A 23 year old from Brooklyn named Minor Keith constructed a railroad in Costa
Rica in 1871; a project killed his brother and hundreds of others. Keith advanced
his career by marrying the daughter of the Costa Rican President, and was titled "The
Uncrowned King of Central America." Keith had bananas planted on either
side of the railroad which provided economical transport of the bananas to markets
in the United States and Europe. Keith merged his banana companies with a Cape
Cod sailor, Captain Lorenzo Baker and a Boston businessman, Andrew Preston and
together they formed the Boston Fruit Company. In 1899 the Boston Fruit Company
and the United Fruit Company merged, forming the largest banana company in the
world with plantations in Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama
and Santo Domingo. The company owned steamships (the Great White Fleet) and over
one hundred miles of railroad linking the plantations with ports.
With its headquarters in Bananera, Guatemala, United Fruit corrupted every level
of government and politics, making itself exempt from taxes for 99 years. The
company had the unconditional support of right-wing dictators who maintained
their power, terrorizing the people and arresting citizens who were either killed
on the spot or tortured in prison. The people of Guatemala overthrew the dictator
in 1944 and held their first true elections. A new constitution, based on the
U.S. constitution, was drawn up. Two percent of the Guatemala population owned
over 70 percent of the land and only 10 percent of the land was available for
90 percent of the population. The majority of the land held by the large landowners – United
Fruit among them – was unused. The newly elected president, Jacobo Arbenz,
redistributed the unused land making it available for the general population
to farm, thereby curbing United Fruit’s monopoly on banana farming land.
United Fruit, in turn, complained to their friends within the U.S. government
including President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, saying
that Guatemala had turned communist.
United Fruit and the U.S. State Department launched a major public relations
campaign to convince Americans that Guatemala was a Soviet satellite. The company
was successful in linking the taking of its lands to the evils of international
communism. United Fruit paid for journalists to travel to Guatemala to learn
United Fruit's side of the crisis, and some of the most respected publications
- including The New York Times, New York Herald Tribune, and New Leader - ran
stories that pleased the company.
Meanwhile, in Cuba, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara toppled the Batista government.
Once in power, Castro moved to set up a nationwide system of education, housing,
and land distribution to landless peasants, confiscating over a million acres
of land from American companies, including United Fruit. Cuba needed money to
finance its programs. The International Monetary Fund, dominated by the United
States, would not loan the money, so Cuba signed a trade agreement with the Soviet
Union instead. In retaliation, American-owned oil companies in Cuba refused to
refine crude oil that came from the Soviet Union. Castro seized these companies.
The United States cut down on its sugar buying from Cuba, on which Cuba's economy
depended, and the Soviet Union immediately agreed to buy all the 700,000 tons
of sugar that the United States would not buy.
In 1960, President Eisenhower secretly authorized the CIA to arm and train anti-Castro
Cuban exiles in Guatemala for an invasion of Cuba. When Kennedy took office the
CIA had 1,400 exiles, armed and trained. On April 17, 1961, the CIA-trained force,
with some Americans participating, landed at the Bay of Pigs on the south shore
of Cuba, 90 miles from Havana. They expected to stimulate a general rising against
Castro, but they were wrong. Castro’s army crushed the CIA forces after
The Bay of Pigs affair was accompanied by hypocrisy and lying. The invasion was
a violation of the Charter of the Organization of American States treaty that
the U.S. had signed, which reads: "No state or group of states has the right
to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal
or external affairs of any other state."
Four days before the invasion -- because there had been press reports of secret
bases and CIA training for invaders -- President Kennedy told a press conference: ".
. . there will not be, under any conditions, any intervention in Cuba by United
States armed forces." True, the landing force was Cuban, but it was all
organized by the United States, and American war planes, including American pilots,
were involved; Kennedy had approved the use of unmarked navy jets in the invasion.
Four American pilots of those planes were killed, and their families were not
told the truth about how those men died.
