bananas and foreign policy -- 8/06/15

Today's encore selection -- from Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed The World by Dan Koeppel. In the early 20th century, with American industry just beginning to expand overseas and Latin America still just emerging from colonial shackles, bananas became one of America's first powerhouse industries:

"[Bananas] are the world's largest fruit crop and the fourth-largest product grown overall after wheat, rice, and corn. ... In Central America, [American banana companies] built and toppled nations: a struggle to control the banana crop led to the overthrow of Guatemala's first democratically elected government in the 1950s, which in turn gave birth to the Mayan genocide of the 1980s. In the 1960s, banana companies -- trying to regain plantations nationalized by Fidel Castro -- allowed the CIA to use their freighters as part of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. ... Eli Black, the chairman of Chiquita, threw himself out of the window of a Manhattan skyscraper in 1974 after his company's political machinations were exposed. ...

On August 12, [1898], Spain surrendered [Cuba in the Spanish-American War] and the United States gained control over the island, opening a naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Over the next thirty-five years; the U.S. military intervened in Latin America twenty-eight times: in Mexico, in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba in the Caribbean; and in Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador, in Central America. The biggest consequence of those incursions was to make the region safe for bananas. One of the first businesses to enter Cuba was United Fruit. The banana and sugar plantations it established would eventually encompass 300,000 acres. An 1899 article in the Los Angeles Times described Latin America as 'Uncle Sam's New Fruit Garden', offering readers insight into 'How bananas, pineapples, and coconuts can be turned into fortunes.' ...

Bringing fruit out to loading platform, Puerto Castilla, Honduras, circa 1920s .

"[But the U.S.] public knew little about events like the 1912 U.S. invasion of Honduras, which granted United Fruit broad rights to build railroads and grow bananas in the country. They weren't aware that, in 1918 alone, U.S. military forces put down banana workers' strikes in Panama, Colombia and Guatemala. For every direct intervention, there were two or three softer ones, accomplished by proxy through local armies and police forces controlled by friendly governments. One of the few observers to take note of the situation was Count Vay de Vaya of Hungary, who ... upon returning from a visit to Latin America, described the banana as 'a weapon of conquest.' "


Dan Koeppel


Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World


Hudson Street Press


Copyright 2008 by Dan Koeppel


xiii-xiv, 63-64
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