n the mid 15th century, when Gutenberg ushered in the age of mechanical printing, few people realized what those novel items called printed books would do. But in fact, printed books changed the world, ushering in the Protestant Reformation, modern nation-states and the growth of mercantile empires and colonization, and shaped thinking itself through the linear sequential logic of print. This revolution was bloodless and technical, and was largely invisible to the people of the time.
people everywhere from the publishing empires with fatsalaried CEOs and Boards of Directors, to stockholders to buy and brokers to sell the stock so the company had enough money to print and pay only the top-selling authors to insure that there would be profits in order to give dividends to the stockholders so they would be happy and not dump their shares, and so that the quarterly report would show positive earnings…. In short. the ponderous and doomed system we are living with today.
Today another revolution, equal in import, is raging quietly at this very moment in our mental environment and in the physical world of networked digital communication technologies, commonly called the Internet and the World Wide Web. These technologies permit epublishing––books and magazines printed on, well, nothing––the aether, if you will. Books will never be the same, and profound changes are in the works in ways as shattering as the printed book revolution of Gutenberg.
Volio Press, as part of the epublishing revolution, works outside of this system. We are able to publish books, magazines, and journals of merit in the most beautiful e-editions. We are an electronic press and we no longer need to reject manuscripts because of the bottom line, or think within the limited framework of the printed page, or market only to the lowest common denominator of readers.
Before the new epublishing revolution, publishing on paper Volio Press publishes Neotropica, The Costa Rican Magazine for Living required capital––lots of it– for presses, to buy forests to cut down to make paper, factories to produce ink made from in the New Tropics.
New projects launching in 2011. voliopress.com
petroleum which had to be drilled for and refined and shipped in giant tankers, factories in which to put the presses to print, cut, bind, and box the books, trucks and fuel and teamsters for transportation for the books, highways for the trucks, warehouses, bookstores to sell the books, and people, people,
We are dwellers in the new world tropics and are connected, like everyone in the wider world, to a common fate. We are listening to the new voices of the Neotropics. We want to publish the writing and art of the people here.
Rousseau Limonaxit Elizabeth Swinburne
Presenting Neotropica 2 Note: because this publication is electronic and will be viewed either in page-turning Issuu.com format with thumbnails, or as a PDF file The Weeping Heart of a Banana with built-in page numbers, no page numbers appear on these pages. The mythic origin of the banana heart. The inflorescence of a banana The Banana Chronicles A special Neotropica treatment of the fruit that steered history. A Visit to the Banana Lands by Carleton Beals Travel experiences in lands of the banana barons in the 1930s. Anchuria Republic of Bananas Excerpts from O. Henry’s story that first named Central America “banana republics.” Samuel, Agonistes by Stephen Duplantier Samuel Zemurray, Banana Man extraordinaire, and his exploits in Central America. The Legend of Z by Stephen Duplantier Who was that masked man? Zemurray, explained. Doctoring the Tropics by Patricia Spinelli Adventures of a tropical medicine physician on the banana plantations of the 1920s. Tristes Tropiques-- Neglected Tropical Diseases by Stephen Duplantier Tropical diseases you may not know about and don’t want to catch. Plus a surprising account of the worst tropical disease of all. El Cristo de la Bananera by Salvador Dalí. Improvements by Stephen Duplantier Surreal Homage to the Workers of Banana Land. A Perfect Day for a Banana by Umberto Dávila A fictionalized story of a banana worker’s day.
plant produces a heart-shaped bract on a stalk. Commercial banana growers prefer heartless bananas. A pictorial essay.
The Great Banana Strike of 1934 by Carlos Luis Fallas Was Carlos Luis Fallas the greatest Costa Rican ever? Costa Rican workers probably think so. This is a translation of a speech by Fallas that gives a history of the grievances of the banana workers against the transgressions of the United Fruit Company, the notorious El Pulpo (the Octopus), also called Mamita Yunai by Costa Rican workers. A Working Class Hero by Stephen Duplantier An appreciation of the place of Carlos Luis Fallas in Costa Rican history. The Costa Rican of the 21st Century Award It’s only 2010, but if the winner is announced early maybe some trends can be set. Anyway, Fallas should have gotten it last century, so this is payback. La Huelga Bananera por Leo R. Sack La huelga bananera desde el punto de vista de los jefes de Mamita Yunai. The Massacre in Ciénaga by Stephen Duplantier What happened in Santa Marta, Colombia in 1928.
Passion and Death--The Chemistry of Corporate Power What happened when two journalists from the Cincinnati Enquirer investigating Chiquita Brands spoke truth to power, and power won. Banana Follies Playbill and Banana Erotics by Stephen Duplantier The doctrine of signatures as it applies to bananas was not a sign from God, but a sign from the United Fruit Company inserting bananas into the popular consciousness in a big, big way with an explosion of consequences. Dancer, Expat, Singer, Spy, War Heroine, Josephine Baker broke barriers her whole life by Elaine Kelly The story of an amazing woman and how she did so much more than dance with a banana. Bronze Venus Images of a great woman, La Baker. Carmen Miranda ––a special section on the woman with bananas in her hat. An exploration of the life and meaning of the art of Carmen Miranda. The origins of her famous hats, how the samba developed from Afro-Brazilian women carrying loads on their head, and the music and lyrics of Brazilian samba. That Tutti Frutti Hat by Elaine Kelly
Macondo by Gabriel García Márquez Excerpts from the fictional account of the massacre from 100 Years of Solitude.
The Woman who Mistook Herself for a Hat Imitation of Self The Tutti Frutti Hat and the Samba Aquarelas do Brasil by Stephen Duplantier
The Neotropica Faux Gabriel García Márquez Write-Alike Contest Summary of the Nobel Acceptance speech of Márquez.
Watercolors of the Brazilian Market Women Pictorial section
Gloves by Darlene Olivo. The winning entry in the Write-Alike Contest.
The Botany of Desirable Bananas by Charles Garratt How the banana plant got to be the way it is, and what will be its fate.
Bananas in New Orleans New Orleans was the first and most important port for the entry of bananas into the U.S., the hometown of Samuel Zemurray, and the city where the Bananas Foster dessert was created.
Sloth Food--The Next Revolution by Roan St. John Meet Ernesto Spinelli of San Ramón, a chef and artist who discovered the glories of “slow food” long before it was trendy.
A Bunch of Banana Books Editor’s choice of the must-read banana books. To understand Central America, follow the banana.
Why Are They Killing the Rivers of Costa Rica? by Gene Warneke, Carol Cespedes, and Bruce Melton Unbelievably, Costa Rica gives permits for mining gravel in pristine rivers in the Osa Peninsula.
Recipes Everyone knows how to eat a banana. These recipes tell you what to do with the other parts of the plant, especially the heart. Dictators Graphic art by Stephen Duplantier Good Dictator, Bad Dictator––The United Fruit Company and Economic Nationalism by Mario Bucheli An analysis of the complex connections between the banana giant and its client nations.
Mining a River --It’s as Bad as it Sounds by Carol Cespedes and Bruce Melton You won’t believe what happens when the riverbed miners start working on a natural stream. Time to Say Good Bye by Jack Ewing The river otters of Costa Rica, which have frolicked here for nine million years, are at risk of extinction because of river mining.
Human Resources Announcement: Employment Opportunity Dictator The job requirements for a dictator sound suspiciously like the traits of a paranoid criminal psychopath listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Cultural Memory: Bananas as Icon by Valeria Baker A thesis on the iconicity of bananas in popular consciousness. Photographs by Carlos Reyes-Manzo Entomologie Photograph by Ann Mandelbaum La United Fruit Co. The famous poem of Pablo Neruda. Gargantua Eating his Salad and a Peasant: An Allegory of Capital and Labor; Text on Neocolonialism by E. San Juan The Periphery and the Core by Emile Rishty A primer on how the world, unfortunately, works. A Poet named “Banana Plant” Japan’s most famous poet is named “banana plant.” Find out why.
ISSN 1659-4657 Published Brumaire, Frimaire, Nivôse Neotropica is an online quarterly magazine published in Costa Rica for readers in Central America and the rest of the world. Neotropica is published by Volio Press & Editorial Rizomas © 2010 Center for Gulf South History and Culture Mailing Address: Apartado Postal 586-4250 San Ramón, Alajuela, Costa Rica Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Staff Stephen Duplantier Editor-in-Chief Art Director Design & Production Patricia Spinelli Senior Editor Food and Lifestyle Editor Advertising & Promotion Director Gene Warneke Associate Editor Environmental Editor Ghislaine Yergeau Associate Editor Artists Elaine Kelly Ross Kelly Gene Warneke Sharron Frye Ann Mandelbaum Stephen Duplantier Jacqueline Bishop Writers & Contributors Patricia Spinelli Gene Warneke Ghislaine Yergeau Charles Garratt Stephen Duplantier Copyrights are retained by the individual authors and creators of the works. No copyrights on reprinted material and artwork have been intentionally violated. All use is fair use for educational purposes. Unsolicited manuscripts may be accepted for consideration, though no payments for work received and published will be made without negotiation with the editors. Opinions expressed are solely those of the writers.
[Lunch with an Expat] We had lunch. Mr. Carson talked of the United Fruit Company, fifteen millions invested in Puerto Cortés. He had lived for a time on a hacienda in the Honduras lowlands. The Hondureñans were different, he claimed, from the rest of the Central Americans. Half Indian and half Negro, only slightly Spanish, their violence had more of a Negro than an Indian character. He switched to Mexico. The present government, he declared, bitterly, was out and out Bolshevik. Here in Central America this Mexican influence was manifesting itself in the railway shops-agitators, discontent-all spite work against the United States on the part of the Mexican government. “Why should Mexico feel spiteful?” “I don’t know,” he replied, “they owe everything to us.” “And what does Central America owe to us?” “They couldn’t do without us.” I thought of Salvador’s paved streets, staggering debt American customs officials, marines in looted Nicaragua banana rule in Honduras and Costa Rica-no where had I seen any American preoccupation, except by a few Charitable foundations to perform any service which did not pay big profits. “Mexican influence,” gesticulated Carson, “must be stopped in Central America at any cost, before it is too late.” He said this with such vehemence his spoon fell off his paper plate into the wide Gulf of Fonseca. Mrs. Carson reminded him it was a silver spoon and shouldn’t have been lost.
[Tactics of the Fruit Companies in Honduras] Honduras is the kingdom par excellence of the banana companies; the United Fruit Company, the Cuyamel Fruit Company (now United), and the Standard Fruit Company, located in the ports of Tela and
Trujillo, Puerto Cortés and Ceiba, each with its private or leased railroad tapping the banana hinterland. The powerful United Fruit Company is in possession also of the Tropical Radio Corporation. The financial position of these companies is remarkable. They function in Honduras, contributing scarcely a penny to the government revenues. Every article used on the plantations or the railroads, and in the company stores, is brought in duty free. To the customs income and certain taxes known as “especiales” the companies’ contribution ought to be more than half; but because of the terms of the concessions this is remitted. Of the entire theoretical income of the government, about thirty percent is uncollected because of the untaxable character of the fruit companies’ interests. Of the moneys actually collected by the government, about seventy-five percent is “earmarked” to pay up on the internal debt. In other words, not only do the companies fail to pay appreciable taxes but three-fourths of the national income flows back into their coffers, to pay off loans at exorbitant rates contracted in moments of revolutionary stress. Not only does this make the country’s financial position untenable, but it kills all local enterprises. Thus the United Fruit Company owns stores all over the north coast. It sells goods brought in its own banana freighters, which go loaded to the United States and would other- wise return empty. It brings in the goods duty free. It ships the goods into the interior on its own railroad, in cars that would otherwise go back to the fields empty, and sells them in company stores, not merely to the employees but to any one who wishes to buy. These stores sell every conceivable article, and as a result no native business, which must pay duties and has no such facilities, can compete. Hondureñans are obliged to become poorly paid employees of the banana company, in positions inferior to imported Jamaica Negroes. Theoretically we have a set policy in Central America––”no government established by force will be permitted.” Actually our policy
A Visit to the Banana Lands From Banana Gold (1932) by Carleton Beals
has been dominated by ignorance, opportunism, or self-interest-usually the last. Nor is self-interest always national self-interest, but the self-interest of special concessionaires, banking houses, large corporations, and even the self-interest of diplomatic representatives, promoting private deals.
[Baron Banana of Guatemala] Here in Puerto Barrios are the unmasked crudities of the raging fever of modern times to wrench forth raw materials. In Puerto Barrios, Baron Banana rules supreme, and he rules roughshod with little regard for the beauty or happiness of his people. Although
to the Baron, Banana goes by the aristocratic cognomen of Musa sapientum, and President Orellana called him “Guatemala’s Golden Prince,” he is the most plebeian of the whole family of plátanos. The Spanish, with satiric flair, have given him the phallic label, “Fig of Adam.” But abroad in the United States Baron Banana struts in frock. Fruit salads at banquets banana-split sundaes in mauve-lighted Park Avenue Tearooms, banana brandy for jaded Village bobs, dances to the tune of “Yes, we have no bananas,” attest to the importance that this single tropic fruit––one of hundreds––has acquired in the diet and imagination of the United States. Bananas and more bananas! The United Fruit Company and its lesser competitors can hardly keep pace. Their engineers go slashing through the jungles; their railroads reach iron fingers out and out; their yellow clapboard buildings, hotels bunk houses, stores, offices, hospitals, warehouses spring up like mountainous fungi beside a hundred streams and marshes, in the heart of vast mangrove forests, and on a dozen glowering shores. The big green stems of fruit are cut from the tall, broad-leafed, plump-trunked trees, loaded on mattresses in the open cars--roofed-over “reefers” through which tropic breezes may sweep--and are run down to a dozen ports, banana fronds dragging and rustling endlessly over the sleepers of the trackdown to Puerto Barrios, on the older maps not even mentioned. Puerto Barrios, boom banana - port, epitomizes the haste and cruelty and bleeding rawness of the process. Back in the jungles, the smallpox yellow, the screech of trains-all the drive and jangle of the banana industry-shrinks in the face of vegetations so vast, the ceibas, the guayacans, the flaming palos de sope soar up and over the handiwork of human beings. The constant nerve-racking struggle to push back the monstrous trees, to clear out the jungles with their reeking enervating perfumes, poisonous insects, dangerous beasts, terrible fevers-this struggle is tragic yet puny in relative inadequacy. But in Puerto Barrios the conglomerate ugliness of rawproduct exploitation is spewed forth into the glaring torrid sunlight. Here the yellow buildings are not so overshadowed by the jungle. They squat brazenly on the golden, heat-hammered sands by the deep blue, brooding ocean. That first morning when we left La Esperanza and put the irritating immigration, customs, and police officials behind us, then straggled through the
A gargantuan Negro pair enormously paunched, screamingly overdressed; he, in white spats, patents, waistcoat, and derby hat; she, in white satin, and carrying a pink sunshade. In a corner under a mango tree, a Belizian weaving a double-rhomboid fish trap out of river cane.
blazing heat between seared lawns to find refuge on the wide piazzas of Captain Grace’s Hotel, the Government of Guatemala apparently had suddenly ceased to exist. Only Baron Banana, ordering his reefers in the train-yards, overseeing the typewriters clicking in the smallpox yellow buildings, accepting company fichas in the stores. The only open evidence of the Governmental Center’s interest in Baron Banana’s exportation of “yellow gold” was the dilapidated blue barracks in the rear of the town whence at intervals came the cocky snarl of bugles and drums whose rhythm and melody repeatedly broke down into Indian surliness-the bafflement of the highlander at the terrors of the hot country, his amazement and resentment at the restless energy of the blond beasts from the north, at the throb of this constant belching forth of bananas, more bananas, the constant buzz of this dirty port on the edge of tropic seas, dazzling seas in the day, but at night softly flaming with phosphorescence and starlight. Yes, Puerto Barrios is an achievement in ugliness in a natural setting of beauty. Puerto Barrios is the only place I know where people stick waterclosets in front yards. In the cool of the day. I often wandered out through the hodge-podge town. built on a pestiferous marsh, reeking with spilled petroleum, out along the twisted paths where are massed in utter promiscuity the atrocious blue and yellow shacks of Negroes and Indians and Chinese. Boards and gunny sacking, banana and palm tree leaves, river cane, sheet iron and rags have gone into the making. Picking my way through the slime and excrement and swarms of naked, mud-smeared children––white, yellow, black; kinky-haired, straight-haired, curly-haired; round-eyed, pig eyed, slant-eyed––I came out on the walk fronting the foot-high breakwater over which the waves sometimes come flooding into the low shacks, and there saw the curve of the shore and the line of tall taut cocoanut palms broken by an interminable row of spider-leg piers stretching out to cubbyhole water-closets set about four feet above high tide. This is Puerto Barrios’ highest word in esthetics. Here in the muck of Baron Banana’s postern, human life swarmed meaningless––so many maggots squirming. Yet not without sun, not without color, not without joy. A group thumping the marimba, “Yes, we have no bananas.” A half-dressed couple behind a slide window dancing the rumba lasciviously.
“Don’t be so good this here cane, sah, as honest-to god bamboo, but c’n catch any fish mahn a pound. Some weeks Ah makes goin’ on fifteen quid, yas, sah.”
Above: Puerto Castillas, Honduras, 1927. Bananas poured out of the Caribbean ports of Central America by the millions--a river of green and gold. Left: The bosses––managers of the United Fruit Company in their tropical whites, ca. 1920. Below: Filling a boxcar somewhere in Banana Land, destined for the coast.
At a turn, a Chinaman, shirt-tail out, staring forlornly at the sea, beyond the water- closets. And here, crossing the footbridge of a little creek, shaded by bread-fruit trees-which half make life on muck not too onerous-the town broke down into Indian jacales with thatched roofs. In this rag-tail port Baron Banana has dumped the lost sons of five continents, made them his groveling subjects-that Waldorf and Plaza salads may be. Here are huge rag-tail Negroes from Jamaica, never looking for a job, but for a “posishun” or “emplawment, sah,” mysterious orientals smoking long pipes; alert Japanese; white girls, exprostitutes or dopes, now content to marry the blackskin or yellow-skin trash of the world; broken beach combers, vagabonds, the taciturn Indians from the highlands, sailors of every breed, within and without the law. Marimbas quiver through the hot night air; piano players rattle jazz in the cantinas and gambling joints; a hundred cast-offs of the world carouse and fumble black women, who laugh coarsely. •
Carleton Beals (1893 –1979) American journalist, book author, historian, and radical crusader. Prolific author of 45 books and more than 200 magazine articles. Beals traveled the world, but specialized in Latin America. No one painted a more vivid, gritty and descriptive picture of life in the tropics as it really was. He was a critic of American imperialism and corporate folly. Beals’ style was creative and personal. He inserted himself into his stories and packed his readers in his valise along with him on his travels. After reading Beals, you have been there.
Anchuria Republic of Bananas From Cabbages and Kings by O. Henry (William Sidney Porter, 18621910) “The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things; Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax, And cabbages and kings.” --The Walrus and the Carpenter
hey will tell you in Anchuria, that President Miraflores, of that volatile republic, died by his own hand in the coast town of Coralio; that he had reached thus far in flight from the inconveniences of an imminent revolution; and that one hundred thousand dollars, government funds, which he carried with him in an American leather valise as a souvenir of his tempestuous administration, was never afterward recovered. For a real, a boy will show you his grave. It is back of the town near a little bridge that spans a mangrove swamp. A plain slab of wood stands at its head. Some one has burned upon the headstone with a hot iron this inscription: RAMON ANGEL DE LAS CRUZES Y MIRAFLORES PRESIDENTE DE LA REPUBLICA DE ANCHURIA QUE SEA SU JUEZ DIOS It is characteristic of this buoyant people that they pursue no man beyond the grave. “Let God be his judge!”--Even with the hundred thousand unfound, though greatly coveted, the hue and cry went no further than that. To the stranger or the guest the people of Coralio will relate the story of the tragic end of their former president; how he strove
The American writer William Sydney Porter fleeing a bank embezzlement trial, fled to New Orleans, and then hopped a freighter for Honduras. The instant expat found lodging at a hotel in Tegucigalpa and wrote Cabbages and Kings. He coined the term “banana republic” to describe his fictional Honduras, which he called “Anchuria.” Porter may have felt like he was in the real Manchuria in the dusty, sleepy capital. When he eventually re-patriated himself to the U.S., he was convicted and sent to prison, but this prodigously-talented writer, every bit as colorful as the characters he met and invented, got out of prison and went on to become O. Henry, the American Guy de Maupassant.
to escape from the country with the public funds and also with Doña Isabel Guilbert, the young American opera singer; and how, being apprehended by members of the opposing political party in Coralio, he shot himself through the head rather than give up the funds, and, in consequence, the Señorita Guilbert. They will relate further that Doña Isabel, her adventurous bark of fortune shoaled by the simultaneous loss of her distinguished admirer and the souvenir hundred thousand, dropped anchor on this stagnant coast, awaiting a rising tide. They say, in Coralio, that she found a prompt and prosperous tide in the form of Frank Goodwin, an American resident of the town, an investor who had grown wealthy by dealing in the products of the country--a banana king, a rubber prince, a sarsaparilla, indigo, and mahogany baron. The Señorita Guilbert, you will be told, married Señor Goodwin one month after the president’s death, thus, in the very moment when Fortune had ceased to smile, wresting from her a gift greater than the prize withdrawn. Of the American, Don Frank Goodwin, and of his wife the natives have nothing but good to say. Don Frank has lived among them for years, and has compelled their respect. His lady is easily queen of what social life the sober coast affords. The wife of the governor of the district, herself, who was of the proud
Castilian family of Monteleon y Dolorosa de los Santos y Mendez, feels honoured to unfold her napkin with olive-hued, ringed hands at the table of Señora Goodwin. Were you to refer (with your northern prejudices) to the vivacious past of Mrs. Goodwin when her audacious and gleeful abandon in light opera captured the mature president’s fancy, or to her share in that statesman’s downfall and malfeasance, the Latin shrug of the shoulder would be your only answer and rebuttal. What prejudices there were in Coralio concerning Señora Goodwin seemed now to be in her favour, whatever they had been in the past. It would seem that the story is ended, instead of begun; that the close of tragedy and the climax of a romance have covered the ground of interest; but, to the more curious reader it shall be some slight instruction to trace the close threads that underlie the ingenuous web of circumstances. *** In the constitution of this small, maritime banana republic was a forgotten section that provided for the maintenance of a navy. This provision--with many other wiser ones-had lain inert since the establishment of the republic. Anchuria had no navy and had no use for one. ***
For there are yet tales of the Spanish Main. That segment of continent washed by the tempestuous Caribbean, and presenting to the sea a formidable border of tropical jungle topped by the overweening Cordilleras, is still begirt by mystery and romance. In past times buccaneers and revolutionists roused the echoes of its cliffs, and the condor wheeled perpetually above where, in the green groves, they made food for him with their matchlocks and toledos. Taken and retaken by sea rovers, by adverse powers and by sudden uprising of rebellious factions, the historic 300 miles of adventurous coast has scarcely known for hundreds of years whom rightly to call its master. Pizzarro, Balboa, Sir Francis Drake, and Bolivar did what they could to make it a part of Christendom. Sir John Morgan, Lafitte and other eminent swash-bucklers bombarded and pounded it in the name of Abaddon.
a big, silent gunboat glides into the offing and warns them not to break their toys. And with these changes comes also the small adventurer, with empty pockets to fill, light of heart, busy brained--the modern fairy prince, bearing an alarm clock with which, more surely than by the sentimental kiss, to awaken the beautiful tropics from their centuries’ sleep. Generally he wears a shamrock, which he matches pridefully against the extravagant palms; and it is he who has driven Melpomene to the wings, and set Comedy to dancing before the footlights of the Southern Cross.
The game still goes on. The guns of the rovers are silenced; but the tintype man, the enlarged photograph brigand, the kodaking tourist and the scouts of the gentle brigade of fakirs have found it out, and carry on the work. The hucksters of Germany, France, and Sicily now bag its small change across their counters. Gentleman adventurers throng the waiting-rooms of its rulers with proposals for railways and concessions. The little _opéra-bouffe_ nations play at government and intrigue until some day
Add to these a little love and counterplotting, and scatter everywhere throughout the maze a trail of tropical dollars--dollars warmed no more by the torrid sun than by the hot palms of the scouts of Fortune--and, after all, here seems to be Life, itself, with talk enough to weary the most garrulous of Walruses.
So, there is a little tale to tell of many things. Perhaps to the promiscuous ear of the Walrus it shall come with most avail; for in it there are indeed shoes and ships and sealing-wax and cabbage-palms and presidents instead of kings.
Samuel, Agonistes Stephen Duplantier
Samson destroys the Dagon Temple; Samuel destroyed the lives and fortunes of countless Central Americans
One man, Samuel Zemurray, is responsible for indelibly imprinting banana companies with an imperial image through their long history of ruthless deeds in the Americas
hat could have been said about Samuel Zemurray, the Banana Man, who has just bought automatic weapons and ammunition, hired hardened mercenary soldiers, secretly put them on a boat and sailed to a small country, defied the U.S. government and broke international treaties, invaded a sovereign country, attacked their army, deposed the elected president of the country (whom he didn’t like because the president reduced his profits with social legislation), installed his own corrupt president whom he had conspired with and bribed to pass laws giving him huge land concessions in the country, and exemption from taxes, abused the rights of the workers he hired, cut down the forests, poisoned the land, and took the profits out of the country. What would you call such a man? There is almost no good word for such deeds, yet this is what Samuel Zemurray did when he essentially stole the Republic of Honduras in order to grow and sell bananas so he could get rich. This “business plan,” if you can call it that, approaches the madness of that filibusterer and megalomaniac William Walker, who declared himself the emperor of Nicaragua. Zemurray was subtler than the short-careered Walker, and managed to continue ravaging the land, political institutions, and people of Central America for almost 50 more years. Could we call stony-faced Sam a terrorist? Today the definition of terrorism includes killing, but dying can be direct or indirect, it can be fast or slow, and it can also refer more broadly to the death of the human potential and the happiness of a people and their country. It would be impossible to compute how much pain Zemurray caused, and how much happiness and fulfillment in
people’s lives he prevented. There are direct and continuing links between Zemurray’s acts of aggression against Honduras at the beginning of the 20th century and the desperate, impoverished Honduras of today, almost 100 years later. Zemurray doesn’t get all of the blame, but he looms very large. His heavy tread left scars on other republics on the isthmus as well. Maybe it is just plain terrorism. An important part of the definition of non-state terrorism is violent activities against innocent people by a private group. The invasions of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean by the armed forces of the growing empire of the United States beginning in the late 19th century were bad enough, but at least this imperialism came with some justifying rhetoric, statecraft, and shoddy laws, deceitful and pathetic as they were. But the invasion of Honduras by the Banana Man and his private army was more sinister. It was an act of supreme arrogance and hostility. The antics of the capitalist robber baron “businessmen” of the late 19th and early 20th century, whether they were selling oil, railroads, steel, or dealing in money, were much more than outrageous. They represent the Frankensteinlike surgical joining together of the interlocked directorates of predatory corporate monopolies with the armies and weapons of a country ambitious for imperial expansion. The legacy of corporate capitalism merging with the might of a civil state eager to do the bidding of their cronies who sat on boards of directors and who moved in and out of government was none other than the monster of imperial capitalism which Vladimir Lenin predicted and warned about in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Capitalism, which has an overactive political pituitary gland,
must continue to grow. Eventually it eats out its home country and wants to expand to other states and gobble them up as well. ••• The Banana Man was a terrorist according to this list of the commonly-agreed upon characteristics of terrorism: --Terrorism has political aims and motives. Zemurray wanted to overthrow an independent government and install a puppet-president controlled by the company. --Terrorism is violent, or, equally important, threatens violence. Zemurray hired the notorious New Orleans mercenaries Lee Christmas and Guy “Machine Gun” Molony and other guntoting mercenaries. They took orders from Manuel Bonilla, erstwhile president of Honduras and Zemurray’s co-conspirator, who coordinated the coup against sitting President Miguel Dávila. The insurgents attacked with machine guns blazing, killing an undetermined number of people. --Terrorism is designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target. The immediate target of the Honduras coup was the sitting president of the country, but there was an enormous psychological effect upon the leaders and people in the country knowing that an arrogant company destroyed their democracy and could plunder their country at will by not paying taxes and by removing its wealth in the form of taking the profits from underpaid banana workers. --Terrorism is conducted by an organization with an identifiable chain of command or conspiratorial cell structure (whose members wear no uniform or identifying insignia). The name of Zemurray’s organization was the Cuyamel Fruit Company
and its directors and managers wore no rank insignia other than business suits and neckties, and, in the field, their tropical mufti. --Terrorism is perpetrated by a subnational group or non-state entity. A corporation is a non-state entity (or at least was in the U.S. until the corporate oligarchy merged operationally with the U.S. government, the armed forces, and later, the secret forces of the U.S., especially the CIA). By this definition, Mr. Samuel Zemurray was the leader of a terrorist organization. This conclusion may offend some. Since terrorism is a pejorative term applied to ones enemies and opponents, it can cause outrage when dealt out fairly in an even-handed game. If an observer identifies with the people of Honduras and Central America as victims, and sees the exploitation of their countries as unjust, illegal, and destructive, then the actions of Zemurray were terroristic. But if an observer identifies with the perpetrator of the violent acts, the regard is more sympathetic, even positive, and therefore, it’s not terrorism, but just hard-nosed business practices. “State-sponsored terrorism is an instrument of statecraft,” Chinese strategist General Sun-Tzu might have said in an updated edition of his The Art of War. Not only can a state sponsor terrorism by harboring and supporting a terrorist organization, but in those early imperial days of the last century, the U.S. became the enforcer of the those terrorist cells that are otherwise known as international corporations. General Smedley Butler, USMC, was the whistle blower for this kind of activity. He said, famously: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China
Samuel Zemurray’s Coup d’Etat against the Government of Honduras
Machine guns and other weapons captured by the Zemurray and Manuel Bonilla “revolutionaries” at the battle of La Ceiba in 1911. Kneeling in the white shirt is Col. Guy R. “Machine Gun” Molony, mercenary soldier and meddler in the affairs of Honduras. in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.” Derrick Jensen wrote, “Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.” The state and corporate terrorism against its victims in Central America was and is invisible if you live in the upper part of the hemisphere north of the Rio Grande river and its imaginary extension into the Caribbean, but is a daily fact of life if you live in the Neotropics. •••
ers are worth dying for in a war. Anderson’s examination of how imaginary nationalism is constructed and becomes real led to the theme of the first issue of Neotropica. There are reasons to wonder about something even more basic and prior to a nation’s collective imaginings. What is the status of imagined geographies before the confections of nations, flags, pledges, laws, wars, and all the fripperies of those old, new, tired, and frightening nationalisms that plague us continual? Wondering about the sources of the personal geographies of an individual and how these may have been constructed shifts the point of view. The question is no longer the dreary histories of the making up or the breaking down of nations and states, but a romp into the natural history of wild mental environments. An inventory of possible imagined geographies would show something that would drive Linnaeus mad––a chart of the origin of species in which each phenotype is a separate genotype. In other words, each individual is her and his own species. This would be a landscape of personal psychogeographies with a maximum of psychodiversity.
