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Banana Republic: The United Fruit Company And Guatemala

Before 1870, bananas were essentially unheard of in the United States. By the turn of the century, over 16 million bunches were imported every year. The U.S.'s insatiable taste for the little yellow fruit came at a huge cost to Guatemalans, a legacy that starts with the exploitation of cheap labor, climaxes with a CIA-organized government coup, and ends with a 36-year-long civil war.

The U.S.-owned United Fruit Company began to acquire land in Latin America for banana plantations, eventually snatching up around 42 percent of farmland in Guatemala. The company was given the exclusive right to transport mail in 1901, and eventually clinched a stranglehold on all of Guatemala's transportation and communication systems. The company essentially controlled the conservative government through bribes and concessions. The UFCO was “top banana” in Guatemala, and the country became what is now known as a “banana republic.”

The people of Guatemala called the UFCO el pulpo (the octopus). Workers were paid low wages, provided minimal benefits, and labored grueling hours. By 1944, the Guatemalans had had enough. The conservative dictator was overthrown, a democratic constitution drawn up, and a socialist president was freely elected. Over the next few years, progress was made in education and health care. The next freely elected president, Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, proposed an even larger reform: the redistribution of unused land to Guatemalan peasants.

The UFCO was unhappy with Guzmán's proposal (to say the least). At the time, only 10 percent of land in Guatemala was available to 90 percent of the population—and the UFCO owned nearly half of the unused land. With the aid of the Central Intelligence Agency, the UFCO organized a successful coup that placed a right-winged dictator in power. To do so, the CIA armed and trained a group of men who invaded Guatemala from Honduras, jammed all Guatemalan radio stations with propaganda, and sent American pilots to bomb strategic points in Guatemala City.

Guatemala, a country with a long history of domination, had barely enjoyed ten years of progress before being thrown back into suppression. A 36-year-long civil war soon broke out between insurgents and the conservative government. The UFCO made efforts to change their reputation, and was eventually bought by Chiquita Brands International.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Guatemala: History of Antigua, The Verapaces History, Bartolome de Las Casas and the Verapaz Experiment, Regional History, Tikal History, Hermano Pedro, History, History of Quetzaltenango, History of Flores and History and Politics.

20 Jul 2010

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