Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast, 1999, Excerpts
During the last two decades of the 1800s enterprising Germans, many fleeing Bismarck’s militarism, flocked to Guatemala and to the rest of Central America. Private capital from Germany to build a railroad line to the sea was the beginning of a trend in which the Germans brought capital and modernization to the Guatemalan coffee industry. In many Latin American countries Germans held significant positions in the coffee industry.
On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s blitzkrieg stormed across the Polish border. With startling German military successes early in the war, the prospect of nazified neighbors to the south seemed all too real. On contemporary map of Guatemala identified German-owned coffee fincas with red swastikas, which dominated the cartography.
Many of the five thousand Germans in Guatemala were open Nazi sympathizers. In the northern province of Coban, Germans owned 80 percent of all arable land and lived well, with sports fields, swimming pools, and private movie houses, while their paid workers as little as 3 cents a day.
Local Gestapo members brought increasing pressure to bear on non-Nazi Guatemalan Germans, sometimes threatening them with violence if they did not comply. The Nazis compiled a secret list of forty “unpatriotic” Germans who were to be executed once Germany won the war and took over Guatemala.
In Guatemala, pragmatic dictator Jorge Ubico abandoned his German coffee friends in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Under the United States coercion, German, Italian, and Japanese settlers in Latin America – many of whom were coffee growers – were subjected to official blacklists. With Ubico suddenly assuming a strong pro-American posture, a blacklist of German coffee concerns went into effect on December 12, 1941. A total of 4,058 Latin American Germans were kidnapped, shipped to the United States, and interned. Their farms and businesses were confiscated.
Motivation may have been to eliminate business competition.