A modern nation, wrote Benedict Anderson, is an imagined political community, and not a real one. The scale of a typical nation, no matter how small, does not allow face-to-face interactions among people. But imagination allows disparate, even antagonistic groups, to be a nation. Imagination, as much as war, can be seen as a tool of statecraft as it operates through mediated interactions and symbolic gestures and spectacles that substitute well enough for more intimate connections––along with a few mythic national metanarratives stitching it all together.
Each-one-a-species is not an axiom for any kind of sane classificatory ssystematics, though similarities emerge and patterns do seem to appear. Communities might be imagined to fall along a loose spectrum of what we might call an ecology of political imagination. How would this array be looked at and analyzed? Annually there are reports of the Happiness Index of nations, measured by some kind of black box blissometer. The results are interesting and instantly controversial because people respond from deep within their own personal psychogeography. Bhutan has a Minister of Happiness. Another gauge of political imagination might be a ranking based on which nation has cabinet level positions and government agencies with similar whimsy and creativity such as, maybe, a Department of Transcendence, or a Secretary of Enlightenment, or the Department of Integral Spirituality, and how about a Secretariat of Peace, and the Department of Poetry.
The illusion must hold, not for sentimental reasons, though these are often adduced, but for the more practical collective reason of defense. Even though most of the inhabitants of a nation will forever be strangers, the crucial illusion must persists that these strang-
Zemurray, and lesser banana company mortals like him, created their own shapeless, shifting nations within those solid nation-states with the recognizable boundaries that you might see in a kid’s jigsaw puzzle. Zemurray’s willingness and zeal in reshaping, not the external boundaries of the republics of the banana lands in Central America, but
illustrated on the pages of the Diderot’s Encyclopédie, for example, nor even some contemporary sleeker, automated steel behemoth that unrelentingly squirts out soap bars or chocolate chunks by the tens of thousands. A banana mega machine was much more complicated, with unexpected soft parts hybridized into the metal and wood; a mega machine of human minds, lives and consciousness captured, changed, lopped off, and grafted into a beast-like totality. A mega machine operates in the Zemurray altered the political DNA of heads of the people who accept its premhis client republics, which altered its social ises and rules, either by coercion, bribes, or DNA. He dared to imagine new commuwill. To be sure, there are ships, wharves, nities with new internal logics through a railroads, boxcars, machetes, warehouses, business operation so total that it was irreaccountants doing sums, and clerks making sistible. The trouble was he didn’t ask the schedules, managers everywhere like antipeople who already lived there what they bodies in blood streams, checking and cluckthought, nor did he get their permission. ing about this and that, making reports and The company lawyers and bribe-making officials duly corrupted the ruling elites, and especially, going to meetings. But mostly, the on paper, it may have even looked legal, but mega machine consists of that most expendable and softest of parts––people; queues of it certainly wasn’t. On an organizational chart, the banana mega machine must have them filing into and out of buildings, plantaeven physically looked like the giant octopus tion sheds, ships, offices, warehouses, and wharves full of them hauling and stacking, that its victims pictured with those musand in countless hectares of fields after fields cular, irresistibly powerful suction-cupped of sweating workers, like industrious unrearms flailing everywhere, latching on to lenting Stem-Cutter Ants, hauling the green everything, drawing booty into its monpod-like bunches into the warm, buzzing strous snapping, beak-like jaws. nest of the mega machine, the new imagined community, the proto-state of artificial Zemurray’s banana plantations and the huge network of people and matériel which desire. • kept it running and making money was nothing if not a mega machine, to use the explanatory terminology of social philosopher Lewis Mumford. A mega machine doesn’t look like a typical industrial age iron and wood contraption you might see the destiny of an entire isthmus and how its people lived and died, and branding their consciousness and destiny that lasts to this day is staggering. Zemurray is the symbol for the mighty works of the banana mega machine, that, though the force of his personal ambition and style, permeated the works and days of all of the multinationals in Central America for a nearly a century, and shows no signs of abatement.
Left: Plotting the Empire of the Banana Mega Machine
Map of United Fruit Company Shipping Routes and Railroad Lines, 1909 Right: United Fruit Company Banana ship approaches New York
he legend of Samuel Zemurray is rooted in both the actual deeds of the Russian immigrant who took over the United Fruit Company (UFC), overthrew nations, and started a civil war that resulted in a hundred thousand deaths, and the cloaking, fabrications, and sanctification made up by Zemurray’s public relations consultant.
genius, the nerdy, mustachioed public relations man, Edward Bernays. The evil that this conspiracy did in Central America–– what they called the “backyard” of the United States–– in mid-century began reverberating around the world, and continues to this day. The banana war has cast a long shadow. The military/political/ corporate adventurist style of the U.S./corporate capitalist alliance shows up today in belligerent actions Edward L. Bernays, the public relations engineer of in Iraq and Afghanistan, though it is now rebranded as perception and maker of reality, had a story placed in war against terror. Life magazine in 1951 that became the essential source for the Sam Zemurray legend. The story has the byline ••• of John Kobler, a well-respected journalist who wrote for Remember those times––the early Fifties. The United the Luce publications and other periodicals of the time. States was fighting Communist North Koreans and The Life article was entitled, “Sam the Banana Man.” testing more atomic bombs. The Hydrogen Bomb, that Kobler seemed to like writing about tough guys with new mega-weapon developed by Manhattan Project colorful nicknames. He would later write a definitive physicist and maniacal anti-Communist, Edward biography of Scarface Al Capone. From Kobler, you Teller, was in the works. Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar would expect real journalism. Presumably, he did his Hoover were hunting down Communists in America, own research and did not write down only the things the Communist Chinese army attacked Tibet, the that Bernays coached him to write. Nevertheless, “Sam French were fighting Communist nationalist forces in the Banana Man” reads like a puff piece and almost a Viet Nam, Stalin announced that Russia had an atomic commercial for United Fruit. bomb, yellow “Fallout Shelter” signs popped up in public buildings, well-to-do paranoiacs built backyard bomb Actually, it was far more serious than just being a shelters, in schools, children were taught to “duck and corporate puff piece. Ultimately, these public relations cover” under their school desks to protect themselves tactics of image-making and deceptively changing against radioactive fallout when the Soviet bombers national opinion about people, companies, and reality would drop thermonuclear bombs on their schools. itself were part of a decade-long plan of Zemurray And, mostly unnoticed except by the United Fruit and Bernays to position UFC and the United States Company, progressive political change was occurring as the good guys fighting the bad guys. The bad guys in Guatemala. Jacobo Arbenz was elected President of in this case were the Communists, socialists, leftists of Guatemala and installed a social reformist government any stripe, democratically-elected governments, labor bent on restoring human rights and redistributing leaders, anti-monopolists, human rights advocates, unused land to impoverished, landless peasants and workers and their families, and assorted nationalists–– Indians. all sworn enemies of the fruit company. This war against UFC “enemies” was also part of, and contributed to, Zemurray and Bernays observed these tides of history the Cold War. and began laying down propaganda trails in the press to court and subvert public opinion. The reason was The allies on the banana front of the Cold War were not clear in 1951 after the propaganda had started UFC, the CIA, the U.S. State Department, the U.S and when the Life profile appeared, but would be clear military, and the chief wagger of the dog, that mad in 1954 when UFC goaded the CIA into an invasion and coup d’état in Guatemala. The UFC propaganda machine rarely rested. It published a daily newspaper by Stephen Duplantier
in Honduras, El Diario Comercial, whose main role was to “refute enemies.” So-called “Information Bureaus” were set up to pommel newspaper editors with canned stories, film production companies with officialsounding names produced “documentaries” about the Communists in our Backyard, and pointed out melodramatically how close geographically the average U.S citizen was to Central America. Bernays even renamed the entire Central American isthmus “Middle America,” with intentional perceptual confusion and overlap with the mid-west of the continental U.S. Bernay’s so-called Middle America was practically the same thing as the real America, and, guess what, it was crawling with scary Communists. Bernays directed the philanthropy of Zemurray into the creation and endowment of the Middle America Research Institute at Tulane University in Zemurray’s hometown of New Orleans. Surely, a research institute of scholars who studied “Middle America” must mean that such a place really exists, went the strategic P.R thinking. UFC banana advertising and anti-Communist propaganda blended. That All-American breakfast of corn flakes, straight from the mid-west of the country’s heartland, were perfect when served with fresh milk from country family farms, and topped with wholesome sliced bananas fresh from Middle America, flowed their corporate memes. •••
From Life, 1951. Sam Zemurray profile. The time of the Korean War, atomic bomb testing, Red Scare, Rosenbergs convicted of espionage, United Nations building opens in NYC, Univac computer, network TV expands...
At the helm of the huge company with 83,000 employees dedicated only to making breakfasts wholesome, and delivering tasty lunchbox fruit (“Nature’s Perfect Food”), is the stony and threateningly avuncular, Sam the Banana Man Zemurray. Although the Eliot Elisofon portrait of Zemurray in the Life article looks more like something out of Central Casting for a Mafia boss, by his sobriquet alone, you conjure up an image of a hardworking immigrant pushing his peddler’s cart up your street calling out in an accented, but friendly voice, “Ba-naaaa-nas, Got your nice ripe ba-naaa-nas.” But it’s not handsome Harry Belafonte fresh off the banana boat singing happy Calypso tunes, it’s not some swarthy Sicilian with giant mustachio and big smile, no, it’s
the lumbering Moldavian immigrant, Sam Zemurray, the 6’2” multimillionaire chairman, the man who overthrew governments and had his mercenary army of machine-gun toting soldiers gunning down the army of the elected president of Honduras, the man who crushed workers’ strikes with an iron hand, who mercilessly ignored workers’ pleas for shorter hours, more pay, and workplace safety, the man who sent workers into the fields to spray the blue-green poison of his “Bordeaux Mixture” to kill the fungal infections raging across his hundreds of thousand of acres of banana plantations in Central America, the man who schemed never to pay taxes or import duties to mere governments in his banana kingdom, and who bribed politicians with millions of dollars of secret payoffs like he was throwing pocket change to shoeshine boys. That’s your friendly Banana Man! The gangster style that Zemurray fused into the corporate DNA of the his fruit company was never excised. As late as 2004, United Fruit, in one of its later corporate permutations, was still paying off rightist death squads and insurrectionary armies in Colombia. They got caught and paid and big fine, probably nolo contendere. Remember, this was the company that had massacred banana strikers and their wives and children in Colombia in 1928––a deed so evil, and yet with so little repercussions for the company. Just protecting their assets, went the official explanation, but the people of Colombia never forgot, and the ghosts of the massacre and UFC corporate misdeeds haunt that troubled nation today. The massacre was memorialized in Gabriel García Márquez’s famous book, 100 Years of Solitude (see excerpt elsewhere in this issue). The Colombia banana massacre took place before Zemurray assumed command, but Zemurray later would amplify this aggressive corporate style. Under Zemurray, UFC was the company that engaged that other “Company”––the CIA–– to overthrow the reformist president Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala. Arbenz was interested in land reform and in curbing the might of the fruit giant. Zemurray and Bernays branded Arbenz a Communist and staged a coup using
a toady––a hand-picked “liberator” (Colonel Carlos Castillo-Armas), who swept into the country with unmarked CIA-piloted airplanes to oust the “leftist menace.” The ensuing civil war in Guatemala took 100,000 lives and saw a succession of vile presidents and dictators, and a country overrun with U.S-trained death squad torturers and murders. UFC was the company that stormed into the Americas like a wave of corporate barbarians, that fought workers from the beginning, that corrupted national politics and life, that destroyed environments and clear-cut uncountable acres of giant forest trees to create their banana plantations, which eventually exhausted the soil and poisoned the land and water. The fungal plagues that followed to destroy the plantations prompted UFC to rip up the railroad tracks (the promised infrastructural development of the host country) and move on to the other hundreds of thousands of acres of the best land in the tropics. This is the reality. But meet the mythical Sam as created by Edward Bernays. The lies, exaggerations, and omissions of facts that churned out of Bernays’ propaganda mills followed the number-one rule of propaganda: lie big and lie often. UFC sponsored junkets for journalists on the big banana boats of the “Great White Fleet”, across the Gulf of Mexico to Central America, so they could see first hand what the company wanted them to see. Bernays was the director of these dog and pony shows. He was known to stage fake guerilla attacks with choreographed loud explosions close to where his flock of journalists were billeted to give them first hand material to write about.
The Zemurray persona that Bernays fabricated was that big Sam was different: he had a social conscience, he liked the little people, he disdained big shots and snobby upper class elites. More astonishingly, the article in Life claimed that UFC was a progressive and forwardthinking company because they housed the workers for free and paid them three to five times more than locals got paid. Kobler wrote, “A good many Central Americans, …argue that United has evolved into the most progressive foreign enterprise in the tropics.”
But the reality was not very progressive at all. First, Zemurray and his minions put the locals out of business, or put them at risk by rejecting the bananas which they had grown on their own land. No wonder the local growers couldn’t compete or pay the “higher wages” (see Carlos Luis Fallas article in this issue). As for free housing, the dwellings were not the kind of “houses” anyone but swine would want to live in. During the 1955 banana strike in Costa Rica, labor and strike leader Carlos Fallas told about his visits to UFC operations in Panamá, and remarks how the worker housing was not fit for hogs. The workers were given these less-than-palatial quarters to keep them apart from their families and support networks and increase the allegiance to the company. Also, because the workers were isolated from home and families on remote plantations with no transportation, they quickly became enchained to the plantation system. There was no social support, few towns, no places to go after hours, no recreation except for pool tables and guaro in the company commissaries. Therefore, thought UFC, there was no need to pay the workers with real money since there was no place they could go to spend it. So the company issued scrip that was good at the company store for buying food and drinks and cigarettes, clothes and machetes––merchandise that had been imported duty free on company ships and priced cheaper that the goods of any local pulperias that might have tried to sell to the workers. If a worker did not have enough money, no problem. Their credit was good, but soon they were mired in debt they could never get out of. The company drained out of them more than it paid them. The “higher wages” that the Life article claimed the UFC workers got rarely saw the inside of their peasant’s cloth bags. The Life article cites a figure of $23.5 million that UFC spent on purchases in their banana kingdom, as if this proves their corporate beneficence. The number may be correct, but purchased from whom? UFC lawyers created entities, divisions and subsidiaries that bought and sold from one to another. The bribetainted contracts negotiated with the client countries allowed the company to import tax and duty-free on
their fleet of ships anything it needed in order to do business. That open-ended phrasing would cover just about anything. UFC imported from locomotives to rolling stock and rails, and sawmills for cutting the local lumber to make rail crossbars, wharves, and houses. This wood belonged to the company––a perk of their contract which gave them all the timber they wanted after the rainforests were clear cut. Kobler claims that UFC paid 11.5 million in taxes. This is dubious. Z hated taxes as much as he might have hated the Tsarist military police back in Moldavia. He avoided paying taxes and duties, and would sabotage the government of any country that dared challenge his claim to not have to pay. The company bribed presidents, politicians, and judges as a matter of policy. If the figure of $11.5 million is real, then it may have been the result of creative accounting on the part of company accountants who reclassified bribes as “taxes.” It makes sense, the company might have argued––it’s just a cost of doing business in the tropics. The article also says that UFC gave $5 million for free schools. This may have been for the schools of the children of the UFC executives quartered in the tropics, or may refer to the company-built agricultural research and training center in Zamarano, Honduras which trained local elites in fruit company techniques of tropical monocultures, fruit company style. Kobler shows company largesse in supporting an archaeology reconstruction project in the Mayan heartland, but the excavations were a source of Mayan artifacts that were plundered for the best specimens and sent up in the banana boats to the Peabody Museum at Harvard and the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane. The archaeology projects also were a legitimate scholarly diversion for Zemurray’s daughter, Doris who was a competent professional archaeologist. The stories and incidents in the life of Sam Z that Bernays fed to Kobler need to be cross-examined. The revelations that Z “disdains paperwork” is part of a narrative frame that makes Z seem like a tough,
impatient non-conformist. He seems to have been just that, if the stories are true. But after a close reading, something else emerges. Kobler wrote, “So seldom does he dictate a letter that he requires no full-time secretary. He will telephone division managers in half a dozen countries, correlate their reports in his head and reach his decision without touching a pencil. Recently, the manager of a Honduras division proudly handed him a long-labored, 90-page financial analysis. The dollar totals were summed up on the cover. Without reading the report, Zemurray ripped off the cover, stuffed it into his pocket and strode away muttering,’Most sensible damn statement I ever saw.’” Another story likely to have been planted by Bernays to show Z’s character and style puts Zemurray in a meeting, probably sometime in 1942. Three times, his secretary came into the meeting room and put a folded note on the table in front of the Chairman. Z looked at each note and continued the meeting showing no reactions. Each note informed him that, one, two, then three of his banana ships had been torpedoed in the same afternoon by a Nazi Unterseeboot (U-Boat). Losing three ships to Nazi U-boat torpedoes in the space of a few minutes does not sound like something the Russian Moldavian immigrant would have been so calm about. In fact, United Fruit lost 15 of its ships to U-boat torpedoes in1942, representing a huge loss of ships, men, and freight tonnage capacity. Why so calm? Did Z even raise an eyebrow? These stories can be read to make a case that Chairman Z was an illiterate who could barely read and write. Did Z not know what the note said until later? His secretary might not have been in on the secret. We know that Zemurray had no formal schooling. There are no Zemurray papers in any archive available to scholars. Maybe there are papers of his stashed away in his 16,000 acre estate of Zemurray Gardens in rural Louisiana. But does it even matter? It is certainly true that Zemurray was not innumerate! He knew numbers and knew how to turn bananas into money. If he was illiterate, Zemurray seems to have hidden it well, letting others do the dangerous work of putting
things in writing in a kind of personal and corporate omertá. During the heyday of Cuyamel, his first fruit company years in Honduras, one of Z’s old friends and business associates from New Orleans was his lieutenant (and fall guy for scorn) in Honduras after penning what may be the most blatantly immoral, unethical, and even criminal corporate memos in anyone’s memory. This notorious memo written in 1920 is the work of Hillyer V. Rolston (see sidebar). The venom in it still affects the national conscience of nationalist Hondurans. This rogue document is one that escaped from the deck of tightly-held cards that the banana companies played while casually deciding the fate of nations and their people. Because the document was not signed by Zemurray, a defense attorney could argue for legal deniability. Yet Zemurray’s iron grip on the tiller of both Cuyamel Banana company and later UFC argue for him being aware of the contents of the memo. •
Edward Louis Bernays Theoretician of Propaganda Manipulator of Public Opinion Crypto-Amanuensis of the Legend of Z
Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group. This practice of creating circumstances and of creating pictures in the minds of millions of persons is very common. Virtually no important undertaking is now carried on without it. Propaganda exists on all sides of us, and it changes our mental pictures of the world. Its use is growing as its efficiency in gaining public support is recognized. It takes account not merely of the individual, nor even the mass mind alone, but also the anatomy of society, with its interlocking group formations and loyalties. It sees the individual not only as a cell in the social organism but as a cell organized into the social unit. Touch a nerve at a sensitive spot and you get an automatic response from certain specific members of the organism. The public is made up of interlocking groups – economic, social, religious, educational, cultural, racial, collegiate, local, sports, and hundreds of others. The whole basis of successful propaganda is to have an objective and then to endeavor to arrive at it through an exact knowledge of the public and modifying circumstances to manipulate and sway that public. Propaganda, since it goes to basic causes, is most effective through the manner of its introduction. The media by which leaders transmit their messages to the public include all the means by which people today transmit their ideas to one another. There is no means of human communication which may not also be a means of deliberate propaganda. The motion picture can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation. Because pictures are made to meet market demands, they reflect, emphasize and even exaggerate broad popular tendencies, rather than stimulate new ideas and opinions. There are multitudes of other avenues of approach to the public mind, some old, some new as television. The relative value of the various instruments of propaganda, and their relation to the masses, are constantly changing. Edward Bernays, 1928
“We have to prolong their tragic, tormented and turbulent lives...” Cortés Development Company Puerto Cortés, 20 de julio de 1920 Sr. Licdo, Luis Melara Estimado Luis: ...1. So that all of our hard work and substantial investments won’t have been made in vain, we must take control of as much of the land and the wealth of this country that our purchasing power and our ability to assimilate it allows. 2. We must proceed with the enrichment of our company, and seize all the opportunities open to us using new ways of exploitation. Above all, we must get the land that our strategic interests make desirable in order to ensure our future development and agricultural growth that would increase our economic power. 3. We must get ironclad contracts such that nobody can offer us any competition, or such that in the distant future any other company that wanted to establish itself and grow, must follow our authority and adapt to our established principles. 4. We must get concessions, privileges, franchises, repeal of customs taxes, exemptions from any public charges, of any fines, and any and all taxes and duties which would significantly hurt our economic position. 5. It is essential to cultivate the imagination of these subjugated people and draw them to a general belief of how worthy we are, and also how worthy are the politicians and bosses whom we manipulate. Observation and careful study would let us ensure that these people, who are weakened by alcohol use, will be easily led to what is necessary and destined for them. It is in our interest to make this happen because they can be molded to our own exclusive benefit. Generally, these people, like all of them, have no convictions, no character, and less patriotism They crave only work and niceties and once they get this, we could make everything seem more palatable.
Internal correspondence of Zemurray’s Cuyamel Banana Company. A rare glimpse of how the banana companies really felt about the countries and people they overran.
6. These men cannot take any initiative on their own. They only proceed when told what to do under our immediate direction. 7. We might be tempted to separate out our friends who have been working for us and think them to be changed by their loyalty to us, but sooner or later they will betray us. They will run away if they feel offended, and treat us so differently that they would serve us no more. We definitely need their country, its natural resources, its coasts, and its ports, that we must acquire little by little. 8. Generally speaking, all our utterances and thoughts must revolve around these words: power, material wellbeing, work camps, discipline, and rules. We must proceed subtly, not leaving ourselves open to any idea that seems to show our hand or seems to justify our show of domination. There should be no beneficial action or considerateness -in short, no generosity or encouragement. If our projects do not end up badly, we would take a new direction: we would become more modest, simpler, more sympathetic, and perhaps good. 9. We must produce ruptures in the emerging economy of this country to increase its difficulties, and facilitate our purposes. We have to prolong their tragic, tormented and turbulent lives… Nos vemos H[illyer] V. Rolston
Cortés Development Company Puerto Cortés, 20 de julio de 1920 Sr. Licdo, Luis Melara Estimado Luis
...1. Para que nuestros grandes sacrificios, y nuestras cuantiosas inversiones, no hayan sido hechas en vano, debemos adquirir y apoderarnos de tantos territorios de la nación, como de particulares, y todas las riquezas que nos permita nuestra capacidad adquisitiva, y nuestro poder de absorción.
6. Estos hombres no deben actuar por su propia iniciativa, deben actuar en el sentido de los factores determinantes, y a nuestro control inmediato. 7. Debemos separar a nuestros amigos que han estado a nuestro servicio, que consideramos envilecidos por su lealtad, pues tarde o temprano, nos traicionarán, alejarnos si que se sientan ofendidos, y tratarlos con alguna diferencia para no servirnos más de ellos. Tenemos necesidad, sí, de su país, de sus recursos naturales, de sus costas y sus puertos, de que poco a poco debemos adquirir.
