existed (that Colombia had fulfilled its responsibility to defend against the Axis menace). In Washington, Secretary of State Cordell Hull was forced to call in Colombia’s Ambassador Gabriel Turbay to express “the very deep regret of the President, of myself and of our Government” for the “unintentional reference.”

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