The Banana Wars-A A +A
Saturday, September 21, 2013
WHAT sounds like a children’s party game involving wasted food and a big mess to clean up afterwards was actually a series of some of the most undocumented capitalism-based conflicts fought by the United States. They say that America fought the 2003 Iraq War for oil –- but it is commonly believed that that conflict was in the interests of the United States government. However, during the banana wars, one of the key players was a private corporation, and not a government: the United Fruit Company, today known as Chiquita Brands International.
During the early 20th century, the United Fruit Company wanted a monopoly on all banana trading in South America and the Caribbean, and frequently made deals with the governments of the countries producing the bananas. The deals usually worked like this: the United Fruit Company would build railroads in whatever country they were negotiating with, and in turn the government of that country would give them fruit-producing farm land.
Of course, since the United Fruit Company wanted to keep its monopoly intact, it financed presidential campaigns, governments, and revolutionary movements that had its best interests at heart –- that is, letting the United Fruit Company rake in the money. So, when things weren’t going their way, the United Fruit Company called in the United States Marines and had them straight up invade the country that was giving them problems.
For example, when President Policarpio Bonilla of Honduras began courting the United Fruit Company by giving it tax exemptions and permissions to construct wharves and roads, he made a powerful ally. When Nicaraguan forces invaded Honduras and successfully overthrew the government, the United States stepped in and immediately sent the Marines to protect the banana trade and push the invaders back into Nicaragua.
When it was a more internal threat the United Fruit Company was happy to seek the services of the local military. When a bunch of its local workers went on strike in Columbia, wanting written contracts, eight-hour work days, six day work weeks and the elimination of food coupons, the United Fruit Company allegedly requested a regiment from the capital to deal with the problem. By “deal” they meant “trap the strikers in the town square and machine gun them to death.” The soldiers fired into a crowd of workers, including their wives and children, who had gathered in the town square after Sunday mass, to await an address from the governor.
The Banana Wars were fought in countries such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. At the time of the Banana Wars, the Philippines was also a colony of the United States, and during that time, it saw to it that sugar mills, coconut refineries, cordage shops and mines were established to produce raw materials for American firms that sought monopolies in Southeast Asia. It did not develop local manufacturing extensively because it was already making huge gains in colonial trade. All in all, the Banana Wars are a great example of the lengths the United States will go to ensure its economic dominance.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on September 21, 2013.