2. Debemos propender al enriquecimiento de nuestra empresa, y obtener todas las posibilidades que nos ofrezcan nuevos campos de explotación. En fin, debemos obtener las tierras, que a nuestros intereses estratégicos se hagan aparecer como deseables, que garanticen nuestro futuro desenvolvimiento y desarrollo agrícola, incrementando 8. De una manera general, todas la palabras y pensamientos, deben dar vueltas en torno de estas palabras : poderío, nuestro poder económico. bienestar material, campos de trabajo, disciplina y 3. Debemos obtener contratos implacables, de tal método. Hay que proceder con sutileza, no exponiéndonos naturaleza que nadie pueda sustentar competencia, ni en a ninguna idea que nos señale o justifique nuestra el futuro lejano a fin de que cualquiera otra empresa que se pretensión dominadora. Nada de acción bienhechora ni estableciera y pudiera desarrollarse, tenga nuestro control consideraciones, en resumen, ningún aliento generoso. Sin nuestros proyectos terminasen mal, tomaríamos una nueva y se adapte a nuestros principios establecidos. orientación, nos haríamos más modestos, más sencillos, más 4. Debemos obtener concesiones, privilegios, franquicias, simpáticos y quizás buenos. abrogación de impuestos aduaneros, exonerarnos de toda carga pública, de gravámenes, y de todos aquellos 9. Debemos producir desgarramiento en la incipiente impuestos y obligaciones, que mermen nuestra defensa economía de este país para aumentar sus dificultades, y se faciliten nuestros propósitos. Debemos prolongar su vida económica. trágica, tormentosa y revolucionaria ; el viento sólo debe 5. Es indispensable cultivar la imaginación de estos pueblos soplar a nuestras velas, a sus aguas humedecer no más que avasallados, atraerlos a la idea de nuestro engrandecimiento nuestras quillas. y de una manera general, a políticos y mandones que debemos utilizar. La observación y estudio cuidadoso, 10. Estamos pues, en el punto de partida, tú conoces mejor nos permite asegurar que este pueblo envilecido por el los hombres que yo. A tu llegada te mostraré una lista de alcohol es asimilable para lo que se necesita y destine ; es las tierras que debemos obtener, si es posible, de inmediato, nuestro interés procurarnos porque se dobleguen a nuestro debemos parar a Goodel en ‘el Bográn State’, vamos a exclusivo beneficio ; generalmente, éstos como aquellos, no forjarnos un plan bien estudiado para su desarrollo. tienen convicciones, carácter y menos patriotismo ; y sólo ansían cargos y dignidades, que una vez en ellos, nosotros Nos vemos se los haríamos más apetitosos. H. V. Rolston
by Patricia Spinelli
How elegant and relaxed they are in the sepia-toned photograph so stylized it could well be a snapshot of Scott and Zelda on a tropical vacation, or a clever retro Banana Republic clothing ad: two attractive people leaning against a canoe under the shade of a coconut palm, dressed in the tropical fashions of the day–– she in a loose fitting dress, staring into the camera, he wearing light-colored pants and linen shirt, and sporting saddle oxfords. The gentleman looks languidly off to the side revealing a distinguished profile. Is the couple planning their next game of tennis? Are they waiting for a servant to bring them an iced Pimm’s Cup? November 1, 1922 is written across the bottom of this tropical reverie. Back in the States and in world capitals, the Great War was over and there was everywhere a pent-up embrace of a frenzied popular
culture and wild exuberance. In Paris, Josephine Baker was dancing naked at the Folies Bergère, and hot jazz music, fresh out of the brothels of New Orleans, was forever changing the world. But this yellowed photograph is not an ad. It’s a photograph of two sober and serious American expatriates, Bruce M. Phelps and Mary Azelie Hibben Phelps, taken in Almirante, Panamá, while the couple was working for the United Fruit Company. By the first three decades of the twentieth century, the unchallenged corporate power of the United Fruit Company had more on its corporate mind than just growing bananas, building company towns and railroads, evading taxes, overthrowing governments, and exploiting workers. “Civilizing” the tropical
lowlands of Panamá, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala, and improving the sanitation and health care of its worker was high on its list of priorities. To accomplish this massive task, the United Fruit Company (hereafter UFC) recruited teams of doctors and nurses from the United States to work for its Medical Department, which established hospitals throughout the disease-ridden tropical lowlands where UFC was doing business. The U.S. government supported separatists in the Colombian state of Panamá in 1903 and sent the Navy to prevent the Colombia government from recovering the territory. After the military insured that Panamá was independent, the U.S. obtained the sovereign rights to a strip of land—the Canal Zone–– through which it planned on building an inter-oceanic
waterway. In 1912, the military intervened in the elections of Panamá to insure compliance with U.S wishes. Bruce M. Phelps, born in 1886, was an adventurous young man from a good family in Upstate New York. As soon as he was old enough, he went to work in the Canal Zone in connection with the construction of the Panama Canal. There he struck up a friendship with one of the doctors who had recognized Bruce’s uncanny ability to deal with sick or injured workers and encouraged him to go to medical school when he returned to the United States. That’s just what Phelps did, graduating in 1917 with a medical degree from Vanderbilt University. After graduation he served as a doctor in World War I, and was stationed in Hampton Virginia at the U.S. Army medical facility that still exists today in
the much enlarged form of the Hampton Veterans Administration hospital. Upon his discharge, Phelps signed on with United Fruit Company and returned to Almirante Bay, near Bocas del Toro, Panamá. “It was about this time – 1919 or 1920-- that my grandmother also arrived in Panamá. She had been a nurse in the Army Nurse Corps and had been stationed in Italy and France. When she returned to the States at the end of the war, she was faced with two prospects: go back to being a proper young lady in New Orleans, or respond to an ad she saw calling for medical personnel to work in the Canal Zone. The ad won out!” says Michael Bruce Hamar, the couple’s grandson. “My grandparents were anything but ordinary people. They were possessed of a sense of adventure, and were full of life, so it’s not surprising that they saw the lure of working in the tropics as yet another adventure after the war. They wound up spending more than 20 years in Central America as part of the Medical Department of United Fruit Company.” The doctors and nurses in the UFC Medical Department viewed their role as more than just treating physical illnesses; they saw themselves as agents of change for improving both the mental health and conditions in which the banana workers lived. United Fruit Company believed their medical mission was so important that reports on its progress in the tropics became a substantive part of the monthly employee publication, Unifruitco. There was no denying that UFC was breaking ground in the control, treatment, and eradication of tropical diseases. After meeting, this energetic couple was married in 1922. Dr. Phelps was 35, and Mary Azelie Hibben was ten years younger. After Almirante, where their oldest daughter Mary Alice was born, they moved
Phelps family residence
Mary Azelie and Bruce Phelps & Family
Bird’s Eye View of Hospital Compound Photographs provided by the courtesy of Michael Hamar
Mary Azelie and Mary Alice
United Fruit Company Medical Staff, Panamá
Bruce Phelps & colleague sailing, El Almirante Bay
UFC Hospital, El Almirante
to Puerto Castilla, Honduras and spent roughly ten years there. “That was where my mother Marion and her sister Catherine Ann were born,” Michael adds. “My mother spoke Spanish before she spoke English, and attended the schools in the towns where they lived. My mother and her sisters led tomboy lives riding horses and playing with the other children in the town. My mother, with her dark hair and tanned skin, often blended into the communities in which they lived. By now, my grandmother had given up her nursing career to be a housewife and mother, enjoying that role as much as she did nursing. Their last post was Puerto Armuellas, Panamá, just west of David, before they moved back to the United States in the late thirties just prior to the onset of World War II.” ••• The United Fruit Company was founded in 1899 by Minor Keith and Andrew Preston. After the early intrigues, mergers, coups and outright corporate hooliganism, the company emerged as the world’s largest grower and shipper of bananas. To get to its position as a corporate colossus it built railways, installed radio and telegraph services, and maintained a fleet of 98 refrigerated ships that came to be known as the Great White Fleet, which was actually the world’s largest private navy. During both world wars of the 20th century, UFC’s fleet was mustered into service. In 1942 and 1943, more than 20 German U-boats cruised the Gulf of Mexico, sending 56 vessels to the bottom in an attempt to bring the war to the United States and disrupt the flow of oil—so necessary to war machine. The S.S. San José and the S.S. Esparta, the first banana reefers built to United Fruit design, were sunk by those U-boats. UFC’s ships were painted white against
the heat of the tropics, and the fleet sailed to some of the most exotic ports of call of the times – Havana, Belize, the Panamá Canal. Even though the ships often carried paying passengers, it was primarily a refrigerated merchant line whose function it was to haul massive cargoes of bananas back to the United States. Bananas were obviously the more desirable commodity as evidenced by the phrase “Every banana a guest, every guest a pest,” which became a popular mantra among United Fruit Company personnel. The Great White Fleet was one of the first air-conditioned shipping lines and it routinely transported the staff of UFC and the Medical Department back to the United States on ships heading for the ports of New Orleans or New York with its cargo. The “Sixaola” was one of these ships that transported personnel, including. Dr. Phelps, his wife, and children. The founders of UFC were known to mingle with presidents and dictators (Minor Keith eventually married the daughter of an ex-president of Costa Rica)—standard business practices of the day. The cocky fruit company operated more like a selfcontained, autonomous country than a corporation. UFC had on its massive payroll a vast assortment of managers, engineers, architects, teachers, sea captains, chefs, scientists, doctors, radio and telephone operators, and even archeologists, who excavated the dense jungles of Central America and restored the Mayan site of Quiriguá in eastern Guatemala. The magnificent stone monoliths were a testament to the great civilization which had built them, claimed an effusive National Geographic magazine story, even comparing that former “mighty race of people” to the “new civilization” being created by United Fruit. So successful was the publicity campaign that United Fruit Company orchestrated in the United States
about this project that a commemorative stamp was issued to glorify this massive undertaking. UFC established a Middle American Research Institute at Tulane University in the New Orleans, hometown of Sam Zemurray, UFC’s Napoleon. Zemurray made sure that the Mayan artifacts uncovered by UFC’s armies of machete-swinging workers who cleared the rainforests to plant bananas were spirited out of the country on the company’s rail cars and steamships. Both Tulane and Harvard’s museums benefited from this looting. UFC’s immense staff was ethnically diverse, and UFC made sure that Hispanics from the countries in which UFC operated were strategically placed in middle management positions. Even the banana workers were a diverse mix with a significant West Indian population and indigenous natives from both the coastal lowlands and the highlands. In the early days of its operation, it was the Jamaicans who could withstand the onslaught of the Yellow Fever outbreaks that spread throughout the UFC enclaves. The company towns that sprung up along the Caribbean shore of Central America were basically self-sufficient communities ––isolated worlds unto themselves ––with employee housing, stores, warehouses, churches, schools, paved streets, water and sewage services, power plants, airfields, and hospitals. Of significant note is that these enclaves were out of the host nation’s purview and operated as independent fiefdoms of United Fruit Company. Puerto Castilla was the pride and joy of UFC and had literally been developed from nothing, and soon the banana plantations’ expat personnel were enjoying beautiful beaches, swimming pools, and even a yacht club with an in-house jazz band called the “Banana Six.” The Medical Department may have been
able to treat the sick and ailing workers, but it couldn’t stop the spread of Panamá disease, which infected the hundreds of square miles of identical banana plants, and the later Sigatoka virus, which wiped out literally hundreds of thousands of acres of bananas. So devastating were their losses in Honduras that UFC eventually abandoned Puerto Castilla altogether in 1935. Today, only the former hospital building remains. At the time that UFC settled in the tropical lowlands, this area was an impenetrable and nearly uninhabitable (except by the Indians) teeming rainforest of tropical diseases, especially Yellow Fever, Malaria, and American Trypanosomas, plus and an assorted array of hookworms and other parasites which took a devastating toll on the local inhabitants. It was no small task to drain swampland and clear dense forest undergrowth to establish railroads, bridges, roads, and communication services, but once this was accomplished, the vast banana plantations soon followed. The in-house publication Unifruitco, proudly illustrated the dramatic changes that UFC was responsible for in the topics. Mosquito-infested lagoons gave way to proper drainage ditches among the rows of perfectly planted banana trees, and on the outskirts sprang the totally-contained company towns. Field hospitals and medical staff soon followed the work crews who were busy constructing railroads and laying communication networks. Each new settlement had a permanent medical facility and a medical superintendent. Although the Medical Department’s annual reports were an integral part of disseminating information about the operation and the maintenance of the workers’ health, one of its most notable accomplishments was the appointment of Dr. William E. Deeks to the
position of General Manager. Deeks was an esteemed expert in tropical medicine, credited with eradicating Yellow Fever in the Panamá Canal Zone. By the 1920s, five modern hospitals were established in Central America, and Dr. Phelps held the position of hospital administrator and surgeon. One hundred ten doctors and registered nurses, along with 584 staff members treated approximately 22,000 cases, while the field facilities racked up more than 230,000 cases. The patients were not only company workers and their dependents, but local non-employees who lived in and around UFC’s company towns. More than one million dollars was spent annually to cover salaries, medicines, patient treatment, and research and development. UFC also allocated an additional $500,000 annually to be spent on sanitation. “When I was a young boy, it was extremely fascinating and exotic to have grandparents that had lived and worked in the tropics. Those places were a great mystery to us,” Michael reminisces. “At the time we were living in upstate New York and the tropics were a completely different world. One of my favorite pasttimes was to pore over the UFC Medical Department journals that had photos and articles, some of which my grandfather authored, on Malaria, Yellow Fever and other tropical or unusual illnesses that occurred throughout the UFC hospitals. It wasn’t just the illnesses that needed to be treated. There were various kinds of injuries, such as the banana worker who had been attacked by a shark and needed his leg sown back. Those pictures were in the UFC journal. Another time my grandfather had to repair the face of a banana worker who been slashed with a machete in a fight he didn’t win. Some of these banana workers presented my grandfather with
gifts of appreciation. I remember playing with a miniature carved canoe and paddle, lying on the jaguar rug that had also been a gift, and ogling the various other wood carvings that they had displayed in their home,” Michael remembers fondly. “My grandfather’s services were apparently greatly appreciated.” The Medical Department, important as it was, had a far greater task than just treating sickness and injuries. The staff believed that their high-tech facilities and innovative sanitation methods, as well as the treatment of disease, should stand as a medical model for the rest of tropical Latin America. They played a major role in the way tropical diseases were treated and this information was disseminated throughout Latin America, which heretofore was generally in the dark ages when it came to understanding the origins and treatment of most illnesses that plagued the region. The Medical Department also held international conferences such as the one in Jamaica in 1924, which was attended by members of the medical community as well as representatives from all of Central America, the US government, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the British Colonial Office. UFC was praised as a “pioneer and leader looking after the health of their employees.” The Medical Department viewed their contribution as one not just relegated to the care of UFCs employees, but the improvement of conditions throughout Central America. Their agenda to advance the medical profession of host countries was a way to spread knowledge and experience to benefit local communities throughout the region. By 1931, after the death of Dr. William Deeks, the Annual Reports from the Medical Department hardly attracted any attention at all. It seemed that its strategies for dealing with and eradicating disease
How the other half lived
Afro-Caribbean bananeros cutting and packing Gros Michel bananas for the United Fruit Company in Panamá, ca. 1920.
had made very little progress. The strength of the Medical Department was more focused on providing hospital and patient care within the company towns, while the burden of research into tropical medicine shifted to the Rockefeller Foundation, upon whose research laboratories UFC heavily relied. The Medical Department estimated that as much as forty percent of the population of the lowland coastal areas was afflicted with Malaria whose symptoms included fever, headaches, sweating, fatigue, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite, jaundice, vomiting, and enlarged liver and spleen. The cycle of illness in the lowlands took its toll not only on the person who was sick, but also on their families. With the inability to work, a lack of money and therefore food ensued, which contributed to the overall poor health of the workers, which in turn made them even more susceptible to relapses of Malaria or the inability to get well at all. Although these workers were once seen and described as indolent and lazy, it was later decreed by the Medical Department that this was not really the case, “they were simply the victims of a debilitating disease.” [This is still true around the world. One billion people suffer today from easily-treatable neglected tropical diseases. See sidebar]. The Medical Department had its work cut out for it. They first had to educate the local population on the cause of Malaria, namely a protozoan parasite carried by the Anopheles mosquito. Dwellings for these people were often erected in swampy areas with standing pools of water and thick underbrush, creating a veritable breeding ground for mosquitoes. As if eradicating the conditions responsible for fostering the disease wasn’t a monumental task, there was also the challenge of educating the population about the dangerous, but
common, practice of using streams for nearly everything – laundry, bathing, drinking, and sewage disposal. The end result would be a more productive and profitable workforce, which pleased upper management. After all, a sickly workforce was bad for the bottom line. For the Medical Department, this was simply the job they viewed as their own, irrespective of corporate hierarchy’s goals and mandates. They had, after all, taken he Hippocratic Oath. Their mission was to transform the company’s tropical operations into modern sanitary areas, with a specialized curriculum in the schools to focus on the elements contributing to Malaria, hygiene, and nutrition. The end result of this program, they hoped, would create healthier and more self-reliant workers. The sprawling hospitals that were built in the middle of the forbidding jungles were architecturally impressive and exquisitely decorated on the inside. Subtle colors, modern furniture, and colorful tapestries, pleasing to the patient and staff alike, were trademarks of these facilities. Not only were they set up to diagnose and treat diseases, they had the most advanced laboratories, X-ray equipment, and surgery theaters, along with large stores of pharmaceutical supplies and high-tech gadgets. UFC spared no expense. “The hospital staff treated everyone, not just the banana workers. They also organized activities for the staff. Each export town was a little world until itself, and sometimes the towns would compete against other towns in field baseball games. And then there were the social functions, where everyone seemed to have a good time. In general, my grandparents always spoke fondly of their years in Central America and of the people in the towns in which they had lived,” Michael says proudly. Dr. Phelps and his family returned
to the States just prior to World War II, primarily to care for Dr. Phelps’ ailing parents. “My grandfather became the head of the Lewis County General Hospital in Upstate New York, and also served as the Lewis County coroner for a number of years. Although he claimed to have retired, he never really did. He kept a small home office where he saw patients. Even at our summer house on Brantingham Lake in the Adirondacks of northern New York, he always had a sideboard against the wall displaying emergency medical necessities. Many who summered there came to my grandfather for treatment of cuts, scrapes, or an occasional dislocated shoulder. Even though my grandfather died in 1963, for years after his death the occasional summer visitor to the lake would come to our house for treatment of some minor incident, unaware that he had passed away. I know my grandfather had a deep sense of satisfaction that he had been able to help people. Despite the negative publicity that UFC has received throughout the years, my grandparents were very happy in the employ of UFC. They were there for one purpose only and that was to take care of sick and injured people,” Michael states categorically. “Politics of the region and corporate intrigue were not their concerns, and nor do I remember any discussions about such things when I was growing up. We grandchildren found it fascinating and exotic that our grandparents had led such an exciting life in the tropics, a real contrast to northern New York where my family lived before moving to Virginia in the early 70’s. We still have many photos of that time, and many items that were given as gifts to my grandfather,” he adds wistfully. “And of course, many of the UFC medical journals as reminders of the time they spent there.”
Phelps family photos provided by Michael Hamar
The Banana Man’s Burden
A Perfect Picture of Monopoly Capitalism at Work. Afro-Caribbean banana workers cut stems of Gros Michel bananas under the watchful eye of the armed United Fruit Company field supervisor. The company obtained their lands in the tropics through coups, bribes, and corruption, backed by U.S. military interventions. The company paid few taxes. The forest ecology had been clear cut for the planting of disease-prone export mono crops. The profits were siphoned out of the country. The workers were underpaid, underprotected, and were forced into debt-servitude by living on company lands and forced to buy overpriced imported goods from company stores for which the company paid no duties. Bocas del Toro, Panamá, ca. 1920.
Guyamí Guyamí Indians are “treated on and around the [United Fruit Company] plantations like offal and react with extremely self-destructive behavior…” Michael Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity– –A Particular History of the Senses, 1992
Dr. Bruce Phelps worked in the UFC hospital on a variety of illnesses presented to him. His specialty was fighting malaria––an illness that one out of four people working in the field in the banana business in the Neotropics contracted. Phelps used a form of quinine that was helpful in treating malaria. Quinine disrupted the life cycle of the malarial parasite, but did not cure it. The bitter quinine was also used in tonic water mixed with gin to make a Gin and Tonic cocktail–– that signature drink of the tropics from British colonials in the Raj to the dazed and thirsty expats in the Neotropics. The active ingredient in the tonic water was the quinine, derived from the bark of the cinchona tree. The parasite-loaded mosquitoes buzzing around their pith helmets or baseball caps were the reason the tropical expats needed all those cocktails.
affect more than one billion people-one-sixth of the earth’s population. Neglected tropical diseases are connected to poverty and oppression. Affected populations are also the poorest and have little or no political voice to alert the world of their plight.
Malaria is such a huge problem worldwide that it is not neglected, but many tropical diseases are. The World Health Organization lists 14 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that thrive in forgotten corners of the word, especially poor countries with unsafe water, poor sanitation, and little access to fundamental health care. These diseases, many of which can be cured or treated inexpensively, nonetheless
Some of the NTDs can be treated simply and at unbelievably low cost. Fortunately, more and more neglected tropical diseases are on the international agenda. Because of air travel, greater numbers of globehoppers visit out-of-the-way regions of the world on adventure vacations and may contract diseases, most notably malaria and hepatitis, but increasingly, some of the more exotic ones.
The poor people who are exposed to and contract the NTDs live in the slums, war zones, and remote rural areas. Even if there was a will to help, often the country they live in is a victim of past or present colonialism, ethnic conflict, corporate plunder, or just plain bad historical luck. The diseases tend to stay in the hellholes and not travel. Not much is done when these diseases are off the radar of first-worlders, though when a disease does break through, massive mobilizations happen overnight to prevent further outbreaks and epidemics.
Yellow Fever cartoon. Panama, 1904
Costa Rica, proud boaster of its biodiversity, must know that not every species is a tourist boon. Three of the 14 NTDs are found in Costa Rica. The most serious is Chagas disease, or American Trypanosomiasis. This is a protozoan infection contracted from the bite of it’s vector, the crawling bugs of the Triatomid family. This is the notorious Kissing Bug, so named because it is attracted to the exhaled carbon dioxide in the breath of it’s victims and therefore tends to bite on the face. When it sucks out a blood meal, it defecates in the wound and passes on the protozoan responsible
for the infection. The disease can cause blindness and infect the heart muscle. The only fix for a Chagas-infected heart is a heart transplant! These insects are everywhere and reservoirs of the disease are found in dogs, and possibly free-foraging mammals common in rural areas. Dengue fever is endemic in the Neotropics, and makes headlines every rainy season when there are blooms of its vector, the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that breed in stagnant water. Also known as Bonebreak fever for the severe pain in causes in
Neglected Tropical Diseases and the Disease of Monopoly Capitalism The tropical diseases caused by germs, viruses, and, parasites were a problem as the fruit companies slashed their way through wetlands and rain forest ecosystems. The endemic tropical diseases hiding in the forest got a boost when human hosts were available to add to their complex life cycles. Mosquitoes, the most important vectors of malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever, have specific ecological requirements. When a new banana boom town or plantation was carved out of old growth forest, the stable forest ecology was disrupted and new opportunities for increased vector populations came about. The results were increased outbreaks of the tropical fevers.
bones and especially joints, dengue is particularly nasty because the second time you get infected, the disease can turn into a fatal hemorrhagic form. The third tropical disease is Leshmaniasis, another protozoan illness that produces ugly skin lesions and internal visceral involvement contracted from the bite of a sand fly. The reservoirs of this disease
are humans, dogs, and opossums, among other mammals. These are some of the zoonotic diseases that pass from animals to humans as part of a complex life cycle. There are other diseases not listed in medical textbooks. These, we might call the “capitalonotic diseases.”
There is great irony in the fact that banana companies helped to fight endemic tropical diseases that were possibly augmented in the first place by the massive ecological havoc caused by their mono-cropped plantation system and clear cut forests. The affected people of Central America could easily make a case that the fruit giants were themselves the worst disease of all--a social and cultural plague which killed people or cut their lives short, bribed and corrupted governments, overthrew elected politicians, caused general social mayhem, removed the wealth of the country, and left in their wake clear cut rainforests and poisoned land. The UFC represented a monocultural, monopolistic mindset––a predatory way of thinking and acting that feared competition, whether by other, similar-
thinking corporations, but especially from government and unions. These latter two were the mortal enemy of their unfettered economic totalitarianism, for that is exactly what it was. United Fruit was bigger and richer than their puny host countries with all their bothersome laws and cultural customs. UFC treated what few regulations and taxes that did exist like so many meddlesome tropical insects disturbing its tranquility.
The corporate insects pictured are from the series “Transmigrations, Cases of Corporate Reincarnation” by Viktor Koen, a Greekborn artist specializing in digital illustration. He’s a professor at Parsons in New York and has his work regularly published in Time, Newsweek, Esquire, Money and Forbes among others. “Transmigrations, is a series of 24 portraits of high executive title holders that return to life as insects. It’s a series that combines theories and research on social insects, traditional and contemporary corporate structures, job descriptions and reincarnation scriptures (more specifically the controversial teachings of Pythagoras on transmigration of souls). They personify symbols and weapons of their trades in a number of levels, some instantly visible and other hidden, avoiding the obvious and the expected.” From: http://coilhouse.net/2008/07/fantastic-contraption-artist-viktor-koen/. Used under fair use provisions, and for educational and public health considerations.
Capitalonotic Disease Vectors
A Perfect Dayfor a Banana
I Editor’s Note For all the sweetness of the fruit grown by the banana workers in Costa Rica, their harvest is bitter. They have dangerous jobs because of the exposure to the poisons required to keep the pampered fruit marketable. Independent worker unions have been fought and suppressed, and the workers have suffered reprisals since the beginning of the banana era. The struggle to organize the banana workers and the violent reaction this struggle has provoked in foreign fruit monopolies and with the corporate-compliant rightist regimes of the host countries sits behind the history of the violence, genocides, invasions, and corruption of the last century of Central American history. This story is a true one, fictionalized to protect the identity of the workers.
by Umberto Dávila
smael stirs when his cheap, Chinesemade alarm clock sounds at 3:00 A.M-the devil’s hour. This is the quietest time of the day and Ismael’s treasured time alone. His wife Florinda and baby girl Fermina are still asleep. Soon Fermina will cry for a feeding, but, thankfully, not yet. He puts a stick of wood into the fogon and stirs the ashes of yesterday’s fire. When a kettle boils, he makes coffee in a simple wire-frame choreador. He breaks his fast with a day-old tortilla he has unwrapped from a cloth dish towel. He sits on a plastic chair outside the three-room house to enjoy the coolest hour of the hot and humid Caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica. Ismael is 28 years old, with a high school education, married, with a child, talented with his hands and at fixing things, but with a job he dreads. Soon, the first bird songs of the day will be heard and later, the raucous calls of the Howler monkeys. In one hour when Florinda is up, he will start his one-hour walk to the bananera-the banana plantation which clocks-in the other 300 employees straggling in from other settlements around the plantation like lines of disorganized leafcutter ants at 5:00 A.M. sharp. Ismael walks the five kilometers to work in the dark, his leather-sheathed
machete banging his leg, to begin another day of tending to the needs of those demanding bunches of hanging fruit. Ismael’s job is to put soft foam pillows behind the pointy green heads of these little growing bananas--like over-pampered children, he thinks to himself. The bosses don’t want the tightly-bunched bananas to mark or bruise the crowded-little green fingerlings. The job is physically easy for the muscular young Costa Rican, although his shoulders ache at the end of the eight-hour day. The acrid smell of agrochemicals burns his nose and reddens his eyes. The worst is when the crop dusters fly low and spray the rows of tens of thousands of genetically-identical banana plants with the fungicides that hold the Black Sigatoka fungal rot at bay. The spray sticks to his sweaty skin, even though he and the other workers are temporarily, and ineffectively, sheltered under the leaves of scrub trees on the plantation fence lines as the plane dives down and strafes the enemy fungal spores. The poisons will burn him all day and he won’t get to wash it off until after his return walk home in the afternoon where he can flush the sweat and stinging chemicals off his tired body under a bracing, cold-water shower. His shift goes to 2:00 P.M., but often the men work a short swing shift of another four hours when the those big, empty 40-foot containers sit on the plantation loading areas with hungry maws widely agape, waiting for their meal of 1500 20-kilo boxes of bananas to be loaded in. The endless rows of banana plants each dangle with alien blue sacks--strange fruit in a lush greeen landscape. The bags are plastic
condom-like wraps impregnated with chloropyrifos and other nerve poisons meant to kill insects. Ismael has seen a thick safety manual in the office of the processing plant, but has never read it. If he had been able to get through the technical language and long chemical names, he might have learned that the poisons used to kill the insects that are attracted to the banana plants and their fruit belong to a class of chemicals called organophosphates that were first developed in the 19th century. They came into use during the world wars of the 20th century as nerve gas agents. Ismael didn’t study organic chemistry in the poor high school he attended, but if he had, he would know that these chemicals inhibit the enzyme cholinesterase which allows nerve signals to function in all animal bodies. When cholinesterase is inhibited, the poisoning starts on the victim with extreme excitability and shaking, then convulsions, paralysis, and rapid death. These are the same chemicals used in those “weapons of mass destruction” so much in the news that Ismael would have learned about, if he had been able to get and read newspapers, or if had a television set. Ismael probably would not have known that chloropyrifos has been banned in the U.S since 2002 because of its dangerous toxicity, and that the chemical poison manufacturers churn out tons of the poison for use in slower-to-react countries of the global south whose populations seem more expendable maybe because there are so many more brown people. It takes more nerve poison to kill a big man like Ismael than a small insect or a minute fungal spore, but lifetime exposure to chemical poisons is cumulative and can cause seri-
ous systemic problems slowly. Years after Ismael has left the banana fields, he may get life-threatening dis eases of apparently nonspecific causes. Ismael, like so many Latin Americans, will probably attribute their dread diseases to their hot/cold folk theories of illness, which are based on the humoral medicine of Hippocrates. Ismael will say, for example, that an uncle of his who had colon cancer got it because in his job as a long lines fisherman in the Caribbean on a Japanese shark factory ship, he got hot during the day and then drank cold water to cool his thirst. Such explanations allow the real causative agents far back in time to escape the blame. When the company airplanes fly over the plantation, they spray chlorothalonil to kill the funguses that can spread through the banana fields like a black fire. Chlorothalonil causes eye irritations and burns the skin. All the men suffer from these symptoms, as do the women and children living in the company bungalows strung along the plantation road like identical matchboxes. The airplanes dive low, but wind deposits the chlorothalonil everywhere. It settles on the clothes hanging out to dry in the Caribbean sun, and on the plastic toys and soccer balls of the children left in the small yards. Years later, the banana workers and their families will have damaged kidneys and various cancers and tumors. They and their doctors will never be able to pin it on the company crop-dusters. It will just become part of the self-narrative of poor workers who blame their ills on the vagaries of a life in which, inexplicably, God permits bad things to happen. The qualifier, “Si Dios quiere...”
Every day is a perfect day to be a banana, but it’s just not very good to be a banana worker.
puntuates their speech all day long. The God of the banana workers seems to act more harshly against these men who, for all of their hard work in a dangerous, life-threatening environment, make only 800 colones an hour, with no benefits and no job security. Ismael doesn’t know when it will happen, but he can be sure that periodically a supervisor will present him with a sheet of paper and a pen and explain to him that if he voluntarily quits his job because they do not need him for a month, that they will rehire him. But if he doesn’t quit on his own, then they will fire him, and because of the laws about firing a worker that require the company to pay out extra money to the worker as a severance, that he will never be hired again, and that if he causes trouble they will put his name on a list as a troublemaker and no other banana company will ever hire him. Ismael’s supervisor likes him because Ismael has automotive repair skills that he learned from a previous job in San José. The supervisor has asked Ismael to work on his car on company time. Under pressure, Ismael has complied, but he knows that if a higher boss sees the dereliction, he will not have the support of his supervisor. Ismael sees the occasional cruising of the pretty young women workers by supervisors in the banana-washing sheds. Women can be coerced into sex with their bosses. They pair off and are temporarily hidden in the smelly green labyrinths of the plantation for a tryst, a la vache. The desperation and alienation of the work breaks down traditional values. Unmarried men spend what little they have left after buying their meals in the overpriced company-run soda, and sending high-interest-rate money orders back home to poverty-stricken families in Nicaragua or Honduras, on cheap guaro. Who can blame them?
Banana Worker, Sarapiquí, Costa Rica Photo by Ross Kelly
Meanwhile, the coddled little bananas grow up with soft foam pillows on which to rest their pointy heads; they snuggle behind poisoned blue condoms to keep away predatory
insects, and are powdered with the fine white makeup of fungicides to keep away the blackening fungal rots. When their four months of growing on the plants is up, the identical banana siblings are gently hoisted down, given a cooling bath in the banana shed spa, dried and packed in comfortable boxes and loaded into a refrigerated container for their exciting vacation abroad. Soon the ripening bananas will be taken to brightly-lit produce departments in suburban supermarkets in North America and Europe. They will be tenderly picked and bought by eager people speaking different languages, ready to bring to their homes the perfect, happy, blemishfree (but not toxin-free), smiling yellow fruit from the sunny tropical paradises where they were born and raised with such loving care. It’s a perfect day to be a banana. It’s just not very good to be a banana worker.
José Alberto Paniagua, the son of a banana worker sprayed by the banana companies with Nemagon, a toxic pesticide in the 70s and 80s. Today, the men and women who worked on those plantations suffer from incurable illnesses. Their children are deformed. The companies say they are innocent.
The contested history of the Philippine islands predates the Spanish invasion in 1521 and the American invasion and conquest in the 19th century. Resistance to the greedy invader is expressed in this story depicting the origin of the banana plant. Bananas did in fact originate somewhere in this general part of the world. This myth compresses time, but expresses a theme of resistance to invasion and a hope for endurance.
ear the town of Vigan, a wealthy family had a daughter named Corazón, who was the most beautiful maiden in their village. Every young man was enthralled by her beauty and dreamt of her hand in marriage. Spanish soldiers and sailors had invaded their island and were occupying their town, and soon word spread to the family that the Spanish captain had designs on their daughter, so they hid the beautiful Corazón. One day, after a group of Spanish soldiers had pillaged the houses and robbed the people of their wealth, Corazon’s parents could not find her and feared the worst. But Corazón was missing because she was helping people escape from the marauding Spaniards, who didn’t think twice about killing people resisting their demands. Corazón attempted to return to her home but she was captured and brought to the captain. The captain informed Corazón of his intentions to take her as his wife, but Corazón refused. The furious, spiteful captain ordered Corazón killed and her body to be thrown onto the street as a lesson to the people. Corazón’s parents were devastated. There was no time to have a coffin made
in the tumult of the Spanish occupation, so with much weeping and sadness, the family and friends of Corazon could do nothing except bury her. Returning the next day for more remembering and prayers, Corazón’s parents saw the grave site crowded with excited townspeople. A beautiful plant had grown from exactly the spot where she was buried. No one had ever seen such a plant. It grew very fast and soon a long arm emerged with what looked like a heart. The people of the town were astonished, but Corazón’s parents knew exactly what it meant. Corazón had returned and was giving sweet gifts of herself to the people of the town, and soon the whole island. Before long, Corazón’s beautiful heart and her gifts of food from the plant had spread far and wide. The Spanish left the island disturbed that news and proof of their bad deeds were spreading. They feared the justice that would be meted out to them from the wrath of the people they had persecuted. Everywhere they looked they saw the startling red hearts of the beautiful girl they had killed, but the pure heart of Corazón could not be destroyed. Now there are millions and millions of the generous plants with strong hearts and bountiful gifts. •
Heartless Bananas Commercial banana growers slice off the banana heart after the bananas have filled out in the bunch. In the Central American tropics, the banana hearts are discarded, but in the southern Asian islands and archipelagos, the banana flower is a delicacy. Some recipes for using banana hearts from other bananagrowing lands of the world, appear after the photographs of the heartless bunches of bananas lynched on factorylike cable assemblies on Costa Rican plantations. A variation on the Costa Rican maize masa and pork tamale traditionally served at Christmas time is presented also.
