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Chapter Reference: Neocolonialism; Nationalism; Revolution; Reaction

The phrase "banana republic," now commonly understood by U.S. young people as a brand of clothing, was coined to disparage small Central American countries, countries that served virtually as production platforms for banana-exporting enterprises like the United Fruit Company. The United Fruit Company was formed by U.S. businessmen operating in various Central American countries around 1900. As a result, the banana companies were among the first multinational corporations, and the governments of tiny, impoverished Central American countries were no match for them. The first half of the twentieth century was the apogee of the great fruit companies' power in Central America. A paper on their operations might well concentrate on the case of Honduras, but could also include any country in the region, except for Panama and El Salvador. Most historians believe that the 1954 U.S. intervention in Guatemala occurred in part because of claims made by the United Fruit Company against the nationalist Arbenz government.

Questions for Analysis and Further Reflection:

  1. What types of labor practices took place on banana plantations? What were the living quarters of the "masters"—U.S. employees and managers—like?

  2. In effect, the expansion of large banana companies in tropical America was a manifestation of globalization at the beginning of the twentieth century. How did they influence U.S. policy in Central America? What were some of the social and environmental consequences of the banana companies' presence?

Bibliography: (Titles with ** are good starting places.)

Bucheli, Marcelo. Bananas and Business: The United Fruit Company in Colombia,
New York: New York University Press, 2005.

Bucheli's recently published scholarly study examines the operations of United Fruit in Colombia.

Chomsky, Aviva. West Indian Workers and the United Fruit Company in Costa Rica,
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996.

Dosal, Paul J. Doing Business with the Dictators: A Political History of United Fruit in
           Guatemala, 1899-1944.
Wilmington, DE: 1993.

Dosal explores the practices of United Fruit in Guatemala prior to the Guatemalan revolution and the 1954 coup.

** Galeano, Eduardo. Century of Wind. Vol. 3, Memory of Fire. Translated by Cedric
           Belfrage. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988.

This volume of Galeano's trilogy has gripping vignettes on banana republics, the United Fruit Company, and U.S. intervention in Central America.

** Schlesinger, Stephen, and Stephen Kinzer. Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup
           in Guatemala,
enlg. ed. With an introduction by John H. Coatsworth and a foreword
           by Richard A. Nuccio. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press and the David
           Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, 1999.

Bitter Fruit is an engaging narrative of the 1954 U.S. intervention by proxy that overthrew Guatemala's democratically elected government.

Striffler, Steve. In the Shadows of State and Capital: The United Fruit Company, Popular
           Struggle, and Agrarian Restructuring in Ecuador, 1900-1995.
Durham, NC: Duke
           University Press, 2002.

** ________, and Mark Moberg, eds. Banana Wars: Power, Production, and History in the
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.

This collection of scholarly essays will introduce students to the history of the American banana trade, dating back to the 1800s, as well as to the many polemics surrounding bananas, U.S. policy in Latin America, and plantation labor in the twentieth century.

Other Resources:
Costa Rica
Labor History