Back in Guatemala, 1954, the CIA orchestrated a coup, "Operation PBSUCCESS," with
an invading force of 150 men under the command of Castillo Armas. The CIA convinced
the Guatemalan public and President Arbenz that a major invasion was underway,
setting up a clandestine radio station to carry propaganda, jamming all Guatemalan
stations, and hiring skilled American pilots to bomb strategic points in Guatemala
City. The U.S. replaced the freely elected government of Guatemala with a right-wing
dictatorship ready to bend to United Fruit’s will. The CIA made a list
of 70,000 "questionable individuals" that was referred to all through
Guatemala's 36-year civil war.
Conditions for seasonal workers of United Fruit were physically dangerous and
the toxic chemicals used on the banana plants were a constant hazard, not to
mention the Malaria and dengue fever outbreaks. Field workers for United Fruit
were paid more than on other farms but the work was seasonal and annually amounted
to very little. United Fruit staunchly opposed any attempts at the formation
of unions, abandoning entire areas if unionism started to gain a foothold, which
included tearing down houses and schools, leaving the area destitute. United
Fruit practiced institutionalized racism as non-whites were forced to yield right-of-way
to whites. The concept of a "banana republic" was exemplified by the
conditions in Guatemala from 1920 through 1944. The government worked very closely
with United Fruit to maintain the highly stratified, fiefdom-like social structure
of Guatemala so as to provide a plentiful supply of cheap labor.
In 1975, Cincinnati-based American Financial (one of millionaire Carl H. Lindner,
Jr.'s companies), bought into United Fruit. In August 1984, Lindner took control
of the company and renamed it Chiquita Brands International. The headquarters
was moved to Cincinnati in 1985. Today, successor companies of United Fruit have
interests in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama.
LA UNITED FRUIT CO.
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)
Cuando sonó la trompeta, estuvo
todo preparado en la tierra,
y Jehova repartió el mundo
a Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors, y otras entidades:
la Compañía Frutera Inc.
se reservó lo más jugoso,
la costa central de mi tierra,
la dulce cintura de América.
Bautizó de nuevo sus tierras
como "Repúblicas Bananas,"
y sobre los muertos dormidos,
sobre los héroes inquietos
que conquistaron la grandeza,
la libertad y las banderas,
estableció la ópera bufa:
enajenó los albedríos
regaló coronas de César,
desenvainó la envidia, atrajo
la dictadora de las moscas,
moscas Trujillos, moscas Tachos,
moscas Carías, moscas Martínez,
moscas Ubico, moscas húmedas
de sangre humilde y mermelada,
moscas borrachas que zumban
sobre las tumbas populares,
moscas de circo, sabias moscas
entendidas en tiranía.
Entre las moscas sanguinarias
la Frutera desembarca,
arrasando el café y las frutas,
en sus barcos que deslizaron
como bandejas el tesoro
de nuestras tierras sumergidas.
Mientras tanto, por los abismos
azucarados de los puertos,
caían indios sepultados
en el vapor de la mañana:
un cuerpo rueda, una cosa
sin nombre, un número caído,
un racimo de fruta muerta
derramada en el pudridero.
United Fruit Co.
(from: "Canto General", Pablo Neruda, 1950)
When the trumpet blared
everything on earth was prepared
and Jehovah distributed the world
to Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda, Ford Motors
and other entities:
United Fruit Inc.
reserved for itself the juiciest,
the central seaboard of my land,
America's sweet waist.
It rebaptized its lands the "Banana Republics,"
and upon the slumbering corpses,
upon the restless heroes
who conquered renown, freedom and flags,
it established the comic opera:
it alienated self-destiny,
regaled Caesar's crowns,
drew the dictatorship of flies:
Trujillo flies, Tacho flies, Ubico flies,
flies soaked in humble blood and jam,
drunk flies that drone over the common graves,
circus flies, clever flies versed in tyranny.
Among the bloodthirsty flies,
the Fruit Co. disembarks,
ravaging coffee and fruits for its ships
that spirit away our submerged lands' treasures
like serving trays.
Meanwhile, in the seaports' sugary abysses,
Indians collapsed, buried in the morning mist:
a body rolls down, a nameless thing,
a fallen number, a bunch of lifeless fruit
dumped in the rubbish heap.