Banana hearts for sale in Thai market
Nature: bananas with inflorescence of male flowers inside the purplish bract (heart)
Culture: the castrated bunch wrapped in chloropyrifos-impregnated plastic bag.
Banana Packer, Atlantic Zone, Costa Rica Ross Kelly
Banana Plantation, Atlantic Zone, Costa Rica Gene Warneke
Banana Spider Driver Atlantic Zone, Costa Rica Stephen Duplantier
Banana Packer, Atlantic Zone, Costa Rica Stephen Duplantier
A Speech of Carlos Luis Fallas San José, Costa Rica, 1955
Fellow Workers: I come willingly to take part in this meeting and express my solidarity with the strikers of Puerto González Víquez. I do so in my capacities as a Costa Rican, as an ex-employee of the United Fruit Company, as a former leader of the Federation of Banana Workers in the Atlantic, and soon of the Federation of Banana Workers of the Pacific, and also in my capacity as leader of the great banana strike of 1934. On this occasion of your struggles and the strike, which is presently being waged by the banana workers in the south of the country, I want us tonight to recall some memories of past struggles so that the young people here know the experiences that the Costa Rican working class has had in its relations with the United Fruit Company, and above all, to know how this company always managed to fight against banana workers in Costa Rica. Continued.
Central American Banana Strikers. An understanding of Central American labor history is the key to making sense of 100 years of U.S. military adventurism and state/corporate imperialism in Latin America.
From Mamita Yunai: El Infierno de las Bananeras Translated by Stephen Duplantier
Excerpts from the Speech
Gustave Doré. Dante’s Inferno
Before 1934, life on the plantations of United was a horrific hell compared to that of the workers who today are working on those same banana plantations-and that is saying a lot, because the living conditions of the workers today are despicable. • We lived in pens. We never saw a toilet. The infamous “commissaries,” through which United exercised an absolute monopoly of sales throughout the banana region, sold all quality articles to the workers at outrageous prices even though, with the complicity of our government, the Company paid no taxes or import duties on any of these items. This was outrageous. The United Fruit Company with all its millions of dollars was making even fatter profits by squeezing the workers in those infamous commissaries! • The policemen were coached to try to provoke the strikers. When a group of strikers passed, the police shouted, “Nicas, fags! Why not be men and stop this?” People came to the Twenty-Six Mile camp, which was the headquarters of the strike committee, crying with rage and saying, “Compañero Fallas, let us show these fucks that we are real men! Let us go tonight to give them a surprise!” We had to have a big meeting to warn the strikers against these provocations, and colleagues were sent in all directions with this warning. The United Fruit Company, seeking to capitalize on the hunger and misery of the workers, also plotted some infamous provocations.
I Before 1934, life on the plantations of United was a horrific hell compared to that of the workers who today are working on those same banana plantations-- and that is saying a lot, because the living conditions of the workers today are despicable. I was very young when I arrived at the banana plantations. Some of my experiences of that time are known through my book Mamita Yunai, where I have told about some of the hardships and humiliations of the life we suffered back then in the banana zone of the Atlantic. In my book, I wrote about a “medical dispensary in Andromeda,” because it was part of my story about a clinic and a doctor whom I would meet later at the Hacienda Pejibaye, which was in Cartago and then part of the properties of the same imperialist enterprise. But in all the enormous banana plantations of the Atlantic at the time, there was no single known dispensary nor medical services of any kind, except at the Limón Hospital. Even worse, in the far-flung banana plantations, the workers had to buy their own bags of those tiny quinine pills [to prevent malaria]. We lived in pens. We never saw a toilet. The infamous “commissaries,” through which United exercised an absolute monopoly of sales throughout the banana region, sold all quality articles to the workers at outrageous prices even though, with the complicity of our government, the Company paid no taxes or import duties on any of these items. This was outrageous. The United Fruit Company with all its millions of dollars was making even fatter profits by squeezing the workers in those infamous commissaries! Moreover, United, which has always been known to fiercely defend their extensive inter-
ests in Costa Rica (and always with the help of our elected leaders, who are only pandering lackeys, and with the subservience of our shameful, unpatriotic bourgeois newspapers, and almost all Costa Rican journalists), had organized the banana production in the Atlantic zone in a unique way. United’s policy was to create individual Costa Rican farmers and ranchers. They rented land to these individuals and advanced them money to get the plantations started. But they always forced them to sign one-sided contracts drawn up by the Company’s own lawyers, according to which these individual farmers were committed to sell their bananas exclusively
to the United Fruit Company at the lowest price agreed upon for received bunches (hear me well: per bunch received), minus a percentage deducted from each bunch as a payment on the amount borrowed. Thus there arose in the Atlantic banana zone hundreds of private plantations ranging from large estates to small farms. This is how United Fruit Company, which has always monopolized the banana market in the United States, could then manipulate the market at the supply end at the expense of those private growers. See, sometimes, when the Yanqui market
banana prices were falling, United simply rejected buying bananas here--not from their plantations, but from the Costa Rican independent farmers. Everything was rigged to facilitate these nefarious practices. United’s management always controlled the advanced notifications to the private farmers to cut the bunches, setting the date and time of delivery. Each farmer was
required to immediately report the number of bunches that could be delivered by that date. Thus the bosses, adding up all these reports, knew in advance the total number of bunches that were to be cut. As an example, let’s say that the tally amounted to a yield of eighty thousand bunches. But then the managers in Boston were ordering the shipment from Costa Rica of only 40,000 bunches. My fellow workers, the problem was resolved very simply: the bosses would
order the field receivers to reject fifty percent of all the banana bunches coming in. Of course, in this example the percentage of rejected bananas was even higher for private landowners, because the Company would not reject the harvest from their own banana plantations. The company “Receiver” would arrive at his respective branch track on the banana train and get down on the farmer’s loading dock holding a little checking gadget, and began to receive the banana bunches from the farm workers uttering a thousand cautions not to mistreat the fruit. “That bunch, no, that one, the other one, no not that one either. “ But I’m lying, my fellow workers. These Receivers did not even speak. They rejected bunches with a simple hand wave. There was no discussion about it, because the decisions of the Receivers of United were absolute and final. The farmer and his workers looked on silently in distress as the number of rejected bunches grew in a big pile. Once the bunch was tossed, it was lost. And on top of that, soon there might show up some certain landowner friends of the Receiver. From them they would take a higher percentage over the amount taken from others. The Receiver would accept bribes of banana bunches in exchange for favoring that
grower. Of course, these extra bunches had to be deducted from the amount purchased from less fortunate farmers in order to make the books come out correctly. I had the opportunity personally to see how in the Linea Vieja branch line, a farmer would receive credit for only 225 bunches of a total of the 1500 he had delivered to his platform. Imagine how many millions of bunches of bananas were discarded in this way? There were mountains of rotting bananas everywhere across and along the entire huge Atlantic banana-growing area zone. The province of Limón reeked of rotten bananas. This was a monstrous crime because those discarded bananas represented wasted human effort and spoiled national wealth! When a Costa Rican company wanted to buy the unused bananas and sell them inside the country, United Fruit forced the farmers to hack the rejected bananas with machetes so they could not be sold or eaten later. Welcome to the United Fruit Company.
And I ask you, fellow workers, when did our leaders dare to defend those local independent banana farmers? When did those disgusting bourgeois newspapers, which now denigrate the brave strikers in Puerto Víquez González, ever dare to denounce these criminal imperialist monopolistic tactics? And when, on the other hand, did those domestic farmers ever dare to protest or organize together to defend themselves against United? The politicians, just as the we have seen today, humbled themselves before that powerful foreign company just to be able to get expensive loans. Our bourgeois press, as always, humbled themselves slavishly to United for the company’s well-paid ads in
their newspapers. And the Costa Rican farmers were concerned only to secure a small margin, despite the rejected fruit and sacrificing their workers. In other words, they defended the price their workers paid in going hungry.
The United Fruit Company, to order to insulate itself from serious rebellion in the ranks, incited racist hatred of whites against blacks and blacks against whites. And it succeeded. More than III once, when exasperated black workers in the The work of the “cut” was compulsory for all the city of Limón tried to rebel, the white workers workers in the banana plantations. On a cut day, rushed to offer themselves willingly to abort the the bosses demanded anyone they needed should attempt; meanwhile of course, black workers work as cutters, this included the banana catcher- were of the same coin when it was the whites carriers, mule drivers, and the teamsters. And who tried to protest. The Company since the ships of United “could not wait in port,” operated behind the scenes on each the work must be done at any time and under side equally. I share with others any condition. Sometimes workers were required the honor of having participated in to make the cut while they were sick or during the campaign we organized to end terrible storms; sometimes they had to work all these stupid battles that benefitted night long hauling bananas, or while it was rain- only United. We succeeded widely ing, under the light of kerosene lamps, struggling in this campaign with intractable mules, toiling on poorly-conV structed rail lines, while passing over improvised The personnel of United never and dangerous bridges which caused accidents thought it was possible that a seriover and over. And after all these goings-on of ous strike could happen on the the cut, the farmers were paid so many cents per plantations of the Atlantic zone. banana bunch received (listen to me everyone, Blinded by their stupid arrogance per bunch received). This means that those small and deaf to the cries of the workplantation workers on that branch of the Linea ers, they could not understand that Vieja, who had sweated and toiled to put 1500 workers were human beings with the right to bunches of bananas on the loading dock, might life and the courage to fight for it. Nor could receive payment at any given time for maybe 225 they perceive the deep discontent which agitated bunches accepted by the fruit company Receiver. the workers so much. But out on the plantaFor those workers, the 1275 rejected bunches tions, the workers who were infuriated by the were nothing but wasted effort, and all that toil abuse, the exploitation and the misery, recalled and sweat was worth nothing. And if we add such the violent rebellion that had occurred years ago monstrous abuse to exploitation of the company on the banana plantations of the north coast of commissaries, the lack of medical care, the pens Honduras (a rebellion that was brutally crushed, the workers were forced to live, and on and on, by the way), and spoke among themselves we can only imagine how much human despair more frequently about the necessity to demand and anger was just piling up day after day in improved working conditions with the machete those terrible times in the banana plantations of and the shotgun, and to come to blows with the the Atlantic zone. Yanquis, and destroy the banana bosses with the
machetes they used to cut the bananas. It was precisely to avoid chaotic explosions of violence of which nothing good would come back to the workers, and to steer them towards an organized struggle that could put some reins on the powerful imperialist company that we began the organizational work in the banana plantations.
Fellow workers, that was a hard and painstaking
task! We crossed the Atlantic zone from one end to the other, trudging through forest and plantation, in the rain and many times at night. We had to schedule meetings late at night in remote camps so as not to alert government agents and the Company henchmen. I called these clandestine meetings our “meetings in underwear.” Despite these necessary precautions, the Atlantic Labour Congress, convened to discuss and approve the list of demands that the workers would submit to United; we had to organize our meetings deep in the forests by the light of kerosene torches and amidst clouds of mosquitoes because when I went on plantations, there were police pickets
looking for Communist agitators. You should know the names of some our dear colleagues who participated in the Congress: you may remember Lucio Ibarra, who was massacred at the Devil’s Elbow, and men like Peter Mora, who died in the battle of San Isidro in 1948, and others who later also gave their lives defending the rights earned by the working class in Costa Rica.
From that Congress came a moderate list of demands. If such demands could be met, we would triumph because the fundamental objectives of the first strike were the consolidation of the union on the Atlantic plantations. Afterwards the way could thus be opened for new and broader achievements. Also, extreme moderation was deemed necessary in order not to give ammunition to the newspapers, which were subsidized by the Company. In the statement were included, in addition, demands for the national farmers, the end of the unjustified rejection of fruit, better prices for the bananas, and so on. However, all these local farmers, from the start, came out openly against the strike, though many of them privately took vows for the triumph of the workers. This was due the fear of the powerful imperialist enterprise! Our list of demands was sent to United management as a basis for discussion, and we also sent a copy to the President of the Republic, Ricardo Jiménez, who did not even acknowledge receiving our demands. Nei-
ther did the regional manager of United in Costa Rica, who was at that time a Mr. [G.P.] Chittenden, a true example of U.S. imperialist policy, an insolent and rude gringo who, because he thought Central Americans to be an inferior race, was unwilling to grant workers the right to talk with him. Three days before the outbreak of the strike, we sent three of our brother strikers to Limón with a new copy of our statement, and made them responsible for placing it in the hands of Mr. Chittenden. He refused to meet them and made the harbor police arrest them and put them in jail. In one of the United plantations, a foreman who was a supporter of our strike, told us how on the day before the strike was set to start, Mr. Chittenden was on the telephone with the gringo bosses of all the United banana plantations, and how all of them proudly assured him that work on their plantations was efficient and continuing to develop normally. And the next day, more than ninety percent of the banana plantations woke up paralyzed, and by two or three days afterwards, all the banana workers in the Atlantic zones had joined the strike! Ten thousand strikers in the province of Limón!
I remember the second day of strike I made a long trip and ended up on a finca named “Encanto.” It was still dark and I then got on a train line that allowed me to get to a remote plantation of United, whose employees were still waiting for the news about the strike. And that was why I went. Very early in the morning I reached the village of the plantation which was named Garuaba. On the broad verandah of his home was the boss, a tall, big-nosed gringo strapping on his boots. Possibly he was happily doing his accounts because it was day for
a cut, and all the other plantations in that sector were paralyzed. But since his employees knew nothing about the strike, he was going to put a flower in his buttonhole, which meant a cutting was going on at his plantation! This gringo knew me well because as I opened the door and entered, he sat up and screamed, jumping up from where he was. “Where are you going? What do you want here?” “I want nothing from you, my friend. I am talking to the people,” I said. He replied, “You cannot come here! Get out of here!” “I cried angrily, “Well, you come get me out.” And then I went immediately to the mule area, while the gringo ran gabbing on the telephone. In the mule area, the men were finishing up getting the mules ready. I said, “What’s going on? The whole area is on strike and only you are going to work.” “We knew nothing,” they answered. “And now the cutters are in the banana plantations. But right now we will go tell them, because they also agree with the strike!” And then they mounted up on the mules of the plantation, and rode out to cancel the cut.
I left there and went to continue my journey by rail line. A short way walking behind me I heard the trot of a mule. It was the gringo, well-mounted and with his rifle strapped across his shoulder. I always travelled with my old revolver. I leaned against a tree trunk, prepared for whatever might happen. The gringo also stopped saying, “Mr. Fallas, I am not against the strike, I want to talk to you.” “Well,” I said to him, “come closer.” He explained that any number of reasons would justify the strike. As a monthly employee he was receiving his full salary. He said he would not work and could spend his time hunting. And he concluded: “People are right to protest. They earn very little
and live very poorly. I hope you win this strike. But it is going to be very difficult. The Company is very powerful, and you have never won a strike. They buy and fix everything because they have many millions of dollars. Are you prepared for a very long and very hard strike? Think about it. And be careful, never walk alone. . .”
The days passed. A violent storm broke out across the Atlantic coastal region. But even more violent was the smear campaign unleashed by all the bourgeois newspapers against the strikers. The worst enemy of those heroic struggling workers was the paid-for servitude of the national bourgeois press and the unpatriotic bondage of its journalists! According to these papers and these journalists, the strike had no reason to be: the banana workers earned a good living, lived well, were very happy, and most of them spoke against the strike. According to these papers and these journalists, the strike had been provoked artificially by a bold group of Communists and professional agitators. The Communists, who were obeying direct orders from Moscow, maintained the strike by scaring the workers. The Communists were interested in provoking mayhem, and above all, they were
interested in harming the big U.S. companies operating in our country. It was necessary for the Government to proceed vigorously and to put an end once and for all to these shady dealings and criminal home-grown Communists! This intense and dirty campaign by the newspapers misled large sectors of Costa Rican public opinion, who even applauded the orders of the infamous Colonel Gallegos sending those first hundreds of armed police. And what about
the most important Costa Rican intellectuals? Those, with maybe one or two exceptions, kept a comfortable silence--some because they could not leave their Olympian heights to intervene in issues so vulgar as a plebeian banana strike, and others because they would not want to appear as blind instruments of the Communists. Of course not! It is better, in any case to play the game of generous millionaires on Wall Street! Only organized labor, especially in the capital, gave their enthusiastic support, collected money, and sent
food to the strikers. But almost all shipments were seized by the police. Meanwhile, thousands of workers, their wives, and children were going hungry in the desperate banana lands of the Atlantic coast. We did have bananas! Brigades of the strikers were organized to go the distant shores to look for turtle eggs and turtle meat, to go hunting in the forest, to collect cassava and sweet potatoes from the poor, black and white farmers in the region who were more than happy to help our movement. But all that was not enough, because there were many people on the plantations who often only had cassava and bananas boiled without salt to eat. It rained day and night. The entire region was a vast sea of mud, and the most active strikers, who were constantly coming and going in groups to monitor the more remote plantations wore out their shoes and were left barefoot. And daily, the number of those bedridden with fevers increased. However, workers and their wives and children were steadfast, disciplined, and did not commit a single act of violence. They were prepared to win the strike with their long sacrifice. People show such great endurance and an admirable spirit of sacrifice when they are fighting for a just cause!
The policemen were coached to try to provoke the strikers. When a group of strikers passed, the police shouted, “Nicas, fags! Why not be men and stop this? “(According to the bourgeois press, all the strikers were Nicaraguans!) People came to the Twenty-Six Mile camp, which was the headquarters of the strike committee, crying with rage and saying, Compañero Fallas, let us show these fucks that we are real men! Let us go tonight to give them a surprise!” We had to have a big meeting to warn the strikers against these provocations, and colleagues were sent in all directions with this warning. The United Fruit Company, seeking to capitalize on the hunger and misery of the workers, also plotted some infamous provocations. On a rainy evening back by the railway line, there was a group of hungry, tired, and almost naked strikers with their shoes torn to pieces. The commissary employees of Matina as the strikers passed called out to the them enticingly, “Come on, boys, we’re with you on the strike! Where are you coming from? ‘’ [The strikers answered] “We’ve been on lookout duty at “Damascus” and at “Diamonds.” [The United employees said,] “And have you eaten anything?” ‘’No, and we been up since four o’clock.” ‘Poor things!” they said. Then the employees of the Commissary presented to each of those strikers a beer, a loaf of bread, a piece of cheese. and a Camel cigarette. And then added: “It’s an outrage that you are hungry and in such need when there is clothing, shoes and food galore in the commissary. We gladly would give you all this. But if we do so, without any pretext, the company will punish us. Come in a big group of fifty and take everything here, and so we can say to the gringo bosses it was a matter of overwhelming force, and that there was nothing we could do.”
Young Carlos Fallas These comrades had just arrived in TwentySix Mile camp and told me what happened. They were very happy and added: “Compañero Fallas, we and the women and the children are going crazy not having the things we need. The Commissary boys are very good, they are with us, they we want to help. We will bring all the food in there!” How naive! Those employees would deliver these supplies, and afterwards United and the press would accuse us of assault and theft, which would serve as a pretext for the authorities to brutally come down hard against the workers. We had to have another meeting to warn workers against these new provocative maneuvers. Then United with the help of Colonel Gallegos, simulated the looting of some commissaries, including the Bananito Commissary. But it was so obviously staged that it failed to obtain the order for a slaughter that they had hoped they could get from President Jiménez.
Also the local landowners and owners of banana plantations maneuvered against the strikers. They tried, with the help of the Government, to recruit strikebreakers in Puntarenas and Guanacaste. Some of them took large contingents of armed police to their plantations to intimidate the workers. Others approached the strikers pretending to be friends, while talking to the police on the phone, and several Nicaraguan strikers were arrested and thrown out the country, all under the pretext that they had been caught practicing violence on the plantations of the Costa Rican owners. How much violence and how many atrocities were committed against the suffering banana workers! But despite everything, day after day passes and the strike held across the entire region.
With deep emotion I remember now the case of
our fellow worker Tobias Vaglio. At the beginning of the strike he joined the [Vanguardista] Party and, as you know, in 1948, as an old man his honorable life was ended when he was killed as a Communist militant at the Devil’s Elbow massacre. He was the son of an Italian construction worker, and from early on as a young man, he lived the life of a worker. I met him a few days before the outbreak of the strike. He was then chief of a certain banana plantation, and was living quite well. I found him in the corridor of his house with a toddler in his lap. He invited me to lunch. I spoke of the futility of a strike against such powerful forces, and finally he assured me that whatever happened he would remain neutral. However, the struggle had scarcely begun when he heard of what the Yanqui employees of the Company were saying about the strikers, and all the Costa Ricans. He indignantly left his post and put himself in front of the strikers of his plantation and neighboring plantations. He fought like a lion for the triumph of the strike. One day he was caught by police, who brought him, tied-up like a criminal, to Siquirres and there his former Yanqui friends took advantage of his helpless situation to revile him and spit on him, while the Costa Rican military slavishly applauded and laughed out loud.
My fellow workers, history is repeating itself. Today the Minister of Labour is traipsing around the Pacific [banana lands], trying to settle the conflict “directly with the workers.” In 1934, the government of Don Ricardo Jiménez tried the same thing, sending to the Atlantic plantations the Minister of the Interior, Don Santos León Herrera, to straighten things out “directly with workers.” Don Santos toured the region on a company train with his secretaries and surrounded by reporters, including one you might
remember [Manuel] Formoso. When they arrived in a village, they met the neighbors (mostly women, since most militant strikers remained out in the bush) and told them more or less as follows: “Here is the Minister who comes with broad powers to resolve favorably the complaints and demands of workers. The Government wishes to straighten out the situation in the best possible way for you, but
into the same response. And fellow workers, guess what conclusion the journalists arrived at in order to explain how the strikers were able to have such unanimity of opinion? They figured that we, the Communists, must be using who knows what kind of extraordinary means of communication (a Soviet invention, possibly), which allowed us to threaten and browbeat the inhabitants of each village just before the Minister came to visit. Such blind and deaf people who did not know the soul of the people or understand the language of the workers!
XVII The whole bunch of them, Don Santos, all his secretaries and the journalists were coming to an end to Twenty-Six Mile camp in search of the Strike Committee. The Minister’s proposals were unacceptable. But as there were several hundred workers concentrated, and as the press had said that it was just a few Communists from Twenty-Six Mile imposing their will on all the workers, we took the opportunity to demonstrate to the journalists the falsity of such thinking.
Young Carlos Luis Fallas by talking directly to you, who are those who actually do the work and the sweating. The government and the company and the national farmers have nothing to say to the Communist agitators who have never worked, and who now are deceiving the workers. Let’s get to it, tell us what you want!” And the neighborhood women answered, “We want you to go to Twenty-Six Mile to discuss any arrangements with our strike committee. You have nothing to fix with us!” Everywhere the Minister ran
Santos offered us, on behalf of the local plantation owners, an increase of so many cents per cubic meter of ditches dug. We then shouted, “Come on up here, ditch-diggers and take a look at what the Minister is offering you. A hundred or more semi-naked, emaciated, sallow-skinned men who were sick with malaria came forth. When they heard the proposal for an increase, they shouted furiously, ‘”What kind of increase do you think this is, gentlemen! You go get your own armpits stinking with sweat, you go eat mud awhile until you know what it takes to dig out a cubic meter of ditch!” The same thing happened with the cutters, and with all other workers. The settlement failed miserably. And
the bourgeois press, to explain the failure of the settlement to the country, now swallowed their previous claims. Now they said the Communist leaders had turned us into sorcerer’s apprentices. And that now the workers wanted to accept the proposed settlement, but the Nicaraguans would not let us; and that we were really prisoners of those Nicaraguans who threatened to cut off our heads if we compromised under any settlement. Remember, first, we were the Communist leaders who imposed their uncompromising criteria on the workers, but later it turns out it was really the Nicaraguans who were imposed their uncompromising criteria to the strike leaders. Those dirty flim-flam artists of the press selling out to the gold of the imperialists! Lies and more lies to defame the patriotic, brave and just stance of the workers!
Despite all the lies and all the provocations, the discipline of the strikers remained unwavering. They faced four long weeks of hard struggle against nature, against hunger, against the machinations of the United Fruit Company and the government. They stood firm against the strikebreakers recruited from other provinces. They stood firm when President Jiménez, after many conversations with United Fruit negotiators and the representatives of the national farm owners decided to call the delegates of the strikers to discuss a formal end to the strike here in San José. We went to the capital, we discussed hour after long hour, and finally we signed a settlement very favorable to workers that the government pledged to uphold. Sirens roared in the newspapers as they announced the end of the strike. We headed out to the Atlantic region to give the work order. That day saw big celebrations on all the banana plantations of the Atlantic zone! Time to go home and get back to
work! The strikers who had gathered at TwentySix Mile went back to their own plantations; the surveillance brigades and messenger brigades were disbanded, as was the Strike Committee. By pure chance, I was sick, so I decided to stay a few extra days at Twenty-Six Mile with some of the guys who wanted to stay with me. It was just my luck because on the first day of work in all the plantations of the United Fruit Company, very early in the morning the Gringo bosses and their underlings, accompanied by police, told all the workers there had been no settlement of any kind. They told them they had to continue working under the same conditions as before, because I, Carlos Luis Fallas, had jumped on a boat to the United States. I had sold out to the Company for thirty thousand dollars--something like the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas! The workers were left stunned and screamed a thousand curses and were so furious they went on strike again. They soon realized they had been deceived; they had all reacted to a notorious maneuver of provocation set up by the henchmen of the United Fruit Company, with the complicity of the Costa Rican military operating in the region. But it was too late!
Colonel Gallegos, under the pretext that the workers had broken the settlement, and with the enthusiastic applause of the bourgeois press, attacked the workers. Rifle shots and machine guns crackled in those dark days in Atlantic banana zones. Hundreds of men were beaten and jailed, hundreds of Nicaraguan workers were expelled from the country with only the rags they were wearing, and hundreds of women and children were left homeless. And then, it happened. The workers responded to the violence against them with their own violence. They began destroying banana plantations
with their machetes, and destroying rail lines and bridges. Colonel Gallegos, in turn, started torching the camps and settlements, and he threatened the neutral population of the towns with terrible reprisals if they helped the strikers. I remember how a peasant family who had their own small farm and shack knelt before me, begging me desperately, “For God’s sake, take this injured fellow with you, do not leave him here with us, because if the police find him here they will burn the ranch and destroy the farm and take us all away as prisoners!”
There were fifteen dark days of violence and terror in the plantations of the Atlantic! Fifteen days that strengthened us forever with the indomitable fighting spirit of the banana workers --something we would soon need many more times. Fellow workers, the great banana strike of 1934 --so violent in its last stage and so important for the further development of the Costa Rican anti-imperialist revolutionary movement--rolled back the United Fruit Company, and strengthened the union movement on the banana plantations. Thus arose the fighting Banana Workers Federation of the Atlantic. Gradually, the travail of long years of organized struggle paid off and the banana workers gained better treatment, better wages, and better living conditions.
The United Fruit Company, under a new and [to them] burdensome arrangement, moved its banana operations to the Pacific coast--a parting blow to try to ruin the banana farmers of the Atlantic--all in keeping with their company policy of greed, and exercising their property rights of ownership over that extensive tract of Costa Rican land they were abandoning, an ownership that they had obtained in exchange
for nothing. Workers in the new Pacific banana zone immediately organized their unions and, later, expanded the Banana Workers Federation
of Central America. (I say “partially” because as late as 1946 I had the opportunity to observe on the banana plantations in Panama camps that seemed like they were built for pigs).
Naturally, the international political climate brought on by the Second World War helped the struggles of the banana workers and forced United to somewhat soften its operating methods. In the course of that tremendous struggle against Nazi fascism, the democratic forces in Latin America were revivified and gained strong encouragement from the revolutionary currents swirling which increased and strengthened the labor movement. Here in Costa Rica, labor unions and campesinos gained strength in all sections, the CTCR [Costa Rican Confederation of Workers] was energized, and our party became a force of great weight and importance in national life. And the Costa Rican working class, under our direction, won Social Security and Labor Code. For the first time workers were constitutionally guaranteed, among other rights, the right to organize and the right to strike!
munist organization. Such a simple matter of circumstance, comrades! Because in the times to which I refer, the flacks of United in Costa Rica, with Mr. Hammer at their head, discussed and reached agreements consistently with the Secretary General of the Federation of Banana Workers of the Pacific, and that was me, an old and well known Communist; they also sat down face to face with the CTCR, whose Secretary General was that old familiar Communist, Rodolfo Guzman.
At that time, United, under our demands, agreed to sell in its commissaries the basic necessities for all workers and employees at cost. And continuing our discussions with us, then United recognized trade unions, gave each a local farm for the Trade Union Committee, provided trains for general meetings and the celebration of the May Day celebration and so on. And I remember them discussing the case of the Costa Rican farm foreman with me--a man who was An embattled Calufa prone to insult the workers. Mr. Hammer would of the Pacific. There were new struggles, new say, “You insisted that we should have a larger conflicts, and new achievements. [We achieved] XXIV number of Costa Rican employees, and you kept improved health, more decent living quarters, The United Fruit Company had to make an after for us until we improved the status and steps to clean up the villages, provided potable about-face and withdraw its claws, obliged as salary of such employees. And now the worst water, sports fields, and more. And employees, they were by the changed temper of the times enemy you have in the company are those same under our direction, also fought to force the internationally, and the support for and strength Costa Rican employees! Overall, we now have Company to have a higher percentage of Costa of the labor movement and the new social legthe same problems with national employees as Ricans among its employees and to move them islation. United’s manager in Costa Rica, that we did with the North Americans. Do you know up from the lower ranks of employees, promot- hated Mr. Chittenden, was replaced by Mr. Regi- what I am going to do for this project? I will ing them to higher categories with a consequent nald Hammer, sent here as the new manager and install a special school in Palmar Sur, so that all increase in salary. Yes, comrades, none of that as a symbol for the required shift in its policies employees of the Company, Costa Ricans and fell from the sky, none of that was graciously of exploitation. Americans, can go there to study social legislagiven to us by the United Fruit Company. XXV tion of the country and also learn how to treat The banana workers, with their strong and sus- Today, as in 1934, United again claims that it people there.” tained struggle, worked for these improvements, cannot and will not deal with Communist leadThus spoke the highest-ranking person of the improvements which were also reflected partially ers, referring to the FOBA [Federación Obrera United Fruit Company is Costa Rica, because onto the other sections of the banana plantations Bananera], which they classified as a Comat that time in our country there were real rights
to organize and real rights to strike. At that time, the banana workers were strong in their unity under the banner of the Federation [FOBA] and the CTCR, and also because then our party had legal existence and was on good terms with the government.
