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| 8/3/2009 12:00:00 AM

In 1940s Colombia, Blacklists and ‘Enemy Aliens’

Aug 03--ne hallmark of a gifted novelist is the ability to see the potential for compelling fiction in an incident, anecdote or scrap of history, no matter how dry or seemingly obscure, that others have overlooked. By that standard and several others, the career of Juan Gabriel Vásquez, a Colombian writer born in 1973, is off to a notable start with “The Informers,” his ambitious first novel

In 1940s Colombia, Blacklists and ‘Enemy Aliens’ In 1940s Colombia, Blacklists and ‘Enemy Aliens’
His subject is one of the least-known episodes of World War II. Fearful of Nazi influence in Latin America, the United States, acting through J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I. and the State Department, compiled a list of suspected Axis sympathizers and then pressured compliant governments to intern those named, often on the basis of sketchy or dubious intelligence.

Anti-Fascist refugees from Germany and Italy, along with the descendants of immigrants from those countries and Japan, were snared in that net and frequently imprisoned together with real Nazis. There were other abuses: corrupt government officials and covetous neighbors would sometimes falsely accuse prosperous émigrés, hoping to gain control of their expropriated businesses and homes.

“The system of blacklists gave power to the weak, and the weak are the majority,” one character in “The Informer” muses bitterly. “That was life during those years: a dictatorship of weakness. The dictatorship of resentment,” in which there were thousands “who accused, who denounced, who informed.”
 
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