Nowadays, the mention of “Banana Republic” is likely to evoke images of a fashion brand. And yet, if one looks a bit deeper into the history of this name, it reveals a truly horrifying story of the American invasion, intervention, and exploitation of Latin America for more than three decades.
Indeed, from 1901-1934, the United States was engaged in what has now come to be known as the Banana Wars. While the specific reasonings for intervention and the exploited resources varied from country to country, that of the banana trade is a case study truly illustrative of American imperialism driving the economic slavery of once-independent nations.
It all started with the Monroe Doctrine of 1904, an American policy that allowed the U.S. to excuse any foreign intervention under the guise of “policing them”. In reality, it allowed for the government and corporations to exploit these countries and establish monopolies that siphoned wealth away from the people. It did not take long for this policy to be acted upon; the United States–looking to fill the power vacuum in the region–began occupying countries throughout Latin America almost immediately.
With this newly arrived American influence in the region, three companies sensed an opportunity to exploit the banana trade in Latin America. These were United Fruit Company, Cuyamel, and the Standard Fruit Company, and the race between them was on. The profits each made in their operations were immediately put into bribing officials, buying land, and expanding their burgeoning empires.
With American backing, these corporations quickly became unstoppable. They made continuous calls on the United States military to aid in their vested interests, from dealing with “domestic disputes with local authorities to international issues over land rights and sovereign territory” (Piper). Governments or legislation that were unfavorable to them were quickly snuffed out. Left and right, theU.S. government was backing and financing the overthrow of democratically elected leaders in the region. Honduras for instance was invaded seven times from 1903 to 1925.
To continue their stranglehold on the (unwitting) host countries, the banana companies also began funding the construction of infrastructures such as roads, railroads, electrical grids, telephone wires, and more. While these additions facilitated their business operations, this further entrenched their presence in the region.
Now, three companies controlled nearly all exports and infrastructure in Central America and Banana Republics were born. In these nations “designed” to serve corporate interests, no opposition could be allowed. Worker protests and strikes were met with violent suppression. At the mere whisper of revolt, paramilitaries were mobilized, subsequently leading to repeated massacres of anybody who could hurt the companies’ bottom lines.
Finally, in 1934, this bloody reign of terror ceased. As the Great Depression hit with full force back home, the amount that the United States had invested became bad optics. With American opinion on interventionism hitting new lows, American foreign policy shifted in Latin America. As the President put it: “[n]o state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.” The country enacted the “Good Neighbour Policy”, withdrawing from countries it had occupied for more than 20 years in some cases.
While this officially removed the American military backing the corporations expected, not much changed about their business practices. To this day, United Fruit–now rebranded as Chiquita–and Standard Fruit–aka Dole Food–are billion-dollar companies that exploit workers and violate human rights laws to achieve profit.
As recently as 2007, Chiquita was fined 25 million by the U.S. Justice Department for supporting terrorist organizations and utilizing paramilitary groups in their operations. Likewise, in 2017, Dole was charged with crimes against humanity for similar paramilitary U.S.age.
This continued abuse and interference in the region has greatly hampered the social and economic development of Latin America. The constant government overthrows and labour exploitation robbed the local peoples of the ability to create their markets, reinvest into development and grow as a country: “[a] lot of money and capital were siphoned away from the local people during this time and the lack of economic development can still be seen” (Piper) in the instability of the region today.
In short, American Corporations completely decimated the quality of life of an entire continent for the foreseeable future. All for a fruit.
ASSOCIATED PRESS. “Chiquita Goes Private as Acquisition Completed.” The Charlotte Observer, 7 Jan. 2015, www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/article9253202.html#:~:text=The%20agreement%20came%20after%20shareholders,the%20assumption%20of%20Chiquita’s%20debt..
colombiareports. “Dole and Del Monte Also Facing Crimes against Humanity Charges for Financing Death Squads in Colombia: Report.” Colombia News | Colombia Reports, 4 Feb. 2017, colombiareports.com/dole-belmonte-also-accused-crimes-humanity-financing-banana-death-squads-colombia-report/. Accessed 7 May 2021.
Gilderhus, Mark T. The Second Century : U.S., Latin American Relations : Since 1889. Wilmington (Delaware), Sr Books, 2000.
Jargon, Saabira Chaudhuri and Julie. “Dole Food Agrees to $1.2 Billion Buyout Offer.” Wall Street Journal, 12 Aug. 2013, www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323585604579008502351303672. Accessed 8 May 2021.
Lauterwasser, David B. “The Red on Yellow — Chiquita’s Banana Colonialism in Latin America.” Medium, 14 Oct. 2017, medium.com/@FeunFooPermaKra/the-red-on-yellow-chiquitas-banana-colonialism-in-latin-america-1ca178af7616#:~:text=The%20Red%20on%20Yellow%20%E2%80%94%20Chiquita. Accessed 8 May 2021.