But then came the events of 1948 that you all know about--the [Costa Rican] civil war in which agents of U.S. imperialism so skillfully intervened. The new government then outlawed and brutally persecuted our party. Also, the CTCR offices were attacked, and union and labor leaders were jailed. Top union leaders were murdered in the Atlantic banana zone. As a result, the Federation of Banana Workers of the Pacific was also outlawed; its leaders became political prisoners, and hundreds of Nicaraguan banana trade unionists were expelled from the country. Then, immediately, the United Fruit Company raised its head up again in Costa Rica and unsheathing its claws, returned to its old political slavery, and to their old methods of brutal exploitation. They neglected medical services and sanitation in the villages, and also neglected the housing of workers, scoffed at all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, increased the “work” on piecework, it returned to outrageously overprice items in the commissaries, and so forth. And the Government obtained a new and more lucrative contracts.
Banana workers, in spite of the government’s attempts to impose a new type of official trade union in the Pacific and throughout the rest of the country, I repeat, banana workers were able to organize independent unions and form after the model of the old Banana Workers Federation (FOBA), affiliated with the CGTC, a new independent labor union, and encountered
again more conflict in the banana plantation. As always they faced extortion by the government, were always maligned by the bourgeois press nationally and trashed by almost all for their lack of a strong proletarian unity. (The feeling in the banana plantations was, as it was elsewhere, that Rerum Novarum was a mere phantasm. In practice there are two labor federations: the FOBA with the majority, and FETRA). But recently FOBA and FETRA achieved unity in action, and so workers could work out their conflict that have led to the current banana strike in Puerto González Víquez.
Why exactly did the first serious conflicts arise in Puerto González Víquez? Because although those banana plantations are in Costa Rican territory, they are administered by the Chiriqui Land Company, which is the Panamanian division of the United Fruit Company. The lives of the workers and the working conditions are even worse there than in the other plantations that United has in Costa Rica. For example, there the poison sprayers work more hours per day and earn a salary lower than the irrigators of other Costa Rican banana plantations
These banana workers gathered the support required by law by the number of signatures and put before the Court of Labor in Golfito their Collective Economic Social Conflict document along with their respective claims. That court, in accordance with the law, put the grievance in the hands of a Court of Conciliation, composed of one government representative, one from the bosses, and one from the workers. The Court, minimized the demands of workers and as a basis for a settlement recommended a modest improvement plan, under which, for example, but the poison sprayers’ work day was
reduced by one hour to seven hours, and their salary was increased slightly. Still they work an hour longer and earn less than the irrigators in other plantations of United, whose day job is as damaging in only six hours. Nevertheless, workers, to avoid further difficulties, accepted all the recommendations of the Conciliation Court. But, encouraged by the unquestioning attitude of the press and the submission of the Government, United refused to do the same. The company’s representative appeared before the Judge in Golfito and with loud and insolent terms, rejected all the recommendations of the Tribunal referred to Carlos Luis Fallas and refused all other subsequent terms of the settlement. So the judge, in accordance with the law, declared the banana strike in Puerto González Víquez legal. United appealed and the Superior Labor Court, after studying the matter, confirmed the legal right to strike for banana workers. United then maneuvered so
that the Labour Inspectors had to hold a vote on the banana plantations, and voting was made publicly and in the presence of the bosses of each plantation in order to give the bosses the opportunity to pressure the workers and despite all that, the workers spoke out overwhelmingly to go on strike. In short, the workers accepted the modest recommendations of the Conciliation Court, which in turn were haughtily rejected by United. The judge in Golfito ruled against United, granting the legal right to strike to workers, the Superior Labor Court ruled against the United, confirming the right to strike, and workers later stood firm before the very heads of the Company and made known their unanimous determination to strike against United. So, what would in his prime have been logical would have been for the Government, if it wanted to avoid the dire consequences of the strike, to pressure the rebel United Fruit Company to accept even the modest recommendations of the Conciliation Court, and that our bourgeois newspapers, even as they are unable to adopt a dignified and
patriotic attitude about these events might at least have remained neutral. But as you know, it was not to be. The Government sought to void the strike by pressuring the strikers and dissembling about the workers’ unity, and even now it continues to push against the strike and is taking steps to abort it. And the press has unleashed a furious campaign, vilifying the strikers and defending once again the interests of the greedy imperialist monopoly. According to their attack campaign, the strike has not been caused by the stinginess and intransigence of the insolent United, but has been provoked by the intransigence of the Communists who, obeying orders from Moscow, are determined to create difficulties for the honorable American company. According to their campaign, if the banana plantations are lost, the blame is not that sordid company United, but will fall to those stubborn Communists, those blind instruments of the Kremlin. And making these arguments, these papers claim the government should use a strong hand to end the Communist maneuvers. In other words, the government should brutally crush the legal strike in Puerto González Víquez. What a lack of shame and lack of patriotic sentiments! Of course, this journalistic campaign against the strikers have been loudest of all in the newspapers of Mr. Ulate, who has denounced the strike in his paper The Republic, which not so long ago managed to get a big fat loan of dollars from the United Fruit Company to expand its journalistic enterprise. But there is even more, my fellow workers. According to these newspapers, all claims for higher wages is just an infamous and dangerous Communist maneuver, and any decent and patriotic attitude that takes sides against foreign monopolies that plunder our natural resources
and exploit our labor force is treasonous and a demonstration of submission to the dictates of Moscow. There is only one way to be a good patriot, according to these newspapers, and that is by serving the Yanqui monopolies and helping these monopolies take over our country, because only with this can we help ensure democracy in Costa Rica and in the rest of the world. Such a crude smokescreen behind which these homegrown lackeys of U.S. imperialism try to hide their own unworthiness and treason!
And it’s good to ask ourselves tonight: “While Costa Rican workers struggle and go hungry in the Pacific banana fields , what are the Costa Rican artists doing? They paint, sculpt, make music, and keep silent. What are the Costa Rican journalists writing about? Many of them are collaborators in this dirty campaign of defamation. What about the other intellectuals? As always, some are keeping a comfortable silence, though the rest do demonstrate their “courage and their patriotism” by participating in their “heroic” anti-Communist organizations. Woe be to our country if it cannot count for its part an authentic patriotism among its working classes and with the true patriotism of large sections of its young people!
My fellow workers: Today is the nineteenth day of the banana strike in Puerto González Víquez. The United Fruit Company intends to starve the brave banana workers. There are fifteen hundred families which have endured nineteen long days of strike! It is because I know so very well what that means, that I vigorously tell you that as Costa Ricans we do not deserve this. We cannot let the workers perish. We must send them
food, because that will help them more than all the speeches we can make in their defense. And at the same time, to counteract the media campaign, we must go to the streets, to the pool halls. and to all people’s gathering places, and explain to people that those workers with upright and manly attitudes are vindicating our poorly-abused national dignity. For food we need money, and the money we have collected to date has not been enough. Let’s collect enough money next Saturday to send supplies to Puerto González Víquez! To the streets comrades! We’ll meet next Saturday at nine in the morning! Let’s go forward with this patriotic campaign of solidarity with the dedicated strikers of the Pacific zone!
Worker Rights in Costa Rica The Right of Association The law specifies the right of workers to join unions of their choosing without prior authorization, and workers exercised this right in practice. The law also provides for the right not to join a union and to leave a union and accordingly prohibits any action that might infringe that right. The Ministry of Labor reported that approximately 9 percent of workers were unionized. Some trade union leaders contended that the existence of worker “solidarity associations” in some enterprises displaced unions and discouraged collective bargaining. The law prohibits these non-dues-collecting associations from representing workers in collective bargaining negotiations or in any other way that assumes the functions of or inhibits the formation of trade unions. Solidarity associations offered membership services, including credit union programs, matching-fund savings accounts, and low-interest loans. Approximately 330 thousand workers were members of solidarity associations, 95 percent of whom worked in the private sector. Although the law provides protection from dismissal for union organizers and members during union formation, including reinstating workers fired for union activities, enforcement was lax, and employers often failed to comply with this provision in practice. In its annual report, the International Labor Organization Committee of Experts identified as a problem “slow and ineffectual procedures for penalties and redress in the event of antiunion acts.” In addition the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions Annual Survey states that there is no legal mechanism to oblige an employer to comply with a court order to reinstate a fired worker. Workers who are denied reinstatement under a court decision must file a new action with the labor court. During the year the Center for Alternative Resolution of Labor Disputes handled 4,200 cases, some 37 percent of which resulted in an agreement between the parties. Year-end
statistics indicated a relatively high settlement rate when both employer and employee attended the hearing; with both parties present, two-thirds of the cases reached successful resolution. To reduce backlogs caused by the lengthy labor dispute resolution process, the Ministry of Labor trained arbitrators and educated workers and unions on labor rights, and the Supreme Court undertook a large-scale labor reform project. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively Workers exercised the constitutional right to organize and the right to voluntary collective bargaining. Foreign nationals are expressly prohibited from exercising direction or authority in unions. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in export processing zones. The law requires employers to initiate the bargaining process with a trade union if at least 34 percent of the workforce requests collective bargaining, and the government enforced this law in practice. Although private sector unions had the legal right to engage in collective bargaining with employers, direct bargaining arrangements between employers and unorganized workers occurred more commonly. As of October the Ministry of Labor reported 19 new collective agreements and 7 new direct agreements. The law provides for the right to strike, and workers exercised this right in practice; however, unions complained of burdensome administrative requirements in order for a strike to be legal. The law requires that at least 60 percent of the workers in the enterprise support strike action. Pursuant to a constitutional court ruling, restrictions on the right to strike apply only to essential services that concern the national economy or public health.
by Stephen Duplantier Carlos Luis Fallas Sibaja, known in Costa Rica as Calufa (an acronym of his names), was born in Alajuela in 1909. Calufa was a humble shoemaker by trade, but in importance, much closer to being the Gandhi of Costa Rica--a worker, an organizer, a strike leader, a politician, an enemy of imperialism and oppression, a patriot, and a hero to the working classes of Costa Rica. Calufa is also the shining light of Costa Rican literature. His chef d’oeuvre, Mamita Yunai--Infierno de las Bananeras (“Mommy United--the Banana Hell”) is a novel set in the banana fields of Costa Rica in the 20s and 30s. The book is, at one and the same time, a kind of mix of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn blended with Tom Paine’s Common Sense, and Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto. The novel is (still) a wake-up call to action to Costa Ricans to rouse the people (continually) out of their political slumbers. In our time, when the Neoliberal trade policies of the Costa Rican oligarchy and their embrace of the Central American Free Trade Agreement that threatens national autonomy and sovereignty, and allows the de jure plundering of resources and labor, the lessons of Calufa’s anti-imperialism are just as crucial now to understanding this morning headlines in La Nación as they were 75 years ago. Carlos was a voracious reader, but quit school in the fifth grade to apprentice as a railroad worker. The 16-year old had probably never heard of Minor Keith, that Brooklyn Yankee deal-maker who, late in the last century, wormed his way into the Costa Rican elite society by marrying the daughter of then President Soto. This was Minor Keith--builder of railroads, entrepreneur of bananas, destroyer of the forests of Central
Carlos Luis Fallas with his beloved banana workers --Date Unknown
America--the man whom Guatemalan novelist Miguel Angel Asturias called the Green Pope: “The Green Pope lifts a finger and a ship starts or stops. He says a word and a republic is bought. He sneezes and a president, whether general or lawyer, falls....He rubs his ass on a chair and a revolution breaks out.” Minor Keith, and his railroad enterprise which grew like a cancer into the United Fruit Company, steered Calufa’s life, as straight as the tracks running down the Linea Vieja on the flat, steamy plains of the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Calufa started working on the railroad, but ended up in the hellish bananeras (banana plantations) as a bunch carrier, a rail lineman, a bricklayer, a dynamiter, and a tractor driver among other jobs. The pains and
outrages he suffered personally in all of these jobs for the multinational monopoly became the base for his writing and, especially, his organizing of the workers. Awakening In his early 20s, Carlos was young in years, but quite experienced observing how workers were abused, and especially identifying the source of their abuse. His revolutionary ideals came out of field and factory, not political tracts. Anti-imperialism was not just a revolutionary slogan, but a practical solution to the oppression of workers. He became an active union member, a strike leader of the Vanguardista Popular, the Communist party of Costa Rica. He was jailed on numerous occasions for his activism.
In 1933, he was seriously wounded in a bloody attack by the police against the banana workers. After a fiery speech, Calufa was exiled for a year in Limón. But he could not be stopped even by a government and police force that was acting essentially as security guards for the almighty United Fruit Company. He came back strong, and was the driving force behind the Great Banana Strike of 1934 that mobilized 15,000 workers to put down their machetes and walk away from the banana plantations, shoving a fist in the face of the arrogant U.S. giant. No one can tell his story better than himself, which he does in the speech, newly translated below, that he gave in San José in 1955 about the banana strike in the Pacific area banana groves. This speech, which was added as a final chapter to subsequent editions of his 1940 classic Mamita Yunai, is long, but it is important in adding details to the story of the United Fruit Company’s exploitation of workers, of Costa Rican national life, and indeed, of all of Central and South America’s banana zones. Everyone has heard how bad the fruit growing giant was, but just what made them so evil? Let Calufa, the man who was there, tell his own story in this speech. Constant Struggles Even though workers made some gains, United Fruit was ever ready to snatch them back and exact reprisals. Calufa was jailed again and went on a hunger strike. Pressure from the people of Costa Rica got him freed. He tried elected office, culminating in his election as a Deputy in 1944. He fought as a officer in a battalion of Communist Irregulars in the Costa Rican Civil War of 1948 against Figueres. Since the Communists were allied with the Calderonistas, they were Figueres’ enemy. (However Figueres had few objections to the ideas and programs of the Calderonistas and Communists, since he
adopted and strengthened their social welfare and workers’ rights programs.) After World War II, in the growing Cold War, anti-Red hysteria (and according to Calufa, by reason of U.S. imperialism and anti-worker sentiments), the pro-worker, homegrown Costa Rican Communist party was outlawed. Although under Manuel Mora, the Costa Rican Communists were not far from Catholic social reform (pace, Rerum Novarum), and a pro-worker party, rather than hard line Stalinists or Trotskyites, the hemispheric Red Scare made no such distinctions. The enemies of the workers began bloody repression against their movement. Calufa was jailed again after lies and defamations, and was facing a firing squad for his worker’s right crusades. But he was saved again by peoples’ support and an international protest. Final Years He kept up his non-stop advocacy for workers, but the hardships of his years of personal struggling, his exposure to toxic chemicals in the banana fields, and the stresses of his repeated beatings, serial jailings, and a condemnation to death by firing squad took their toll on him. He was diagnosed with cancer of the kidneys in 1965, and died in 1966 at the age of 57. He was buried in a worker’s cemetery with 12 other poor workers in a loaned vault and with no gravestone. Recently, at the centennial of his birth, the Costa Rican Ministry of Culture began the steps of acquiring the vault and converting it to a Pantheon of Costa Rican Writers. A Distinguished Citizen In 1977, the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly declared him one of Costa Rica’s most distinguished citizens--with the Benemérito de la Patria award. A deputy of the Partido Liberación Nacional (traditionally, the opposing party to the Communists) announced a campaign to expunge his record of the social injustices and wrongs committed against him in the past.
The Benemérito de la Patria declaration said, in part, “Few men such as Carlos Luis Fallas could point to such a upright and honorable life, combined with untiring labors, such that he lives permanently in the memory of the people, those same people he never betrayed, the people who lived always in his thoughts, and who will live eternally in his books.” Revenge of the Bureaucrats Or not! Forget the subtitle, the book itself almost disappeared! In June of 2010, the Costa Rican Ministry of Education de-listed Mamita Yunai (even the edited version without the controversial subtitle) from the list of books required for Costa Rican students to read. Some dissembling reasons were given for its removal and the addition of other books. Whatever the reason, it amounted to an attempt to rewrite Costa Rican history by removing from the collective memory an account of events that apparently some people would rather the students of tomorrow not know about. The bowdlerization of the booklist coincides with the arrival of the new president of the republic Laura Chinchilla, protégé of Oscar Arias and the rightist, neoliberal PLN. Was it one last swipe at Calufa, despite his iconic status as a folk hero? No matter, the Minister of Education was swamped by the popular outrage, and quickly restored Mamita Yunai-the Banana Hell back to the required books reading list. The subtitle has still not been restored. Even popular writers can’t be allowed to call it a banana hell. It’s one thing, we can suppose, to be a Banana Republic, but a not a Banana Hell!
Carlos Luis Fallas Sibaja A Man for the 21st Century Its easy to look backwards and recognize a person’s achievements after the dust has cleared and the shouting has died down. But a man has to be far ahead of his time to receive an award in advance of nearly a whole century. Is it preposterous to give such an award to anyone, especially some who died in 1966? Yes. Because if we are going to survive this century, we need right now the lessons and examples from the life of Carlos Luis Fallas. His experiences were unique and cannot be relived, but his zeal for social and environmental justice and racial equality, and his intolerance of corruption and wanton exploitation of people and nature were never more necessary than now, and, we are betting, for the next 90 years. We cannot possibly know what life will be like in 2099? We won’t be here in any case. Most all of the 7 billion humans living on earth today will be gone-dead of a thousand illnesses and catastrophes. But the problems of the 21st Century are going to be surviving the disastrous trends that began in the 20th Century, that have continued unabated through the first decade of the new century, and are likely to slide into the rest of this already-beleagured century. Our progeny will wonder what we could possibly have been thinking to do the things we have done. But if they look at the life and works of Calufa, they will wish there could have been more like him. Their own times, they might say, would not be as daunting if there had been more people like him. They will, we are confident, agree with our assessment that he was a man for our times and for theirs.
series of book covers that have appeared in the many editions of Mamita Yunai- el Infierno de las Bananeras tell a political story in and of itself before the book is even opened.
The first edition of 1941 shows a line of banana workers, bent under the weight of the huge 100 kilo Gros Michel bunches of United Fruit Company bananas, trudging toward an unseen railcar of a Minor Keith ferrocarril, under the stern gaze of an overseer with whip in hand and pistol in belt. The drawings could have been made by Diego Rivera in the revolutionary style of the era. The title is easily read, and underneath it, the subtitle, El Infierno de las Bananeras, “the Banana Hell.” The second edition of 1956 (the year after more labor trouble and a banana workers’ strike in 1955) also shows the full title. Then, magically, the subtitle disappears in later editions. A publisher in Cuba republished the work, restoring the subtitle. And now a free, downloadable PDF version is available on the Internet, but bizarrely, the subtitle now reads El Infierno de las Banderas, which does not mean, “Antonio Banderas is a Bad Actor,” but rather, nothing much at all, because it is essentially nonsense. A typographical error? Censorship? Or political coercion?
Left. Mamita Yunai original dust jacket cover art. Ca. 1940 Above. Mamita Yunai cover. Subtitle has disappeared. Emphasis on the toiling workers, bent under the weight, real and symbolic, of bananas. Date unknown.
Top Left. Mamita Yunai cover. Subtitle is gone. Workers are missing. Banana bunch with odd ripe bananas, possibly representing the dawning power of the workers. Bottom left. Mamita Yunai cover. The workers are back, looking happy and strong. The young worker is tossing a 100kg bunch of bananas behind his back with one hand.
Above. The subtitle is still missing, but the use of a vintage postcard realistically shows sweating concheros (porters) and the ever-present boss watching over the labors of the abused workers.
Above. This is the cover of an imaginary edition of Mamita Yunai. The subtitle is back in its most prominent position ever. The center image shows striking banana workers massed together at a rally. The image conveys worker solidarity and the strength of numbers that labor unions achieve in their battles against injustice and oppression. The workers are presented as men, proud and independent, and not as cogs in a megamachine of greedy, uncaring cruelty.
LA HUELGA BANANERA
opinión, con discreción y juicio. Como ha sido informado hasta el momento, en ninguna ocasión ha solicitado, a esta Legación, requerir la intervención estadounidense, como ha sido sugerido en conversaciones con otros productores El 9 de agosto de 1934 comenzó en Costa Rica uno de los bananeros. Mr. Chittenden tampoco requirió que esta Legmovimientos sociales más importantes ocurridos en América ación sea más enérgica en lo que, creo, ha sido la cuidadosa Latina durante la primera mitad del siglo XX: la huelga de manera en que he discutido la situación de la huelga con los trabajadores bananeros. Dirigida por el Partido Comuni- funcionarios del gobierno. sta, la lucha, se extendió por casi seis semanas. Como he informado al Departamento, mi objetivo ha sido, A diferencia de otros conflictos similares, que en países dentro del marco institucional existente, proteger al máximo vecinos fueron brutalmente reprimidos, la huelga fue afrontada por el gobierno de Ricardo Jiménez con más nego- las vidas y propiedades estadounidenses. Al mismo tiempo, me he refrenado de hacer algo o de ofrecer sugerencias o de ciación que represión. La huelga tuvo un decisivo impacto en el país, aunque no hacer críticas que, en alguna manera, podrían contribuir a la todos los objetivos del movimiento se alcanzaron de inmenerviosidad del Gobierno; pero, ayer en la tarde, la calma de diato, y pese a que su participación en él no deparó, a los Mr. Chittenden parecía haber desaparecido y él me buscó con comunistas, las ganancias electorales que esperaban en los las siguientes sugerencias: comicios de febrero de 1936. Después de discutir el trasfondo comunista de la huelga y A la vez, el conflicto fortaleció un anticomunismo socialel evidente hecho de que el movimiento está bajo la direcmente reformista que, en un futuro cercano, impulsaría la ción de agitadores políticamente orientados, quienes en gran reforma social de la década de 1940. Leo R. Sack fue el ministro (representante) de los Estados última instancia esperan tomar control del Gobierno –una opinión con la que coincido–, Mr. Chittenden preguntó si Unidos en San José entre 1933 y 1937. Él escribió el texto que presentamos. Este permite aproximarse a una dimensión el Gobierno de los Estados Unidos no consideraría desfahasta ahora muy poco conocida de esa huelga y revela los vorablemente una forma de gobierno comunista en Cencambios que, con el ascenso al poder de Franklin Delano troamérica. Roosevelt, experimentó la política de los Estados Unidos “La forma de gobierno decidida por las otras naciones hacia América Latina. En las primeras tres décadas del siglo no es un asunto del Gobierno de los Estados Unidos, según XX, dicha política se había caracterizado por la intervención como interpreto la política de mi Gobierno”, le contesté a militar estadounidense en varios países de Centroamérica y Mr. Chittenden. “El Gobierno de Estados Unidos reconoce la del Caribe. Iván Molina Jiménez responsabilidad de los otros pueblos y sus derechos a tener la forma de gobierno que decidan por sí mismos. Esta política, • estoy del todo seguro, ha sido hecha extremadamente clara Legation of the United States of Ameica bajo el Presidente [F. D.] Roosevelt”. San José, Costa Rica Entonces Mr. Chittenden me preguntó si yo no estaba preoAugust 25, 1934 cupado acerca de si el movimiento de la huelga podría o no No. 407 podría resultar en el establecimiento de un gobierno comuniSubject: Communist Activities sta en este país. Strictly Confidential Repliqué que la forma de gobierno escogida por el pueblo Para el conocimiento estrictamente confidencial del Depar- de Costa Rica era, en lo que a mí concernía, un asunto enteramente de su propia incumbencia y no uno en el que yo tamento [de Estado], tengo el honor de reportar las sugerencias que me fueron hechas ayer en la tarde, en esta Legación, debiera interferir en alguna manera. Añadí que, personal y oficialmente, mis puntos de vista estaban en estricto acuerdo por Mr. G. P. Chittenden, representante en jefe de la United con los del Departamento de Estado y del presidente RoosFruit Company en Costa Rica. evelt. Con la entrada de la huelga de los trabajadores bananeros Entonces Mr. Chittenden trató de sondear mi opinión sobre en su tercera semana, y tras la decisión de la United Fruit el siguiente punto: Company de no intentar cortar fruta de ninguna clase este fin de semana en sus propias plantaciones, la nerviosidad de Mr. “¿Considera usted que, si un Gobierno Comunista fuera establecido en Costa Rica, sería muy peligroso para el Chittenden sobre la situación de la huelga se ha incremenPresidente [Jorge] Ubico en Guatemala, quien hasta ahora ha tado en gran medida. tenido éxito en poner fin al comunismo en ese país antes de Hasta ahora, él ha procedido calmada y fríamente y, en mi que pudiera cobrar fuerza; para el Presidente [Maximiliano
Hernández] Martínez en El Salvador, quien detuvo el comunismo con una pérdida de tres mil vidas; para el Presidente [Tiburcio] Carías en Honduras y para el viejo [Juan Bautista] Sacasa en Nicaragua? ¿Considera usted que sería posible hablarles a ellos a través de los ministros estadounidenses en esos países, y por medio de usted a los representantes de esos países en San José, para señalarles el grave peligro que existe aquí, y que los afectaría si continúa hasta su presente conclusión, con el propósito de que ellos puedan presionar al Presidente [Ricardo] Jiménez, haciéndole saber que los Gobiernos de esos países están vigilando la situación costarricense con mucha preocupación?”. “¿Está usted sugiriéndome que yo haga eso?”, pregunté a Mr. Chittenden. “Sí”, replicó. “Bueno, si usted tiene eso en mente, comuníquese con su abogado en Boston, Mr. Jackson, y permita que, en nombre suyo, él haga esas sugerencias al Departamento de Estado, porque yo no puedo hacerlo por usted”, respondí. “Oh, no, yo no quiero hacer eso”, replicó Mr. Chittenden. “Bueno, no puedo hacer nada por usted porque no simpatizo con sus sugerencias. Ello sólo empeoraría la situación y, desde mi punto de vista, supondría interferir en un asunto interno de Costa Rica”. “Lo siento”, Chittenden continuó, “pero tal vez formalice mi petición para lograr lo que busco”. “Entonces, si lo hace, hágalo en su propia papelería oficial, fírmela y, como una cortesía y un deber, transmitiré sus sugerencias al Departamento de Estado”, le dije. Mr. Chittenden pareció muy molesto porque no manifesté ningún entusiasmo por su sugerencia, pero, debido a la posibilidad de que la United Fruit Company, que tiene extendidas ramificaciones en Centroamérica, pueda aún intentar presionar desde afuera al Gobierno del Presidente Jiménez, estoy reportando la conversación anterior para el conocimiento del Departamento. El Departamento quizá pueda sentir que estoy dando mucha importancia a los “sondeos” de Chittenden, que surgieron de su incuestionable nerviosidad; no obstante, prefiero reportar la conversación completa. En conexión con esto, me gustaría reportar que Mr. Chittenden me informó de que, el pasado jueves, él personalmente le había sugerido al canciller [Raúl] Gurdián que era necesario decretar la ley marcial en el área de la huelga. Evidentemente, su punto de vista persuadió a Mr. Gurdián porque, en la tarde del jueves, cuando lo visité en compañía del Secretario [de la Legación, Edward G.] Trueblood, nos dijo que iba a recomendar al Presidente Jiménez establecer la ley marcial en la zona frutera. Sin embargo, esa tarde, en su conversación con el Presidente, el jefe del Poder Ejecutivo, de setenta y cinco años de edad, obviamente convenció
a su Canciller de que la ley marcial no era necesaria en este momento. Asimismo, el Presidente evidentemente persuadió a Mr. Gurdián de que este no era el momento para presentar su renuncia Leo R. Sack
El Apoteosis del Banano Ilustración: Stephen Duplantier
The United Fruit Company had expanded their banana plantations to Colombia in the 1920s. The company’s disdain for worker’s rights and working conditions led to the workers organizing and threatening a strike. The banana workers demanded written contracts, eight-hour days, six-day weeks, and the elimination of food coupons. The United Fruit Company refused their demands. The worker’s organizers knew that a strike was the thing feared most by the company because of the peril of the loss of the perishable bananas. The strike began and immediately the United Fruit Company struck back, putting pressure on the U.S. Secretary of State through the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá for “protection.” (See State Department Memorandum). The fruit company kept up its pressure, persuading the State Department that it was not a mere labor dispute, but something much more serious. A telegram from the Santa Marta U.S. consul general to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 6, 1928, stated: “Feeling against the Government by the proletariat which is shared by some of the soldiers is high and it is doubtful if we can depend upon the Colombian Government for protection. May I respectfully suggest that my request for the presence within calling distance of an American war ship be granted and that it stand off subject to my call ... It
The Massacre in is admitted that the character of the strike has changed and that the disturbance is a manifestation with a subversive tendency.” The choice of the words “proletariat” and “subversive” was intentionally calculated to evoke images of Russian revolutionaries, bombthrowing anarchists, and the forces that had swept Europe a decade earlier. The spin that the fruit company and embassy officials put on the events has to be seen in the context of the “Red Scare” in America that followed the success of the “Reds”--the Bolsheviks in their Russian Revolution of 1917. The anxiety caused by the horrors of the “Great War,” with its toll of 16.5 million people killed, plus the turmoil of Russian revolution put the perpetually isolationist and immigrant-wary U.S. on edge. The problem in the U.S. was perceived as being caused by alien radicals, whether they were Communists or Anarchists, who wanted to overthrow the government. The U. S. responded by passing antiradical legislation and by starting a new division of the F.B.I to pursue them, headed by a young J.Edgar Hoover. In 1919-20, the infamous Palmer Raids arrested 10,000 people
from names collected by the overzealous Hoover. Due process was ignored and deportations began. The hysteria died down (only to be reborn some years later during the second wave the Red Scare). The specter of Anarchists and Communists, and always those dreaded labor organizers, was raised by United Fruit Company as the justification for putting down the banana worker strike in Colombia. Under pressure from the U.S. State Department and the United Fruit Company, an army regiment from Bogotá was sent by the compliant Colombian government to put down the strike under the rationalization of
‘ Cienega it being subversive. In an evil parody of the kind of horrible cruel behavior the fruit company and their State department toadies expected of the “radicals and subversives,” the Colombian troops set up their World War I surplus machine guns high at the corners of the parque in from of the church in Ciénaga, and closed off escape routes. An announcement during Mass asked the parishioners to stay in the parque and wait for an address by the governor. The banana workers and their wives and children dressed in their Sunday clothing obeyed, milling around after Mass while waiting for the governor who would never come. This was only a ruse for getting them to stay together and not disperse. After a perfunctory warning that they had five minutes, the army opened fire and blasted the dense, uncomprehending crowd of unsuspecting people with machine gun bullets. The army lied about the number of dead since it was in the interest of the government to underestimate the deaths. The toll probably went as high as 2,000. After it was over and the United Fruit Company lawyers and
embassy officials negotiated an official number of deaths at the “disturbance.” The official figure was originally low, but then gradually revised upward to 1,000. The commanding general justified the murders with a rationale that defies belief and itself belongs in a magical realist novel. The reason he had to do it, said the general, was because the U.S. troops in Navy ships offshore were threatening to invade Colombia and attack the workers to protect the bananas of the fruit company. It would have been a disgrace to the national honor of Colombia for foreign troops to enter the country, so the general had to order the Colombian army to kill them before the Americans arrived. This murder of strikers and their wives and children is an example of corporate and state terrorism, and was, according to the guerilla movements in Colombia who are still active today, the main event that inspired their reactionary violence against the state. The armed conflict and state of civil war in Colombia continues to this day.
Contemporaneous editorial cartoon showing a proud Uncle Sam congratulating the Colombian military for taking care of a little problem in Ciénega for his friends in business.
his is a pastiche from Gabriel García Márquez’s famous novelistic account of the banana worker massacre in Ciénaga, near Santa Marta, Colombia in 1928. Ciénaga is transformed into Macondo in the novel.
sions are made to “protect American interests.” The situation was threatening to lead to a bloody and unequal civil war when the authorities called upon the workers to gather in Macondo. The summons announced that the civil and military leader of the province would arrive on the following Friday ready to intercede in the conflict. c The General readies his plan and does the bidding of the banana bosses and their clients in the Colombian army.
c In the novel, José Arcadio Segundo is the fourth generation of the Buendia clan, protagonists of the novel. He is in the crowd murdered by the Colombian army during the banana worker strike, and is the only survivor. Thereafter, he devotes his life studying the arcane parchments of the mysterious gypsy Melquiades. ...the army had set up machine-gun emplacements c The oppressed banana workers decide to strike around the small square and that the wired city of the banana company was protected by artillery for better working conditions. pieces. ...[W]aiting for a train that was not arrivThe great strike broke out. Cultivation stopped ing, more than three thousand people, workers, halfway, the fruit rotted on the trees and the hun- women, and children, had spilled out of the open dred-twenty-car trains remained on the sidings. space in front of the station and were pressing into the neighboring streets, which the army had closed The idle workers overflowed the towns. off with rows of machine guns. c c Army troops enter Macondo. Just following orders, the lieutenant reads... They were short, stocky, and brute like. They per- ..Decree No. 4 of the civil and military leader of the spired with the sweat of a horse and had a smell of province through an old phonograph horn. It had suntanned hide and the taciturn and impenetrable been signed by General Carlos Cortes Vargas and perseverance of men from the uplands. Although it his secretary, Major Enrique Garcia Isaza, and in took them over an hour to pass by, one might have three articles of eighty words he declared the strikthought that they were only a few squads marching ers to be a ‘bunch of hoodlums’ and he authorized in a circle, because they were all identical, sons of the army to shoot to kill. After the decree was read, in the midst of a deafthe same bitch. ening hoot of protest, a captain took the place of c The soldiers are put to work as strikebreakers, the lieutenant on the roof of the station and with and beginning cutting the stems of bananas and the horn he signaled that he wanted to speak. The putting them on the trains. The banana workers crowd was quiet again. ‘Ladies and gentlemen’ the captain said in a low voice that was slow and a intensify the strike. little tired, ‘You have five minutes to withdraw.’ c The workers...went into the woods with no other weapons but their working machetes and they But no one moves. began to sabotage the sabotage. They burned plantations and commissaries, tore up tracks to impede ‘Five minutes have passed,’ the captain said in the the passage of trains that began to open their path same tone. ‘One more minute and we’ll open fire.’ c with machine-gun fire. The irrigation ditches were José Arcadio Segundo yells: stained with blood. You bastards!’ he shouted. ‘Take the extra minute c and stick it up your ass!’ Somewhere unseen, unknown officials, generals, After his shout something happened that did and Americans confer, meetings take place, deci-
not bring on fright but a kind of hallucination. The captain gave the order to fire and fourteen machine guns answered at once. But it all seemed like a farce. It was as if the machine guns had been loaded with caps, because their panting rattle could be heard and their incandescent spitting could be seen, but not the slightest reaction was perceived, not a cry, not even a sigh among the compact crowd that seemed petrified by an instantaneous invulnerability. Suddenly, on one side of the station, a cry of death tore open the enchantment: ‘Aaaagh, Mother.` A seismic voice, a volcanic breath, the roar of a cataclysm broke out in the centre of the crowd with a great potential of expansion. José Arcadio Segundo barely had time to pick up the child while the mother with the other one was swallowed up by the crowd that swirled about in panic. c Finally the crowd starts to react, but it is too late and there is no place to go. Several voices shouted at the same time: ‘Get down! Get down!’ The people in front had already done so, swept down by the wave of bullets. The survivors, instead of getting down tried to go back to the small square, and the panic became a dragon’s tail as one compact wave ran against another which was moving in the opposite direction, towards the other dragon’s tail in the street across the way, where the machine gun were also firing without cease. They were penned in, swirling about in a gigantic whirlwind that little by little was reduced to its epicenter as the edges were systematically being cut off all around like an onion being peeled by the insatiable and methodical shears of the machine guns.
c From One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Pp. 302-306. New York: Everyman’s Library, 1995 Translated by Gregory Rabassa.
Neotropica presents The Faux García Márquez Magical Realism Write-alike Contest
The Solitude of Latin America
Excerpts of the Nobel Lecture by Garcia Márquez 8 December, 1982 Our independence from Spanish domination did not put us beyond the reach of madness. General Antonio López de Santana, three times dictator of Mexico, held a magnificent funeral for the right leg he had lost in the so-called Pastry War. General Gabriel García Moreno ruled Ecuador for sixteen years as an absolute monarch; at his wake, the corpse was seated on the presidential chair, decked out in fulldress uniform and a protective layer of medals. General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, the theosophical despot of El Salvador who had
less realm of haunted men and historic women, whose unending obstinacy blurs into legend. We have not had a moment’s rest. A promethean president, entrenched in his burning palace, died fighting an entire army, alone; and two suspicious airplane accidents, yet to be explained, cut short the life of another great-hearted president and that of a democratic soldier who had revived the dignity of his people. There have been five wars and seventeen military coups; there emerged a diabolic dictator who is carrying out, in God’s name, the first Latin American ethnocide of our time. In the meantime, twenty million Latin American children died before the age of one more than have been born in Europe since 1970. Those missing because of repression number nearly one hundred and twenty thousand, which is as if no one could account for all the inhabitants of Uppsala. Numerous women arrested while pregnant have given birth in Argentine prisons, yet nobody knows the whereabouts and identity of their children who were furtively adopted or sent to an orphanage by order of the military authorities. Because they tried to change this state of things, nearly two hundred thousand men and women have died throughout the continent, and over one hundred thousand have lost their lives in three small and ill-fated countries of Central America: Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. If this had happened in the United States, the corresponding figure would be that of one million six hundred thousand violent deaths in four years.
thirty thousand peasants slaughtered in a savage massacre, invented a pendulum to detect poison in his food, and had streetlamps draped in red paper to defeat an epidemic of scarlet fever. The statue to General Francisco Moraz´n erected in the main square of Tegucigalpa is actually one of Marshal Ney, purchased at a Paris warehouse of second-hand sculptures. Eleven years ago, the Chilean Pablo Neruda, one of the outstanding poets of our time, enlightened this audience with his Left: Filippo Morghen (ca. 1730-1808), Raccolta delle cose word. Since then, the Europeans of good will - and sometimes più notabili veduta dal cavaliere Wilde Scull, e dal sigr: de la those of bad, as well - have been struck, with ever greater Hire nel lor famoso viaggio dalla terra alla Luna force, by the unearthly tidings of Latin America, that bound-
One million people have fled Chile, a country with a tradition of hospitality - that is, ten per cent of its population. Uruguay, a tiny nation of two and a half million inhabitants which considered itself the continent’s most civilized country, has lost to exile one out of every five citizens. Since 1979, the civil war in El Salvador has produced almost one refugee every twenty minutes. The country that could be formed of all the exiles and forced emigrants of Latin America would have a population larger than that of Norway. I dare to think that it is this outsized reality, and not just its literary expression, that has deserved the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters. A reality not of paper, but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths, and that nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude. From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1981-1990, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Sture Allén, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1993 Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1982
Winner of the Neotropica Faux Gabriel Gárcia Márquez Write-Alike Contest
GLOVES Fiction by Darlene Hingle Olivo
The Gift of Lace Gloves A.R. Wood http://www.arwood-artist.com/
She hears the music in snippets—something by Stéphane Grappelli, sweet and soft—as if from a sailboat on the lake, carried in on the breeze that billows the sheer curtains through the floor-to-ceiling windows, dancing ghosts matching her own barefoot frolic of a full-moon midnight in October. She is in her prime, lissome and voluptuous, flesh and fat where it should be, no more, no less, and her nightgown, made of the softest white batiste with pale pink rosebud trim around the hem, fills with air as she twirls like the curtain sprites who attend her. The moon in the cloudless sky is high over the pines, reflecting on the rippled surface of Lake Pontchartrain, and its silvery light falls upon the cypress floors, buffed and waxed to a high shine, illuminating the sofa in the double parlor of her mid-nineteenth century raised Creole cottage overlooking the lake in Mandeville, Louisiana. And upon it, organized in neat stacks according to season, length, fabric, color, her collection of gloves, some one hundred pairs, lie palm-facing-palm as if in prayer. One might get the impression of careless consumption with such a surfeit, and one would be wrong. During her long marriage to a Marine officer, she attended events both formal and Sunday-best from 1950 to 1986 when he retired as a Colonel, each requiring gloves to suit the occasion and match her outfit. Thus explaining polyester stretch opera gloves instead of the Italian kid de rigueur for New Orleans high society. She lifts a few piles so she can sit, and places them across her lap, surprised at their warmth, as if she had only moments before taken them off. Slipping into the uppermost pair, just-past-the-wrist, pale rose with beige lace inserts, she is transported to the luncheon she hosted for the wife of a visiting major in 1964. Proud to show off Louisiana’s famous seafood, she was alarmed when the woman, upon seeing the Oysters Rockefeller placed before her—she was served first, of course—became noticeably uncomfortable, even while trying to maintain a pleasant expression. Sensing a problem, she politely whispered in the woman’s ear, “Is something wrong? Are you allergic to oysters?”
The woman smiled. “No. It’s not that. I’m an orthodox Jew, and we don’t eat shellfish.” The Strong, the Proud, the . . . Jewish? This combination never occurred to her, and her face reddened at such a glaring breach of protocol. “I’m so sorry to disappoint you because I’m sure you had only the best intentions,” the woman said. “Do you think it’s possible for me to have something without shellfish or pork?” She remembers the look on the chef’s face when she tried to explain the request: He, too, had never faced this situation before. Yet he was gracious, as was the woman, when he went out to speak with her and ask what he might prepare. She removes those gloves, and slides into another pair, apple red with white piping at the wrist and along the fingers. She smiles at the memory of the day she bought them to go with her white polka-do-on-red crepe dress, red straw picture-window hat and matching purse for a Memorial Day parade. It was her daughter, then seven, who found them under a jumble of sale gloves at Maison Blanche. The little girl’s eyes lit up, “Mommy, look! They’re size 7, too!” “Well, for that, you deserve a finder’s fee,” she told her daughter, as she pulled a glove on her left hand. When they sat at the soda fountain counter ready to dive into their root beer floats, her daughter tore off one end of the paper covering on her straw, blew into it, and both watched in embarrassed disbelief as the cover sailed and landed in a banana split on the counter across from them. The elderly woman looked up, saw the deer-in-the-headlights expression on their faces, and clapped. “Hooray, you hit the target! Good for you.” Each pair of gloves holds a story, some many stories, all testaments to her role as an officer’s wife. The many pairs of black gloves, necessities at funerals; the short white crocheted gloves with embroidered rosettes form the time she made matching Easter outfits for herself and her two girls. The pale blue sheer nylon pair she wore as mother-of-the bride for her firstborn, the similar pink ones for her younger daughter’s wedding. The white leather fringed cowgirl gloves for the time she went as Annie Oakley to a costume party; the long sinister-looking black
pair when she dressed as a witch for Halloween. She thinks of other gloves long gone, rubber gloves that held their shape as hands, soft carapaces that trace her steps as a homemaker; gardening gloves for her flowerbeds, their fingertips worn through. Now she looks at her hands themselves, hands that have soothed and tendered her children, provided pleasure to her husband, raised in warning or wave, lifted, toted, cooked, sewed, pattycaked and played games. Hands with carefully manicured nails, soft skin, padded flesh, that, upon further study with more alert eyes, reveal their true state: bony and wrinkled, her wedding and engagement rings no longer on her finger because they’re several sizes too large. Morphine has bestowed the blessing of her flight into dance, into memories tender and sweet, releasing her from the soul-crushing bone pain of metastatic breast cancer that has bound her to the hospital bed, emaciated and gaunt, for two months. Now, during her final few moments on earth, her husband and daughters, their husbands and children, keep watch with rivulets of tears, attention fine-tuned to each breath, every flutter of her eye lids or movement of her lips. She lifts her gaze from her hands, looks into each face, and smiles. “My gloves,” she manages to whisper. “I wanted to tell you all the stories, so many . . .” Her daughters, who arranged the gloves on the sofa just for that purpose, nodded. “Yes, Mama, we know.” “I love you so much,” she says, her remaining raised hand poised, waving her goodbye: regal, as if a queen’s.
© 2010 Darlene Olivo
Passion and Death The Chemistry of Corporate Power Speaking Truth to Power, or, What Happens When Power Fights Back The best investigative reporting on the problems of the banana industry in Central America took place in the late 90s when the Cincinnati Enquirer published the results of a major investigation into the business and operational practices of Chiquita Brands International. The reporting was factually correct, but was forced to be retracted by political and legal pressure by the powerful conservative Republican CEO of the company, Carl Lindner, Jr.. The chief reporter, Michael Gallagher, had obtained inside information about the company by listening to recorded voice mail messages delivered up by a turncoat inside the company. This action broke statutes on illegal wiretaps. The Cincinnati Enquirer was forced to pay a multimillion dollar fine to Chiquita and retract the story. The phrase from the Quaker tradition about "speaking truth to power" gives heart to the sincere, and is practically a job requirement for the investigative journalist. However the corollary is easy to overlook: "But sometimes entrenched power has co-opted the legal system, and you get sued." That's what happened to Michael Gallagher and Cameron McWhirter. Their truth-speaking got in the way of a judge who was a friend of the powerful CEO of Chiquita Brands. And technically, their truth-seeking crossed a legal (but probably not a moral) line when they obtained tapes of private conversations among Chiquita executives. There is no doubt where Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers era and today’s Julian Assange of Wikileaks would stand on this matter. Today, whistle-blower statutes might have saved Gallagher and McWhirter from being disgraced as journalists, and might have given the Enquirer the Pulitizer Prize instead of it having to pay $10+million dollars to an aggressive and unrepentant corporation. Part of the plea agreement was the retraction of the "Chiquita Secrets Revealed" series. However, the full article did make it to the Internet, from where it cannot be retracted. To read the entire article, go to http://www.mindfully.org/Pesticide/chiquita/index.html, or search for the article by name. How do you retract the truth? Libel was not part of Chiquita Brands suit against the Enquirer, and the accuracy of the reporting seems not to be in question. Therefore as a public service in making available
3-D model of clorpyrifos molecule
settlement in excess of $10 million”. One of the reporters, Gallagher, was fired and prosecuted and the paper's editor, Lawrence K. Beaupré, was transferred to Gannett's headquarters amid allegations that he ignored the paper's usual procedures on fact-checking in order to win a Pulitzer Prize. Chiquita has not formally challenged any of the claims raised in the original articles. (Source: Wikipedia)
by Lawrnce K. Beaupré
Former Editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer May 3, 1998 (Copyright 1998). Reprinted for educational purposes.
to readers of Neotropica some of the facts and conclusions of the article for non-profit educational purposes, the editors, under the Fair Use provisions of the U.S. Millennium Copyright Act, print the following excerpts from the article. Since the old United Fruit Company/United Brands/Chiquita Brands, or whatever they call themselves today, is still not a very nice company, to avoid corporate reprisals, we must state that no claim of accuracy or veracity is made about any of the statements presented here. We do not espouse or believe what the reporters wrote, nor do we believe what Chiquita Brands said. We don’t know anything. For all we know, this story was channeled from an ancient being named Zardok. We are truth neutral. The copyrighted material excerpted is presented as is exactly as it was found on the World Wide Web, but we have no idea how much of it is true today. The excerpted articles do not necessarily represent the point of view of any of the editors, writers, artists, or staff or anyone else connected with Neotropica, nor their household staff, pets, heirs, neighbors, or friends. We know nothing. We are cogs in the machine. All Hail Caesar! Did we miss any legal loophole? So much for speaking truth to power.
Two thousand miles from its banana plantations in Central America, Chiquita Brands International Inc. is one of Cincinnati's most prominent corporations. It is also one of its most secretive. Controlled by financier Carl H. Lindner Jr., whose aversion to the press is legendary, Chiquita nevertheless has been thrust prominently into the public realm in recent years. As the stories on A1 and in this section describe, Chiquita is involved in political, environmental, legal and labor controversies in many parts of the world. A year ago, The Cincinnati Enquirer decided to look beyond the company's press releases to gain a better understanding of how the Cincinnati-based banana giant operates. Reporters Mike Gallagher and Cameron McWhirter undertook a wide-ranging investigation into Chiquita's busiThe Controversy ness practices. After conducting scores of interviews in the On May 3, 1998, The Cincinnati Enquirer published an United States and reviewing numerous public and internal eighteen-page section, "Chiquita Secrets Revealed" by documents, Mr. Gallagher and Mr. McWhirter traveled late Enquirer investigative reporters Michael Gallagher and last summer to Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, and the Cameron McWhirter. The articles accused the company of Caribbean islands of St. Lucia and Dominica. They also travmistreating the workers on its Central American plantations, eled to Brussels, Antwerp, Vancouver, New York and Washpolluting the environment, allowing cocaine to be brought ington, D.C. to the United States on its ships, bribing foreign officials, They spoke to a wide range of sources, including farm evading foreign nations' laws on land ownership, forcibly laborers and managers, environmentalists, government offipreventing its workers from unionizing, and a host of other cials, financial experts, lawyers, professors and others. misdeeds. They interviewed numerous Chiquita executives, who Chiquita denied all the allegations, and sued after it was spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. revealed that Gallagher had repeatedly hacked into ChiqExtensive documentation also was provided by sources or uita's voice-mail system. (No evidence ever indicated that obtained elsewhere. McWhirter was aware of Gallagher's crime or a participant.) Those records included more than 2,000 copies of taped A special prosecutor was appointed to investigate, because voice mail messages. These were provided by a high-level the elected prosecutor at the time had ties to Carl Lindner, Jr. source who was one of several Chiquita executives with On June 28, 1998, the Enquirer retracted the entire series of authority over the company's voice mail system. stories, published a front-page apology, and paid the comThe source also provided copies of the same tapes to pany a multi-million-dollar settlement. The Columbia Jourthe U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which has nalism Review reported both $14 million and $50 million launched its own investigation into Chiquita. for the amount. Chiquita's Annual Report mentions “a cash Chiquita executives often used voice mail as internal
memoranda, often "copying" other executives, sometimes as many as five or six, with the same message. Many of the messages were highly detailed. Chiquita executives refused repeated requests for interviews. Instead, they designated lawyers from the Washington, D.C., office of Kirkland & Ellis to take questions and provide company answers in writing. There was none of the give-and-take of a normal interview. Chiquita, through its lawyers, provided hundreds of pages of comments and documents, though some of it was not responsive to the actual question asked. In several cases, Chiquita chose not to provide any response at all. We are confident that thorough reporting for more than a year has resulted in an accurate and eye-opening portrait. On farms from Mexico to Ecuador, Chiquita and its affiliates grow millions of bananas every year for consumers in North America and Europe. The fruit is grown and harvested in a labor-intensive process that involves an army of workers, lots of equipment, crop-dusting airplanes, foam cushions, string, bags, special cartons, refrigerated trucks and trains, and tons of pesticides. While production methods vary slightly from plantation to plantation, the basic operations illustrated below remain the same. This illustration is a composite plantation, drawn from Enquirer reporters' visits to Chiquita subsidiary plantations and Chiquita-affiliated farms in Honduras and Costa Rica, as well as interviews with plantation workers and environmental scientists.
Excerpts from â€œChiquita Secrets Revealedâ€? 1. Commercial banana plants grow from 15 to 30 feet in height and are grown in long rows on large irrigated plantations. Most bananas consumed in the United States are grown in the lowlands of Central and South America. The average banana plant produces fruit about every nine months. The stem usually grows to contain about 150 bananas. When the manager decides, the fruit is cut green from the plant and dropped carefully on the back of a worker carrying a cushion to stop any bruising of the fruit. 2. Herbicides: To kill off other plants growing around the bananas, workers apply herbicides. The chemicals are toxic and wash into the ground and ground water during rains. 3. Nematicides: To kill off nematodes, small worms that attack banana plants from the roots, workers cover the ground around the plants with nematicides. These chemicals are highly toxic and make an area extremely dangerous for 24 to 48 hours after application.
4. Banana plants do not have strong trunks, they can easily be knocked over in a tropical windstorm. To prevent 'blowdowns,' workers tie the plants down with string.
11. Larger troughs called 'pilas des leches," milk troughs, wash off the pesticides applied in the fields as well as natural fluids from the banana plant.
Hundreds of people in a Costa Rican barrio have been exposed to a toxic chemical emitting from the factory of a Chiquita subsidiary.
5. Aerial spraying is an integral part of pesticide application in commercial banana farming. The main purpose is to combat Black Sigatoka, an airborne fungus that can destroy a plantation's crop. In areas that are infected with the fungus, including much of Central America, airplanes may spray fields more than 40 times a year.
12. New pesticides are applied to the bunches after they are placed on a conveyer belt. The new pesticides, either thiabendazole or imazalil, are applied to prevent "crown rot," a fungus that attacks the extremities of the banana bunch. On some plantations, Chiquita has installed small plastic containment systems that save money on pesticide costs and reduce worker exposure to the pesticides. But most plantations do not have this system, according to Chiquita statements issued through its attorneys to the Enquirer.
Employees of Chiquita and a subsidiary were involved in a bribery scheme in Colombia that has come to the attention of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Two employees have been forced to resign.
The spray lands on the plants' upper leaves, the ground, irrigation canals, streams and rivers and nearby homes, workers and residents, scientists told the Enquirer. Workers on Chiquita subsidiary plantations and other farms producing Chiquita bananas told the Enquirer that they receive no warning when the planes come over and they often hide under banana leaves to escape the pesticide dust. Nearby villagers complain the aerial spraying often drifts into their yards, sending children running into the houses to escape rashes. Many worker villages are located close to banana plantations. 6. The water used in the in the packing plants to wash pesticides off the bananas comes from the irrigation canals and then is routed back out into the water supply. Chiquita has built berms in recent years on some plantations to limit pesticides from flowing directly into rivers. But many irrigation canals, laced throughout every plantation, remain directly exposed to pesticides. 7. Plastic bags imbedded with the powerful chemical chlorpyrifos protect the growing fruit from insects throughout its entire gestation. In previous years,the bags were simply discarded after use, though the major banana companies have now started recycling programs. 8. At harvesting, the stem is placed on a large overhead cable system that runs throughout the plantation. Workers place foam cushions among the fruit to stop bruising. The fruit is then pushed along the cable toward the "Empacadora," the packing plant. 9. In the packing plant, workers remove the cushions. Other workers then cut the stems into smaller bunches. 10. The bunches are then put in a "pila de selecciĂłn," a selecting trough, where selectoras, usually women, choose the bananas and cut them further down to shipping size with small hooked knives.
13. Boxes of banana bunches, freshly applied with pesticides, are put on large skids for shipment. On all the plantations visited by the Enquirer, most workers viewed by reporters did not wear gloves when handling the pesticidecovered bananas. 14. Trucks or trains are brought to the plant and loaded with the skids. The bananas are taken to port, where the large refrigerated containers are lifted onto ships. The ships then sail to various destinations, usually in North America or Europe. About ten days to two weeks after being harvested, the bananas are on display and for sale at local groceries. Pesticides in the banana ecosystem. These findings include: Chiquita secretly controls dozens of supposedly independent banana companies. It does so through elaborate business structures designed to avoid restrictions on land ownership and national security laws in Central American countries. The structures also are aimed at limiting unions on its farms. Chiquita and its subsidiaries are engaged in pesticide practices that threaten the health of workers and nearby residents, despite an agreement with an environmental group to adhere to certain safety standards. Despite that environmental agreement, Chiquita subsidiaries use pesticides in Central America that are not allowed for use in either the United States or Canada, or in one or more of the 15 countries in the European Union. A worker on a Chiquita subsidiary farm died late last year after exposure to toxic chemicals in a banana field, according to a local coroner's report.
Chiquita fruit-transport ships have been used to smuggle cocaine into Europe. Authorities seized more than a ton of cocaine (worth up to $33 million in its pure form) from seven Chiquita ships in 1997. Although the company was unaware and did not approve of the illegal shipments, problems were traced to lax security on its Colombian docks. Security guards have used brute force to enforce their authority on plantations operated or controlled by Chiquita. In an internationally controversial case, Chiquita called in the Honduran military to enforce a court order to evict residents of a farm village; the village was bulldozed and villagers run out at gunpoint. On a palm plantation controlled by a Chiquita subsidiary in Honduras, a man was shot to death and another man injured by guards using an illegal automatic weapon. An agent of a competitor has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that armed men led by Chiquita officials tried to kidnap him in Honduras. Chiquita Chairman and CEO Carl H. Lindner Jr., his family and associates made legal but controversial contributions to political figures at a time the company desperately sought U.S. backing in a trade dispute over banana tariffs in Europe. In a statement issued through its attorneys, Chiquita said the company "has been an active and enthusiastic engine for a better way of life throughout the region (and) is a leader in preserving, enhancing and cleaning the environment through Central America." Throughout its investigation, the Enquirer sought to meet with Mr. Lindner and other Chiquita officials, including Keith Lindner, vice chairman, and Steven G. Warshaw, president and chief operating officer. They declined. Instead, the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C., was hired to provide company responses to reporters' questions. Chiquita, through its lawyers, provided hundreds of pages of responses, although refusing to address some questions and avoiding direct responses to others. Several high-level sources within Chiquita spoke with
reporters on the condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation. They also provided extensive documents and other information including copies of more than 2,000 taped voice mail messages recorded by Chiquita executives. Enquirer reporters spent a month in Central America and the Caribbean late last summer, visiting plantations, government offices, villages and university research centers. They personally observed practices and spoke with residents, laborers, Chiquita managers and government officials. They obtained hundreds of internal and public documents and interviewed legal, financial and environmental experts in Cincinnati, Brussels, Antwerp, New York, Vancouver and Washington, D.C. The bags are used to cover bananas ripening on plants to protect them from insects. Community leaders and neighbors in Barrio Paris have complained to the national health ministry that fumes have caused residents - including children and pregnant women - to suffer chronic respiratory problems, blistered skin and other serious ailments.
cially children and pregnant women)produces health problems to people," the report said. The March 20, 1997, report was prepared by Defensoria de Los Habitantes, a Costa Rican congressional agency created to ensure that other government departments protect citizens on health, environmental, and other issues. Testing at the plant, conducted by Chiquita after the Enquirer began questioning company officials about the problem, revealed high quantities of chlorpyrifos were being spewed into the air through the plant's smokestack. The pesticide also is being released inside the plant and into the atmosphere where the bags are cut and separated, the Enquirer has learned. Those pesticides, all used by Chiquita and its subsidiaries in aerial spraying in Latin America, include: Propiconazole, sold as Tilt: Propiconazole has been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a "possible human carcinogen." According to published documents by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, the pesticide "can cause skin irritation and substantial, but temporary, eye irritation. The petroleum solvent in some formulations can cause a chemical pneumonitis (lung complications) if breathed into the lungs.
The U.S. EPA classifies chlorpyrifos as a highly-toxic pesticide that is dangerous to humans if inhaled or if it comes into contact with skin for a protracted period of time. According to the EPA, universities and chemical manufacturers, chlorpyrifos can cause delayed nerve damage, multiple sclerosis, loss of use of limbs, lung congestion, paralysis, convulsions, dizziness, mental disorders, blurred vision, chest pain, loss of Prolonged inhalation of vapors may irritate throat and nasal reflexes and death. passages and cause central nervous system effects, which can include headache, dizziness, confusion, and nausea. If swalFor years plant officials of the Chiquita subsidiary, Polymer lowed, abdominal pain, nausea, gastritis, breathing difficulty, Plastipak, have denied those claims to Costa Rican health or diarrhea can occur." officials, according to more than a dozen letters from company officials and lawyers sent to the Ministry of Health The department recommends workers exposed to the chemisince 1992. The company has conceded only that the plant cal wash hands "before eating, drinking, chewing gum, using emits a "bad odor." tobacco or using the toilet. Do not get in eyes, on skin, or on clothing. To avoid breathing vapor or spray mist, wear Despite company claims that the fumes are harmless, a 1997 a NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Costa Rican national laboratory report asserted that the com- Health)-approved organic cartridge respirator" pany repeatedly failed to conduct government-mandated air tests to determine whether the plant is discharging the pesAzoxystrobin, sold as Bankit: The EPA has ruled this new ticide into the atmosphere and causing health problems for product is "highly toxic to freshwater fish and invertebrates, nearby residents. highly toxic to estuarine - marine fish, and very highly toxic to estuarine - marine invertebrates." The report, translated for the Enquirer, also stated that the company's use of chlorpyrifos results in "high risk for ... The product labels, observed in Chiquita storage facilities in health of the neighbors." southeastern Costa Rica, read clearly "MARINE POLLUTANT" and bear a symbol of a fish with an "X" through it. "It is proven that extended exposure to this pesticide (espeBenomyl, sold as Benlate: This pesticide, classified by the
EPA as possibly cancer-causing for humans, has been in wide use in the United States and around the world for years. But the pesticide has come under increasing attack from people who claim it has harmed them.
But these pesticides don't just go on the plants. Applied by air or by workers with backpack sprayers, pesticides drift through the air. They get into the soil and onto workers, villagers and animals.
In 1989 and 1991, manufacturer E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, known as DuPont, recalled a dry version of the pesticide, Benlate 50 DF, after American farmers reported severe crop damage after using the product. The company faced several lawsuits in Texas, Hawaii, Florida and other states. In 1996, a Florida jury awarded $4 million to John Castillo, a boy born with no eyes. His mother, while pregnant with him, was accidentally drenched in the pesticide on a Florida farm. The jury found both DuPont and the farm negligent. That farm was not connected to Chiquita and did not grow bananas. Chiquita uses the wet, soluble version of the pesticide.
Over the decades, the banana industry has faced a series of problems related to the use of pesticides. One of the most highly publicized cases involved Dibromochloropropane, known by the acronym DBCP, which was widely used in the 1970s to combat tiny parasitic worms that attack the roots of the banana plant.
Thiophanate-Methyl, sold as Topsin: The U.S. Department of Agriculture found the pesticide to be moderately to highly toxic for various types of fish. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that the pesticide is hazardous to 10 endangered species in the United States. The pesticide was listed as a possible carcinogen for humans, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was also found to damage the thyroid gland. The department has ruled that people not wearing protective equipment cannot return to a field sprayed with thiophanate-methyl for at least 12 hours. Tridemorph, sold as Calixin: Tridemorph is a hazard to fish, according to the EPA. Mancozeb, sold as Dithane: Mancozeb is "moderately to highly toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrate animals," according to the Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The department recommends "Do not apply when weather conditions favor drift (wind carrying pesticides away) from treated areas. Do not apply in a way that will contact workers or other persons, either directly or through drift. Drift and runoff may be hazardous to aquatic organisms in neighboring areas." The department recommends that workers not enter treated areas for 24 hours after spraying. Commercial banana growers like Chiquita use numerous pesticides to combat fungus, insects and other pests that could destroy the fruit. And they use those pesticides often.
DBCP, through improper application and toxicity, allegedly caused sterility in male workers, according to lawsuits filed in U.S. courts. By 1997, more than 24,000 banana workers, mostly in Costa Rica and many of them employees of Chiquita or its subsidiaries, signed up for class action law suits against the manufacturer, Dow Chemical, and users of the pesticide, including Chiquita. The lawsuits stated that many men had become sterile and medical evidence linked their sterility to the pesticide. The companies, including Chiquita, which said it used the chemical only in the early to mid-1970s, have fought efforts to get the case tried in a U.S. jurisdiction. In June, Dow Chemical offered $22 million in a global settlement - which worked out to a few hundred dollars per worker. "We continue to dispute our liability," Dow Chemical spokesman Dan Fellner told the Enquirer. "Unfortunately, many of the users and purchasers of DBCP did not read the labels or follow the instructions." The plaintiffs accepted the offer from Dow, but cases against the banana companies are pending. In a statement issued through its attorneys, Chiquita did not mention litigation but stated it stopped using DBCP in 1977, "two years before the EPA banned DBCP in 1979." EPA records show it ordered DBCP phased out for use in the United States in 1977. The product was banned in Costa Rica in 1978. The EPA ordered a complete ban on the product in 1979, meaning any product that tests positive for even a trace of the pesticide may not be brought into the United States. As consumer consciousness about pesticide use increased over the years, the banana industry changed pesticides when problems were brought to the public's attention in North America and Europe.
For example, in 1990, the pesticide Aldicarb was banned by the EPA after levels above EPA safety guidelines were found in potatoes being brought to market. Later, excess levels were found by FDA checks of some bananas coming to American ports. Quickly, the pesticide was dropped by the entire banana industry.
tions is extremely difficult, because gathering any hard data is constantly resisted by banana companies.
Professor Luisa Castillo, head of the National University's Pesticide Program in Costa Rica, said she and other scientists had complained about Aldicarb to banana growers for years, with little result. Chiquita stated that it used the pesticide for only one year.
"We didn't publish the industry perspective, but you can't get access to industry information," said Mr. Lacher. "If everything is proprietary, there's nothing we can do about it."
"Aldicarb was very popular, but it was causing a very high number of pesticide poisonings to workers, and it was also causing fish kills and other problems here," she said. "We had already pointed out this problem with Aldicarb, but nothing had been done. It was only in the moment that the residue appeared in the fruit that immediately they (growers) stopped using Aldicarb." Industry supporters said that banana companies don't misuse pesticides. "Pesticides are very expensive, so you only use them if you absolutely have to," said Robert Moore, president of the International Banana Association (IBA), a Washington D.C.-based group working for the interests of the American banana industry. Professor Scott Witter at Michigan State University's Institute of International Agriculture said that most pesticides applied these days may show up in FDA banana sampling, but virtually always within safe amounts for consumers. But for the thousands of people working on or living near the banana plantations, pesticides threaten their health. "The people who tend to take it on the nose are the Costa Ricans or the Hondurans or the Ecuadoreans who work on the plantations when they are doing the spraying," he said. "They're in the field. Their water supplies get contaminated. Their kids play in the dirt that's contaminated that day. I've yet to witness a really wonderful program where they say, OK, we're spraying today, everybody needs to stay inside." Chiquita, through its lawyers, has stated that "There is no soil contamination problem on Chiquita farms." Scientists complain that figuring out how exactly pesticides are affecting people and the environment on banana planta-
The large banana companies resist independent scientific studies on their plantations, because they don't want the public to know, she contended.
Mr. Lacher said the industry is defensive on the pesticide issue.
"Nobody's saying you shouldn't grow bananas," he said. "Nobody's saying you shouldn't apply chemicals. But what you need to do is look at what the major sources of risks are." Take Greddy Mauricio Valerin Bustos, a worker on Plantation 96, a farm in Costa Rica owned by Chiquita's subsidiary, the Chiriqui Land Company. On the morning of Nov. 13, 1997, the 18-year-old had been working since 5 a.m. collecting "piola," the thin rope used to support the banana plants. At about 7:30 a.m., according to the police, he was found writhing on the ground, choking and vomiting up a white substance. He was dead by 9:17 a.m. Police investigators interviewed one of the co-workers who brought his body to the medical clinic. "He was working in an area called Los 50s, that had been sprayed with the agrochemical Counter (the brand name for the pesticide terbufos, an organo-phosphate) three days ago," Miguel Herra Miranda told police, according to a translation of the investigation report. "He (Mr. Valerin) didn't have any experience in this kind of job and he wasn't using any protective gear like gloves and mask either." The autopsy report, obtained by the Enquirer, determined that Mr. Valerin died from intoxication from organophosphates, which caused internal bleeding and brain damage. Chiquita, in a statement through its lawyers, said the company acknowledged that the Costa Rican government coroner declared the cause of death to be organophosphate poisoning. The company also stated it operated the farm safely and the death was "an isolated incident." "Although Chiquita has attempted to understand the details surrounding Mr. Valerin's collapse, Chiquita is unable to explain (and will not speculate) how Mr. Valerin might have died," Chiquita stated. As a rule, Chiquita and its subsidiaries do not provide protective gear for workers unless those workers are directly involved in the application or storage of pesticides. The vast majority receive no protective clothing, though they are exposed to pesticides in their work on the plantations. Carl Smith, publications director and an expert on pesticide exports at the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education (FASE) in Los Angeles, said the use of many
pesticides like terbufos are legal in the United States but only under strict safety regulations. When these chemicals are exported to Central America, where worker safety and environmental laws are less stringent, the result can be dangerous for the workers and the environment. "When you look at conditions of use in areas like Central America, there are a lot of compounds that are awful dangerous," he said. "It's one thing if a guy is wearing a full moon suit with a respirator and gloves. It's another thing if teenagers are walking around the stuff with no shirt." Nearby Plantation 96 is Plantation O3, a farm that has an exclusive contract to sell bananas to Chiquita. Like other farms in the area, the farm, owned by Proyecto Agroindustrial de Sixaola, S.A, (PAIS), ships bananas with Chiquita labels and in Chiquita boxes. The plantation grows bananas only for Chiquita and to contractual specifications set by Chiquita. In a statement issued through its attorneys, Chiquita said it was not responsible for anything that happened on the farm, but said it does exert pressure in its contracts to monitor safety and environmental standards. "Chiquita - although it is not in any way required to do so is insisting that independent growers adopt Chiquita's own strict environmental standards and practices if they want to renew contractual relations with the company," the company stated. On the farm, Enquirer reporters saw a work team applying terbufos, a nematicide classified as extremely hazardous to humans by the World Health Organization. Terbufos is under "restricted use" in the United States by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nematicides are pesticides used to kill nematodes, tiny worm parasites that can destroy a crop's roots. According to EPA guidelines, once the pesticide is put on the ground, no one should be allowed in the area for at least 24 hours unless wearing protective clothing and a respirator. But with the air thick with the heavy smell of pesticides, the Enquirer team observed children from the nearby village playing in the area amid open bags of terbufos and plants just treated with the pesticide. No warning signs were posted and no workers tried to stop the children from playing in the area or passing through. The Enquirer saw signs with a warning in Spanish, "DANGER, nematicide application in this area,"
leaning against the wall of a packing plant about a mile away. When asked about Plantation 03, and PAIS, Chiquita issued a statement through its attorneys declaring "The Pais farm is owned and operated by a Costa Rican quasi-governmental institution. Chiquita does not own or operate the farm. What the Enquirer says it observed at Pais should not have happened." The company stated that it has since renegotiated its contract with the owners of PAIS and requires the company to adhere to Chiquita standard operating procedures regarding environmental safety. Enquirer reporters also observed pesticide workers at Finca O3 taking off their masks because of the stifling heat. Mr. Smith of FASE said the protective clothing is a fundamental problem in tropical agricultural, which neither "Better Banana" nor any other program has solved. He said the limited safety equipment that has been created for these materials is often heavy rubber, suitable for northern, colder climates. In the tropics, a mask, rubber gloves, a rubber apron, rubber boots, long pants and a sweatshirt make for incredibly uncomfortable work days on a sweltering plantation. Such heavy clothing itself could be unsafe because of the danger of heat exhaustion, Mr. Smith said. "The equipment doesn't even exist that is suitable for tropical climates," he said.
According to a Network document, lab animals fed imazalil have suffered symptoms including "muscle incoordination, reduced arterial tension, tremors, and vomiting." Professor Luisa Castillo, who heads Costa Rica's National University Pesticide Program, said the two chemicals are a major concern for environmental scientists in Costa Rica. Scientists in her program have conducted studies of rivers in national parks downstream from banana plantations, some of which were operated by Chiquita. "We have found high levels of imazalil and thiabendazole in the water, and we have also found toxicity (by those two pesticides) toward aquatic organisms," Ms. Castillo said. Her program's studies have not pinpointed the specific source of this pollution. She said one of the key components of any sincere attempt to improve the environment would be to stop those chemicals from getting into the water supply. "I would immediately put water treatment plants in the packing plants and not allow that water to flow into the natural courses of water because it is quite polluted," Ms. Castillo said.
Even workers who wear protective clothing properly are not safe, workers told the Enquirer. On Cocobola plantation, owned by one of Chiquita's Costa Rican subsidiaries - Compania Bananera Atlantica Ltda. (COBAL) - in northeast Costa Rica, pesticide worker Emilio Colero, 41, told Enquirer reporters that he was concerned about his health.
Bitertanol, sold as Baycor: In documents provided to the Enquirer, Chiquita stated that it has used this product since 1993. According to documents provided to the Enquirer by the manufacturer - the Bayer Corporation - the pesticide is not, and never has been, registered for use in the United States. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokesman Albert Heier confirmed that bitertanol is not approved for use in the United States on bananas or any other crop. The pesticides' full impact on people or the environment is not known at this time because the EPA has not conducted tests on the product, Mr. Heier said. In a statement issued to the Enquirer through its attorneys, Chiquita stated that company policy "allows only for the use of agrichemicals that are approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use on bananas." Denise Kearns, spokesperson for the EPA on pesticide issues, said that the EPA has set a "tolerance level" for bitertanol, that is the level of detectable pesticide residue at which the EPA will allow a crop to be imported into the United States. But this level, set after scientific review, does not constitute approval for use in the U.S. on bananas or any other crop, Ms. Kearns said. Bitertanol also is not registered for use in Canada, according to Antony Simpson, spokesman for Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency, the Canadian government's counterpart to the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs. The pesticide is approved for use in the European Union.
Thiabendazole is a fungicide that the EPA has determined is harmful to fish. According to the Pesticide Users' Health and Safety Handbook, government laboratory studies have also pointed to the fungicide as a possible cause of anemia and a possible cancer-causing agent in mammals. Imazalil is classified as a moderately toxic compound by the Extensions Toxicology Network, a cooperative information group on pesticides set up by Cornell University and other universities and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In a statement issued through its lawyers, Chiquita stated that it has spent at least $3.3 million installing special chambers at its packing plants to apply thiabendazole or imazalil to the bananas, reducing the amount of these pesticides used and the amount to which workers are exposed. The company stated that it has installed these chambers on a number of its farms.
Illustration: Elaine Kelly
Chlorpyrifos, sold as Lorsban. This product is widely used by Chiquita to put in plastic bags that hang over the banana bunches as they grow. It is registered for use in the United States. However, the EPA is reviewing safety levels for all organophosphate compounds, and chlorpyrifos is one product that could be severely restricted because of health and environmental risks, according to published reports by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Last year, the EPA declared chlorpyrifos as a "Restricted Use Product," a restriction allowing for use only
under special circumstances with specific EPA approval. Chlorpyrifos is not authorized for use in Finland and Sweden, according to European Union government reports. Carbofuran, sold as Furadan: This pesticide is used to combat nematodes, small worms that attack the banana plants. Chiquita has used the product since 1975. The product is listed by the EPA as "severely restricted" in the United States. According to EPA documents, the product's high risk of danger to people and the environment make it "a pesticide for which virtually all registered uses have been prohibited by final government regulatory action," but it can still be used in some special cases. The product also is severely restricted in Canada, according to Health Canada. Its use is not authorized in Finland. Ethoprop, sold as Mocap: This organophosphate also is registered for use in the United States but is being reviewed by EPA. Like chlorpyrifos it has been singled out as facing severe restrictions, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Ethoprop is not registered for use in Canada, according to Health Canada. It is not authorized for use in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Luxembourg, according to European Union government reports. Terbufos, sold as Counter: This product is registered for use in the U.S., but it is being reviewed by EPA for possible restrictions. It is not authorized for use in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Portugal according to European Union government reports. Azoxystrobin, sold as Bankit: This fungicide used in aerial spraying is not registered for use in Canada, according to Health Canada. Imazalil, sold as Fungaflor: This fungicide, applied to bananas before shipment, is not registered for use in Canada, according to Health Canada. Tridemorph, sold as Calixin: This fungicide used in aerial spraying is not registered for use in Canada, according to Health Canada. It is not authorized for use in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Portugal. Where chemicals are approved for use, Chiquita's environmental partner, the Rainforest Alliance, has regulations to which Chiquita has agreed that state the company cannot use chemicals on its alliance certified banana farms that are
not authorized for use in the U.S., Canada and Europe. But according to Chiquita's own list of approved pesticides, it does. Chemicals: Azoxystrobin Sold as: Bankit Type: Fungicide Used for: Black Sigatoka Authorized for use in: U.S.: Yes Canada: No European Union*: Unknown Chemicals: Bitertanol Sold as: Baycor Type: Fungicide Used for: Black Sigatoka Authorized for use in: U.S.: No Canada: No European Union*: Yes Chemicals: Carbofuran Sold as: Furadan Type: Nematicide Used for: Nematodes Authorized for use in: U.S.: Yes Canada: Yes European Union*: No Chemicals: Chlorpyrifos Sold as: Lorsban Type: Insecticide Used for: Insects Authorized for use in: U.S.: Yes Canada: Yes European Union*: No Chemicals: Ethoprop Sold as: Mocap Type: Nematicide Used for: Nematodes Authorized for use in: U.S.: Yes Canada: No European Union*: No Chemicals: Imazalil Sold as: Fungaflor Type: Fungaflor Used for: Crown Rot organisms Authorized for use in: U.S.: Yes Canada: No European Union*: Yes Chemicals: Terbufos Sold as: Counter Type: Nematicide Used for: Nematodes Authorized for use in: U.S.: Yes Canada: Yes European Union*: No Chemicals: Tridemorph Sold as: Calixin
Type: Fungicide Used for: Black Sigatoka Authorized for use in: U.S.: Yes Canada: No European Union*: No * A "no" in this column means that one or more of the 15 nations of the European Union do not authorize the use of this chemical on its farms. Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Canada and European Union reports. In the fiercely competitive banana trade, Chiquita Brands has made a strong effort to set itself apart as the industry's "environmental leader." Chiquita's brochures, posters and company website proudly trumpet its partnership with the Rainforest Alliance, a New York-based environmental group known worldwide for setting up environmental -business partnerships. Since 1993, the two have worked on the "ECO-O.K. - Better Banana" program, an environmental certification to assure protection for workers and the environment on Costa Rican farms of Chiquita's subsidiaries, Compania Bananera Atlantica Ltda. (COBAL) and the Chiriqui Land Company. The program, originally called "ECO-O.K." but later changed to "Better Banana," has since expanded to Chiquita subsidiary farms in Panama and Colombia. But an Enquirer investigation into Chiquita's use of pesticides on plantations shows disregard not only of the company's stated environmental guidelines and partnership agreements with the alliance, but also the safety of its tens of thousands of field workers. The Enquirer found: Aerial spraying when workers are in the fields, is a practice condemned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), scientists and even Chiquita's environmental partner, the Rainforest Alliance. The spraying violates the rules of the "Better Banana" program. The Rainforest Alliance's policy paper on the "Better Banana" program states, "All workers and neighbors must be warned when pesticides are being applied." According to the program's general regulations, workers and neighbors are not supposed to be exposed to aerial spraying. Chiquita's subsidiaries use pesticides in Latin America that are not registered for use in the United States, Canada or Europe. They do so even though Chiquita has issued public statements and agreed to an environmental contract with the
Rainforest Alliance that on its farms certified by the alliance it will "only use products that are registered for use in the United States, Canada and Europe." Chiquita subsidiary farms use pesticides in aerial spraying that are highly toxic to fish and birds, contrary to Chiquita's stated environmental policies. Aerial spraying
with a tremendous amount of rainfall, and so dilution in many instances becomes a solution to some of the pollution. But over time, it does tend to bio-accumulate." In a statement issued through its attorneys, Chiquita stated that it is aware of the drift problem and has worked in recent years to reduce drift by installing special pesticide spray nozzles on its airplanes and other measures.
Earth College science professor Jorge Arce Portuguez said Sigatoka has become the major pest threatening the banana industry in recent years. Earth College is an agricultural science college in central Costa Rica partially funded by the U.S. government and supported by dozens of major American universities. The industry's only answer so far has been to increase the potency and regularity of aerial spraying, he said. But the disease has adapted quickly, becoming resistant to many of the chemicals.
In the village of Bananito Norte, in the heart of banana country southeast of the coastal city of Lim贸n, Esther Rodriguez Anchia lives with her husband and three children in a oneroom wooden shack next to Chiquita's Super Amigo packing plant and Chiquita subsidiary plantations.
"In 1990, we controlled Sigatoka with more or less 25 to 30 aerial sprayings per year," he said. "Now, seven years later ... we are dropping by plane more than 40 times per year."
"It just comes, usually once a week but sometimes twice. My children get very rashy when the planes come. I just have them run inside, but we usually are stuck with the rashes. I'm very allergic myself, so it's much worse for me. I have to visit the doctor all the time.," she said.
Anti-Sigatoka chemicals make up the bulk of pesticides used on most banana plantations, according to Lori Ann Thrupp, senior associate and expert on sustainable agriculture at the World Resources Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank on environmental issues. Drifting pesticides In a 1996 edition of the science journal Ambio, Scott Witter, associate professor at Michigan State University's Institute of International Agriculture, and colleague Carlos Hernandez published a report on the Costa Rican banana industry that found that 15 percent of aerial pesticides completely drifted off the studied plantations because of wind; 40 percent drifted away from the plants and into the ground; and 35 percent washed off in the rain. Only 10 percent of the fungicide sprayed actually stayed on the plant. "There's considerable debate about how much drift there is," Professor Witter told the Enquirer. "We had in that article references for as much as 90 percent of it not ending up on the banana plants. Some of the transnationals say 'no, no, it's more like only 40 percent that's lost.' But still that's a lot of fungicides going off into the water supply. You have a lot of the poor folks who take their water directly from surface sources. They end up ingesting these. Costa Rica is blessed
When the crop dusters come over, her family is sprayed with the chemicals, she said. "There is no warning," Mrs. Rodriguez said through a translator.
Mrs. Rodriguez, 52, said the aerial spraying has made her hate the village. "I would love to fly away from here," she said. [These excerpts are presented for public health and educational purposes for people living in Costa Rica and Central America who may be affected by the poisons mentioned in this report. You can read the entire article online.]
banana is rarely just a banana. The food value of the banana is obvious although its bigger, even more macho cousin the plantain, is even better but nutritionally. Millions eat these tropical cousins daily and together bananas and plantain are the number one fruit in the world. The reason for its popularity is definitely the taste, the nutrition, and the calories needed by the underfed masses, but could it be anything else? Although it has been reported that the B vitamins it contains are biochemical components of sex hormones, plenty foods have B vitamins. Bananas remind people of something else and it isn’t vitamins! The reported sexual value of bananas derives from an ancient ––and spurious–– doctrine of signatures. This theory says, in short, that if a part of a plant looks like a part of the body there is some important causal connection, usually medicinal. The doctrine of signatures sees the hand of God at work making it easy for people to find medicines in nature’s confusing apothecary. So many plants? What to do? It works like this: got a bruise on your arm, then look for a blue peony and make some tea with it. Blue on blue fixes the hurt. A walk in the woods is a tour through a vast illustrated catalog for slow learners with the doctrine of signatures as your guide. The doctrine goes back to ancient unknown herbalists and plant-gatherers of field and fen. However it was Paracelsus and Jakob Böhme, 16th century mystics, who elaborated the doctrine. God, they deduced, marked objects with signs or signatures that resemble body parts and made identification of the uses of the plants possible. God got carried away when designing the Passionflower of the Passiflora genus. Passionflowers come in a variety of colors, but beyond color, shape was of major importance. The passionflower was an aide memoire for a string of historico-theological facts. God made the passionflower a virtual catechism of beliefs about the crucifixion of Jesus. The pointed tips of the leaves represent the lance of the Roman soldier who pierced Christ’s chest.The tendrils represent the whips used to flog Christ. The
ten petals and sepals represent the ten faithful apostles (minus the wishy-washy St. Peter, and Judas Iscariot, the despised betrayer). The flower’s radial filaments represent the crown of thorns. The chalice-shaped ovary with its receptacle represents the Holy Grail. The three stigmata represent the three nails and the five anthers below them are reminders of the five wounds of Jesus (four nail holes and one lance piercing). What lessons would bananas teach according to the doctrine of signatures? It can’t be color. Who wants a green or yellow penis? It’s the shape, of course, though this depends on whether or not the sign-seeker has been circumcised or not. The uncircumcised are definitely more bananoid, to coin a word. Knowing guys, they would probably want to say they are more plantainoid. So could it be true that if you eat more bananas you won’t need to answer those spam emails offering penis enlargement deals? Dream on. Here is an up-to-date, scientificsounding, but still spurious theory to explain history. When bananas from the neotropics of Central America and the Caribbean flooded the U.S. like a yellow tsunami in the 20th century, there seems to have been an effect triggered in the brain’s limbic system (specifically in the nucleus accumbens ––that part of the limbic system that plays a role in sexual arousal). There is no scientific basis for this apart from the observation that nearly coincident with the introduction of bananas, the country well, went bananas. The frivolity of the Roaring 20s sprang from deeper sources than silly tropical fruit, but the images and sounds of Josephine Baker, Carmen Miranda, Busby Berkeley showgirls, Tin Pan Alley songs, and popular culture attest that something was going on. That something may yet be the doctrine of signatures, but it was not a sign from God, but a sign from the United Fruit Company inserting bananas into the popular consciousness in a big, big way with an explosion of consequences.
Dancer, Expat, Singer, Spy, War Heroine, Josephine Baker broke barriers her whole life by Elaine Kelly The lasting image of Josephine Baker dancing naked with only a string of bananas flapping around her hips does not tell her whole story. Josephine’s real life story speaks of her cunning intelligence, determination, and a strength of character which broke the barriers of race, class, gender, roles, and sexual preference. She defied every expectation of what a skinny, poor black Lesbian could do and become. Freda Josephine McDonald was born in 1906 into a world of poverty, servitude, and abuse. She overcame these extremely challenging circumstances and became a legend of the 20th century--the great Josephine Baker, the Bronze Venus, the Black Pearl, La Baker. Where she came from and who her father was remains a mystery. Her son, Jean-Claude Baker, writes in his biography, Josephine Baker: The Hungry Heart, of the woman who adopted him, that Josephine’s biological father was a German for whom her AfricanAmerican mother worked as a servant. Her mother’s genealogy is even more of a mystery because she was adopted by ex-slaves. There are scant records of black families during this period and many marriages were common-law. Biographer Ean Wood wrote that the McDonald family was a mixed-race family, part black and part Appalachee Indian. Josephine quickly discovered that her mixed race heritage was the beginning of her struggles. Josephine was a servant from the age of eight until she ran away and lived on the streets of St. Louis where she started dancing. With nothing to lose, she pushed the limits of acceptable behavior. By the 1920s, the svelte exotic teenager had experienced the excitement of Harlem, bisexual liaisons, and avant-garde life styles. But America was too small for her. She headed
for Paris and the dizzying world of art, music, and culture. Josephine’s exotic style enchanted the sophisticated club-goers at the Parisian music halls. Her sensational show at the Folies Bergère, where she danced nude, but for the bouncing sequined bananas around her waist, left nearly nothing to the imagination, and completely dazzled the demi-monde of Parisian nightlife. Europe embraced her and, never looking back, she became a French citizen in an adoring France in exciting times. During World War II, she smuggled encoded information for the Allies. Her new country France, maybe relieved that she was not another Mata Hari, awarded her the Croix de Guerre––a first for an American-born woman. In just one lifetime she had six marriages, six female lovers, and was the mother of 12 adopted multi-race children whom she called the Rainbow Tribe. Back in the U.S., she stood shoulder to shoulder with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the struggles for civil rights, even turning down an offer to replace him in his leadership role after he was assassinated. The now-dignified and matronly Josephine, far from her days as the Bronze Venus, met kings, princes, and princesses. Her final show in Paris, a retrospective revue of her 50 years of entertaining and unique accomplishments, was financed by Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Grace. The adoring audience was full of VIPs who rose to their feet for a thunderous standing ovation to honor the woman who overcame tremendous odds, using every avenue available–– including her sexuality. Her extraordinary intelligence and matchless talent let her achieve so much in her life. It is ironic that her success really began with the humble banana.
Josephine Baker in Banana Skirt from the Folies Bergère production Un Vent de Folie. (“A Breath of Madness”)
Josephine Baker put bananas around her waist and just barely covered her sex. This was a powerful inversion of the servile, bananas-on-the-heads of the women of the African Diaspora toting the heavy stems for the banana bosses. Symbolically, Baker took the fruit from her head and put the bananas to work for her. She turned submissiveness into a powerful sexuality that took back the mana (“the stuff of which magic is formed”) of the tropical fruit, re-nativized it, and made it, not a commodity for the capitalists, but a talisman of earthy, uncontrolled sexuality. If there was a goddess of bananas, her name was Josephine. Nous sommes tous sauvages. --SD
Baker on Baker “I wasn’t really naked. I simply didn’t have any clothes on.” “A violinist had a violin, a painter his palette. All I had was myself.” “I improvised, crazed by the music. Even my teeth and eyes burned with fever. Each time I leaped I seemed to touch the sky and when I regained earth it seemed to be mine alone.” “Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.”
by Elaine Kelly
That Tutti Frutti Hat
Who doesn’t remember that gorgeous, exotic and erotic Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda sashaying across the screen in her towering high heels, ruffled skirt, skimpy offthe-shoulder bolero top and sporting a fruit basket hat on top of her head? Okay, so you’re not that old and never saw the real-life icon, either on screen or in person, but surely the image of Chiquita Banana, for whom Carmen Miranda was the inspiration, might still be fresh in your memory. Carmen was born Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha in the northern Portuguese area of Marco de Canaveses on February 9, 1909, and was named after Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” which her father loved. Her family moved to Brazil when Carmen was a year old, and although she never returned to Portugal to live she retained her Portuguese nationality. It was her father’s love of music that inspired her singing, but he never approved of her aspirations of show business, even though her only performances as a young girl consisted of singing on a local radio show and at parties and festivals in Rio. A more suitable vocation, as far as her domineering father was concerned, was working in a boutique where she learned to make hats, after which she eventually opened her own business creating fashionable and trendsetting headgear, including her signature market basket-inspired hat. After an introduction to composer Josué de Barros, Carmen recorded her first album in 1929. Known as Brazil’s gem singer, she later signed a two-year contract with Radio Mayrink Veiga and became the first contract singer in Brazil’s radio industry. She later recorded for RCA Records and enjoyed a career as a samba singer before she was invited to New York City to perform in a Broadway show. Her screen debut was in a Brazilian documentary A Voz Do Carnaval (1933) and two years after that Miranda appeared in her first feature film entitled Alô, Alô Brasil. The 1935 film Estudantes is what solidified her image in the hearts and minds of the movie-going public. She arrived in the United States in 1939 and signed a Hollywood movie contract, along with her band he brought from Brazil, the Bando da Lua. Her fame grew quickly and she went on to star in 13 films. By 1943, she had become the country’s highest paid entertainer. At the height of her career it was reported that she earned more than $200,000 a year. Her sobriquet, the Brazilian Bombshell, reflected her indomitable spirit and the soul of Latin culture. Carmen’s first Hol-
lywood film was Down Argentine Way starring opposite Betty Grable. She made her last movie in 1953 with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, titled Scared Stiff. Even President Roosevelt thought her image and stellar career was an asset in promoting his Good Neighbor Policy, designed to strengthen ties with Latin America and Europe. Because she was so loved by her international audiences, especially the Americans, he reasoned that his policy would be better received by virtue of her Latina heritage. In 1947 Carmen married movie producer David Sebastian who soon became her manager. It’s been rumored that his own heavy drinking led to her downfall, not only by encouraging her to drink, but by the many bad business decisions he made. She became pregnant in 1948 but suffered a miscarriage, and the marriage ended shortly thereafter although they were reportedly never legally divorced. Her generic Latin persona blurred the distinctions among the Latin republics of Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico, and introduced the American public to the world of samba, tango, and habanera. Her act, which was both stylized and outrageous, made her 5’3,” 160 cm frame appear larger than life both on stage and in the movies. Since her death, her image has been satirized and taken up as “camp” even in animated cartoon shorts. The animation department at Warner Bros. incorporated her image in the animated cartoon Tropical Hare with Bugs Bunny, who made his entrance as a stowaway in the famous tutti frutti hat. Even today, her iconic image is popular with female impersonators. Carmen Miranda died of a heart attack at her home in Beverly Hills on August 5, 1955, shortly after her appearance on the Jimmy Durante Show. Forty years later, a city square in Hollywood across from Mann’s Chinese Theater (where her footprints are preserved in concrete) was named after her. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, she was also given a star on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame––not bad for a woman who became famous because of her tutti frutti hat.
Carmen Miranda in Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here (1943). This production number, “The Lady In The Tutti-Frutti Hat,” was judged too erotic as first shot by the on-set censors office. The gigantic bananas at crotch level were too phallic. Once the dancers put the bananas at hip level, the censor approved the scene.
A Carmen Miranda impersonator. Dressing up like Carmen is a favorite costume of drag queens
One of the famous Chiquita labels stuck on bananas by the billions. The Chiquita figure was a stylized Carmen Miranda
Sheet music for the Carmen Mirandainspired Chiquita Banana ditty.
The Woman Who Mistook Herself for a Hat Carmen Miranda worked as a milliner in Rio de Janeiro, and had the habit of singing at work in her outsized voice as she crafted her fanciful hats. She was fascinated by the exotic sights of the wide variety of humanity in the seaside city, home for 400 years of people from Africa who held on to much of their culture and synthesized new cultural flowerings. Carmen was discovered by locals, and became a popular singer in clubs and on the radio in Brazil. Carmen created her signature hat and costume style for her stage acts based on what she saw the Afro-Brazilian women fruit sellers wearing--those powerful women who balanced baskets of fruit on their heads in the markets and streets of Rio.
Bananas on the Brain Balancing cargo on the head is a tradition learned and passed on in Africa, as well as many other parts of the world. It’s a very efficient technique according to researcher Norman Heglund, who found that “African women can carry 20 percent of their own body weight on their heads without using any additional energy.” To use the technique, one must start early and learn a special walking gait that is 30% more efficient than what most people commonly use. The head-portaging technique went to the New World with the African slaves and was practiced by the Creole women of the Circum-Caribbean area and Atlantic rim. Carmen Miranda’s elaborate and comical fruit-laden hats copied the iconography of the of carrying fruit on the head. By putting bananas in her hats, Carmen took back the overt genital eroticism from Josephine Baker’s crotch-level wearing of bananas. Carmen kept her clothes on, and was safer and sexually less-threatening than Josephine. Carmen exuded a happy-golucky silliness that veiled her sensuality. She became the icon of the carefree Neotropics while the banana companies tightened their grip on the Americas and gobbled up more and more land for their banana plantations.
Carmen Miranda’s hat was much more than just a frivolous accoutrement pinned to the head of an effervescent Brazilian performer in the Hollywood films of the 30s and 40s. The fruit-filled hat is an archetypal image of the female mother archetype. The basket is the vessel of fecundity and the womb of life. The hat-as-mother symbol is beautiful, lush, bountiful, and nourishing. But the hat is also a reminder that there is work to be done, so therefore it is also a burden. When the work is carrying water to cook, drink and wash, the woman is the water-bearer––the primordial ocean of consciousness. The stars above show what can be depicted as a water-bearer in the night sky of the zodiac. Aquarius the Water Bearer can be interpreted as an archetype of the feminine mastery of water (blood, birth water, and milk.) The water she pours from the vessel she carries on her head is the outpouring of compassion and mercy for all who need its life-renewing properties. When the woman’s load is a basket, she carries food, usually gathered by groups of women in the tradition of ancient hunter-gatherers and also grown by her in the home garden tradition of Africa, then toted to market by groups of women, and there sold or traded to make a living.
A family of Afro-Caribbean blacks from somewhere in the African Diaspora totes bunches of bananas. The man has a tumpline on his head. Even the young carry their share. From such hard work and practical energetic solutions of carrying burdens evolved the silly frivolity of the fruit hat. The people who really had to do the work are not as happy as Carmen Miranda’s wide smile suggests she is.
Imitation of Self In the publicity photo on this page, Carmen Miranda holds a puppet head of herself. The Carmen puppet is looking at the living Carmen somewhat quizzically. Carmen is all smiles, because that’s her signature look while wearing her wild hats and dancing her Latin dances. Her constant ebullience almost seems like a turn borrowed from the blackface vaudeville style. Carmen didn’t change her skin color with burnt cork or greasepaint like the vaudeville performers, but she did appropriate the culture of others, made it her own, then copied the copy over and over in seemingly endless regress. Was Carmen a hapless victim, or a wily saboteur of masculinist power? A feminist interpretation of her work would view her essentialized (caricaturized) stage persona as a self-mimetic strategy––not, however, as a victim, but as an early and powerful culture jammer. Carmen took the working woman’s winnowing basket, balanced it on her head and transformed it into a glamorous, sequined tutti frutti hat. The hot Brazilian Samba rhythms and dances that went along with the costume and persona became a disruptive form of post-colonial feminine discourse and self-assertion of the group identity of oppressed women that reached from the colonies and cities of the black diaspora along the Atlantic and Circum-Caribbean rim all the way back to mother Africa, and beyond that to the geopsychic space of the great mother archetype. The way Carmen danced around and dominated those Busby Berkeley stage sets was so much more than the choreography of a flashy Latin “bombshell.” Carmen was a priestess performing a ritual of group transformation and selfconsciousness. She forced upon her audiences an awareness of alterity, or otherness of Latins, and the African and indigenous souls animating that otherness. Her transformative power was so strong that it became nearly-irresistible to put on a fruit-filled hat and dance a wild samba. Women, men, it didn’t matter. It seemed like everyone wanted to be Carmen Miranda? They still do. Carmen’s costumes and hats were stylized copies of the Afro-Brazilian women of Bahia. In the Brazilian carnival of recent times, the costumes are further elaborated and exaggerated. The big hats of African expressive style became enormous flower and feather headdresses. Lately, the women of the Samba Schools of Brazilian carnival would reach even further back and copy the lack of costumes of the naked captive African women of the Middle Passage. Nudity is the powerful weapon that the topless Marianne on the barricades of revolution in France knew well. The Samba dancers of carnival continue to break new artistic ground, and with it, grows a self-confidence and identity. Brazil has, at this writing elected Dilma Rousseff, a woman president who was a former Marxist guerilla who spent time in prison to succeed their popular president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In Brazil, the rites of reversal that carnival promotes allows the despised and rejected to rise to the top, both in art and politics. When Carmen looks at herself and sees the wooden caricature, she smiles
her big lipsticked smile, but the smile is masking her pain. The money she made working for the Hollywood studios numbed her to the reality of that disembodied wooden puppet caricature of herself. This photograph is extraordinary as a scripted reenactment of a moment of self-revelation: she was the wooden puppet head, and the living person holding her was the her now-lost former self of the Brazilian singer and entertainer who had left Brazil and her adoring fans behind to go North and sell out to the gringos with money. The living Carmen was now a wooden puppet to her family and admirers in Brazil. Her selfness and her art was stripped of nuances, subtleties, and contradictions. There are other levels of interpretation of this picture of the puppet and the master, that is, of the real-self beholding the imitation-self. At each level of
analysis, the players change. The smiling wooden head could be the Brazilian Carmen, and the real person an Afro-Brazilian woman in the streets of Rio. And, at a yet-deeper level, the puppet might be seen as an Afro-Brazilian shorn of not all, but many of the African traditions. The real person would then be a gaunt, naked slave, disembarking––barely alive––from the horrible womb of the slave ship’s hold. The Afro-Brazilian women of Bahia, Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro also worked and danced the culture of their mothers and grandmothers in Africa in a direct line of an infinite regress of kinship all the way back to unremembered time and the immemoriality of countless genealogies, uncharted and unrecorded, yet preserved perfectly in somatic cultural memory. Flashing forward from the picture, the Hollywood Carmen breaks up into millions of copies like a cultural virus at work. The Hollywood Carmen of vapid movie scripts and camp, Busby Berkeley sets dripping with gigantic bananas and ridiculous back lot fake exotica was a hyperkinetic, dancing whirligig, smiling with excessive flamboyance through scene after scene of silly plots and demeaning character rolls, all as wooden as the puppet head she held. This Made-in-Hollywood Carmen was the twisted archetype of the stereotype of Latin women. Although the Hollywooden version of Carmen Miranda is the best known, there were also other Carmen Mirandas of tropical biographical diversity. The Brazilian Carmen was a popular entertainer in Brazil before being seduced by Hollywood. Carmen returned occasionally to wear this hat. In the end, after her death, she was welcomed back to her adopted country as a national treasure. Lurking beneath the Brazilian Carmen is an Archetypal Carmen, who is the medium for channeling the flow of deep cultural memory up though the Afro-Brazilian women who inspired her creativity. The original Carmen was from Portugal, the metropole of the European empire which colonized Brazil, but her genius was to blend with the original African ancestors who were rounded up and marched to the sea chained together in coffles, and packed onto ships to be scattered along the Atlantic cost of Brazil. Carmen herself was colonized by Hollywood fame, glamor, the star system, the studio system, and big shot Hollywood moguls with cigars making deals and money, and ruining lives. Carmen was seduced by a Hollywood system and preyed upon by a man who was after her money, who physically abused her, and provided drugs to keep her up, then down. She was also seduced by Franklin Roosevelt’s so-called “Good Neighbor” program. To the politicians, Carmen Miranda was the archetype of the Latins: charming, exotic, and desirable, but dumb, easily manipulated, ripe for picking, and ultimately expendable––an exact reflection of State Department foreign policy behavior in the hemisphere.
Carmen Miranda was a thrilling performer and singer. This is one of her bouncy songs with the unintentionally nihilistic line: He told me that it’s very close to nowhere If that’s the case, that’s the place, the place we want to go...
Cuanto le gusta (“How much do you like”) (Original La Parranda [“Big Party”], written by Ray Gilbert (1912-1976) Cuanto le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, Cuanto le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta We gotta get goin’, where are we goin’, what are we gonna do? We’re on our way to somewhere, the three of us and you What’ll we see there, who will be there, what’ll be the big surprise? There may be caballeros with dark and flashing eyes We’re on our way (we’re on our way) Pack up your pack (pack up your pack) And if we stay (and if we stay) We won’t come back (we won’t come back) How can we go, we haven’t got a dime? But we’re goin’ and we’re gonna have a happy time Cuanto le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, Cuanto le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta Someone said he just came back from somewhere And picked a few petunias in the snow He told me that it’s very close to nowhere If that’s the case, that’s the place, the place we want to go...
Quoth Carmen: “Look at me and tell me if I don’t have Brazil in every curve of my body.” “More affectionate than a kiss is a well done hug in someone that you love. Have you ever notice how I can give delicious hugs?” “I say 20 words in English. I say money, money, money, and I say hot dog! I say yes, no and I say money, money, money...”
Tico-Tico No Fubá Tico-Tico Tico-Tico O Tico-Tico tá Tá outra vez aqui O Tico-Tico tá comendo meu fubá O Tico-Tico tem, tem que se alimentar Que vá comer umas minhocas no pomar
Lyrics of famed Brazilian choro melody sung by Carmen Miranda. A Tico Tico is a small bird and fubá (or kokonte) is powdered cassava root (yuca, or manioc) made into a paste that has been allowed to ferment for several days. Fubá is an African food popular in the diaspora that uses the cassava root, originally from the Neotropics, but now ubiquitous in Africa and the Old World tropics. Cassava is a staple root crop for 500 million people, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Cassava is the 6th cultivated crop worldwide in importance.
Illustration: Elaine Kelly
Tico Tico No Fubá (English) The tico bird is here, it is here again, the tico bird is eating my fermented cassava. If that tico bird has to feed itself, it better eat a few earthworms at the orchard.
The tico bird is here, it is here again, the tico bird is eating my fermented cassava I know that it comes to live in my yard, and that it puts on airs like a sparrow and a canary. But please take this animal off my granary, because it will end up eating all the fermented cassava
Throw that tico out of here, from the top of the fermented cassava it has so much fruit to eat from. I have done everything to see that he’s gone, Threw him canary feed to see if it ate it. Let a cat loose to scare it off, and (even) set up a trap, but it has found out that fermented cassava is good to eat.
Tico-Tico O Tico-Tico tá Tá outra vez aqui O Tico-Tico tá comendo meu fubá O Tico-Tico tem, tem que se alimentar Que vá comer umas minhocas no pomar Mas por favor, tire esse bicho do seleiro Porque ele acaba comendo o fubá inteiro E nesse tico de cá, em cima do meu fubá Tem tanta coisa que ele pode pinicar Eu ja fiz tudo para ver se conseguia Botei alpiste para ver se ele comia Botei um galo, um espantalho e alçapão Mas ele acha que fubá é que é boa alimentação O Tico-Tico tá Tá outra vez aqui O Tico-Tico tá comendo meu fubá O Tico-Tico tem, tem que se alimentar Que va comer é mais minhoca e nao fubá Tico-Tico O Tico-Tico tá Tá outra vez aqui O Tico-Tico tá comendo meu fubá O Tico-Tico tem, tem que se alimentar Que va comer é mais minhoca e nao fubá
The Tutti Frutti Hat and the Samba
armen Miranda’s hat was the reason the samba was developed. Of course, it wasn’t literally Carmen’s hats, since those theatrical confections were made in the costume shop of 20th Century Fox. But Carmen’s hats were inspired by the heavy wide baskets of fruit and vegetables carried on the heads of Afro-Brazilian women on the streets of Rio and the port towns of Bahía. Busby Berkeley, the director of the 1943 screwball comedy, The Gang’s All Here, makes a probably unwitting homage to the size and weight of the Brazilian women’s hats. Carmen’s big production number has her on a typically overdone stage set “wearing” a 10-story high volcano of bananas that appears to shoot out of her head (see picture in this section). Another scene in the movie shows Carmen standing close to a
banana freighter named “Brazil.” An enormous cargo net filled with an assortment of fruit that has been oddly stuck into the netting is seen being lowered out of the hold of the ship. The camera tilts down to reveal Carmen, wearing what appears to be a gigantic empty wok on top her head. The huge cargo net descends and seems to deposit the load into Carmen’s wok/hat. It’s a quick sight gag, because Carmen is not really under the cargo net, and she saunters out of the scene. What is it about piling fruit in a basket on a woman’s head that has captivated popular consciousness for the 75 years since Carmen Miranda brought the look to the public’s attention? One answer is the archetypal one: a powerful woman is wearing a cornucopia of luscious fruit. The hat/basket is her womb and the ripe fruits she is giving birth to are literally and symbolically the nourishment of her family and, by extension, all people. Whoever wears such a hat is an embodiment of the mother goddess. Obviously, Carmen Miranda would not have put it in the terms of Jungian psychology, but certainly she understood it at a primal level. It is not known whether Carmen ever tried to put on one of the enormous hats of he 19th Century Brazilian Carnaval A market woman with fruit-filled basket and exposed breasts is having her face painted white by a top-hatted figure in an apparent rite of reversal. An AfroBrazilian woman is transformed for one day into an upper-caste crioullo. Image: ean Baptiste Debret, Voyage Pittoresque et Historique au Bresil (Paris,1834-39), vol. 2, plate 33
Women of Benin, Photo by Karen Olsen, Peace Corps Volunteer
market women. Carmen only copied the idea of a fruit-filled hat. If she had put one on, and if she had been able to walk with it (unlikely, since it requires starting early as child) she might have noticed that the burden of such a work load changes the way the bearer must move. In fact, the working women of Brazil under their loaded heads, created the samba by the way the load made them walk. Now it is true that women and men have probably used this technique ever early on, maybe as far back as our proto-hominid ancestors became bipedal in the Miocene era, and as far as we know, early hominids did not dance the samba. We cannot lay any determinism and inevitability about specific cultural traits on the motor basis which permits the habit. Yet in a certain time and place, because of the African expressive stylistics, and a likely confluence of other historical and social factors, the samba emerged out of the way a heavy head load altered the walking style of Afro-Brazilian women. Alan Lomax and his collaborators developed the science of choreometrics, or measuring patterned movement, in the late 60s and began an ongoing project to systematize the study of comparative cultural movement analysis. Briefly choreometrics examines and compares the qualitative variables possible in learned, that is, cultural, movement. Lomax systematized the rating and categorization of cultural movement in order to find patterns and establish the basis for an ethnology of cultural movement and somatic communication. The researchers looked at body parts and their articulation, bodily stance, configuration of the movement, trajectory and of the breaks and transitions, body and limb linkages, and general dynamic qualities. Such examples and relationships are easily per-
ceived in the dances of a culture since dance movements are the most formalized and repetitious. Lomax wrote, “Any human event—scenes of work, ritual, everyday life—can be analyzed in Choreometric terms. As we score scenes from daily life as well as dance we find that many features of song and dance vary in tight correlation with the kinds of work which are most important in a culture. In fact, dance seems to be a heightened form of the everyday movement style of each culture. The people of a given cultural territory carry out all their activities within a single stylistic framework which identifies them as members of the same human community…The message here is, ‘This is who we are. This is how we do things. I belong here!’ The degree and kind of synchrony found in a culture’s dancing mirrors the level and kind of synchrony necessary to complete its community subsistence tasks. As a culture works, so it sings and dances. The dance, then, seen in this light, is a reinforcement of human adaptive patterns and can thus be used as an index of social evolution.” So, for example, the blacks of the African diaspora created dances in the new world using the same movements and aesthetic systems as their ancestors. This is the dynamic of how we ended up with the Samba no pé–– the walking, “foot” samba which is the main dance of the Brazilian carnaval. This samba is an improvised solo movement now danced when samba music is played. Originally, the movement came first, and the musicians translated the movement into sounds of the drums and instruments. “The basic movement involves a straight body and a bending of one knee at a time. The feet move very slightly––only a few inches at a time. The rhythm is 2/4, with 3 steps per measure. It can be thought of as a step-ball-change. It can be described calling it and-a-one, and-a-two, then back to one. The basic movement is the same to either side, where one foot moves to the outside lifting up just before the first beat (i.e. the right leg moves slightly to the right) and leg is kept straight as a . The other foot moves slightly towards the front, and closer to the first foot. The second leg bends lightly at the knee so that the left side of the hip lowers and the right side appears
to move higher. The weight is shifted to this inside foot briefly for the next “and-a”, then shifted back to the outside foot on the “two”, and the same series of actions is repeated towards the other side.” “The dance simply follows the beat of the music and can go from average pace to very fast. Men dance with the whole foot on the ground while women, often wearing heels, dance just on the balls of the foot. Professionals may change the steps slightly, taking 4 steps per measure instead of 3, and often add various arm movements depending on the mood of the music. This is the type of Samba one sees in the Brazilian Carnival parades and in other Samba carnivals over the world. This is also one of the most popular sambas.” (Choreography notes by Robert Bloom http://www.sambamusic.com/samba-dance-steps.html). The basket hats helped gave birth to the movement, and the movement gave birth to the samba music. But, according to Giancarlo Iosue, Carmen Miranda was required to make the flowing streams of African dance styles, popular carnaval culture, growing nationalistic awareness and feelings into a fused aesthetic style. Iosue
writes, “But successful interpretation of these songs could only be executed by the style of singers like Carmen Miranda. She identified with Brazil and its culture. Miranda translated the black samba for a white audience, originated the Brazilian way of singing and invented a new, one of the first, standards of Brazilian popular music; she defined the Carioca (from Rio) woman.” No wonder Carmen Miranda was a national heroine--she was practically a national goddess! And imagine the regret and shame for Brazil to have had their goddess lured away for money, exploited, and ultimately ruined by men from the United States who did not know who she was and what she really meant for Brazil. •
razil’s most famous song is the beautiful Aquarela Do Brasil (“Brazilian Watercolor”), the 1939 samba melody written by Ary Barroso. The song is considered the unofficial anthem of Brazil. Barroso’s Aquarela do Brasil expresses the composer’s passionate feelings of love for Brazil. The song’s popularity shows that the composer was writing and creating his music for all the people of the country who immediately embraced the song as it was so beautifully sung to them by Carmen Miranda. Although Carmen was not born in Brazil, she identified with Brazil and its culture as much or more than anyone and the whole country saw itself reflected in her art. You have heard Aquarela Do Brasil, whether you know the name of it or not. Carmen Miranda used it as her signature sign-off song, though stripped of its original powerful lyrics. The song calls for revolutionary activity:
AQUARELA DO BRASIL
AQUARELA DO BRASIL
Brasil, meu Brasil brasileiro, Meu mulato inzoneiro, Vou a cantar-te nos meus versos. Ô Brasil, samba que dá Bamboleio que faz gingá. Ô Brasil do meu amor, Terra do Nosso Señor, Brasil, Brasil, prá mim, prá mim! Ô abre a cortina do passado. Tira a mãe preta do cerrado. Bota o rei congo no congado. Brasil, Brasil, prá mim, prá mim! Deixa cantar de novo o trovador Á merencória luz da lua Toda canção de meu amor. Quero ver a Sà Dona caminando Pelos saloes arrastrando O seu vestido rendado. Brasil, Brasil, prá mim, prá mim!
Brazil, my Brazilian Brazil, My good-looking mulatto. I’m going to sing you in my verses. O Brazil, samba that gives A swing that makes you sway. O Brazil that I love, Land of Our Lord, Brazil, Brazil, for me, for me! O, open the curtain of the past. Bring the black mother out of the pastures. Put the Congo king dancing the Congo. Brazil, Brazil! Let the troubador sing again To the melancholy light of the moon Every song of my love. I want to see the Holy Lady walking Through the halls, wearing Her garments of lace. Brazil, Brazil, for me, for me!
Brasil, terra boa e gostosa, Da moreninha sestrosa, De olhar indiferente. Ô Brasil, verde que dá Para o mundo admirá. Ô Brasil do meu amor, Terra do Nosso Señor, Brasil, Brasil, prá mim, prá mim! Ô, esse coqueiro que dá coco, Oi onde amarro a minha rede Nas noites claras de luar. Brasil, Brasil. Ô oi estas fontes murmurantes, Oi onde eu mato a minha sede E onde a lua vem brincá. Oi, esse Brasil lindo e trigueiro É o meu Brasil brasileiro, Terra de samba e pandeiro. Brasil, Brasil, prá mim, prá mim.
Brazil, good and pleasant land Of the beautiful brown girl With the indifferent gaze. O Brazil, greenness that gives The world cause to wonder. O Brazil that I love, Land of Our Lord, Brazil, Brazil, for me, for me! O, this palm tree that yields coconuts, Where I tie my fishing net On clear moonlit nights. Brazil, Brazil! O, these murmuring fountains Where I quench my thirst And where the moon comes to play. O, this Brazil, beautiful and wheaten, Is my Brazilian Brazil, Land of the samba and the tambourine. Brazil, Brazil, for me, for me!
O, open the curtain of the past. Bring the black mother out of the pastures. Put the Congo king dancing the Congo.
It is worth your time to go to YouTube. com listen to this vintage recording by Francisco Alves from 1939. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-y8TS7jbpY Brasil, terra boa e gostosa, Da moreninha sestrosa, De olhar indiferente.
Brazil, good and pleasant land Of the beautiful brown girl With the indifferent gaze.
(Literal Translation by Thomas Keyes )
Watercolors of the Brazilian Market Women
â€œMolher Negraâ€? 1641, by Albert Eckhout (1610-1666). Antonio Riserio, Uma Historia de Cidade da Bahia (Salvador, Bahia, 2000)
Carlos Juliao, Riscos illuminados de figurinhos de broncos e negros dos uzos do Rio de Janeiro e Serro do Frio (Rio de Janeiro, 1960), plate 31
Carlos Juliao, Riscos illuminados de figurinhos de broncos e negros dos uzos do Rio de Janeiro e Serro do Frio (Rio de Janeiro, 1960), plate 33
Meu mulato inzoneiro, Vou a cantar-te nos meus versos. Ô abre a cortina do passado. Tira a mãe preta do cerrado. Bota o rei congo no congado.
My good-looking mulatto. I’m going to sing you in my verses. Open the curtain of the past. Bring the black mother out of the pastures. Put the Congo king dancing the Congo. Corners: Johann Moritz Rugendas, Voyage Pittoresque dans le Brésil. (Paris, 1835). Center: J.B Debret, Voyage Pittoresque et Historique au Brésil (Paris,1834-39)
ost humans are a schizoid mix of fierce individuality and compulsive conformity, and this behavior extends to the plants we grow and the foods eat. We love new and unique plants and foods and clothes and cars and toys, yet we want the same new and unique things that everyone else has. When it comes to food, especially fruits and vegetables, we want to see supermarket rows of identical tomatoes, pears, peaches, kiwis, mangoes, and bunches of perfect yellow bananas. We seem to be willing to trade taste, nutritional value, and even food safety to have uniformity. Breeding food plants to maximize desired qualities has been part of agriculture and horticulture from earliest history. Nature does her own share of optimization around certain plant traits. But when this is taken too far, the very traits we desire may doom the very crops we cherish––and place our own health at risk! Few North Americans or Europeans know that bananas come in any other color than yellow (ignoring the unripe green ones and the overripe brown specimens. The beautiful, seedless bananas we look for in the stores, are not just cosmetically identical, they are genetically identical and therein is the wonder and the peril. To understand how plants are created to have identical fruit on millions of genetically identical plants grown in countries all over the world, we have to fire up the Way-Back Machine, and travel to high school biology class and listen to the teacher talk about diploids and polyploids (when we were more interested in the biology of the hot classmate two rows over). If the students only paid attention they would have learned that botany is all about sex and drugs. News stories about the mapping of the entire genetic structure of humans, cloning of farm animals, and the use of DNA in solving crime have taken a few terms out of the biology classroom, and put then in common circulation. Most people know that the information for making a human a human or a potato a potato is coded in a complex,
twisted molecule of DNA––deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA is made up of sets of building blocks called genes. Each gene codes for certain traits, functions and features of the full organism. The entire set of genes for any one organism is the organism’s genome. Each species has a unique genome, with minor variations between individuals within a species. So, some people have blue eyes, and some people have brown eyes, but they are all still Homo sapiens. The genome for each individual is made up of half from each parent. There are many different ways within the plant and animal kingdoms for the male half to be combined with the female half to create a complete genome for a new individual. But in general, each individual will have a genome made up of two paired sets of long chains of genes called chromosomes. These “normal” genomes are known as diploid, meaning they have two sets of chromosomes, one from each parent. This system of diploid genomes works just fine, but neither natural selection nor human selection have seen fit to leave well enough alone. In fact, some scientists believe the ability of some organisms, especially plants, to vary from the diploid model is one of the major driving forces in evolutionary change. The other evolutionary choreography to be danced besides the diploid twostep, is haploidy –– having only one set of chromosomes,––and polyploidy having more than two sets. Haploid is normal in some stages of life. For instance, sperm, eggs, and pollen are for the most part haploid. Polyploidy types come in many variations, from triploid, three sets, to dodecaploid, 12 sets of chromosomes. Within the polyploids, the chromosome sets can be multiple copies of the same diploid gene pair; or chromosome strings from multiple individuals within the same species; or even some cases of multiple chromosomes from different, closely related species. Natural polyploidy is fairly common in the orchid genus Spiranthes. These lovely little plants go by the common name Ladies’ Tresses, because of the way the small flowers spiral up the stem, creating a braided
effect. Most Ladies’ Tresses plants are well-behaving diploids, having two sets of chromosomes from two different parents. But, it is common to find clumps of Ladies’ Tresses, possibly all the plants coming from a single parent, but no two plants in the clump having the same traits as any one species. One plant might have scent, the others none. In some plants, the leaves are gone when the flowers appear. In other plants the leaves are green and lush with a full spike of blooms. For the native orchid hunter, these patches of flowers are an identification nightmare. The reason for the confusion is polyploidy. While the seeds for all the plants may have come from the same parent, each plant has a genome consisting of multiple genomes from multiply-related species. There is definitely some fence-hopping and late-night pollen partying going on within the Spiranthes. Polyploid plants can arise naturally as in the Spiranthes, or they can be created by human intervention. In the 1970’s, when the drug culture hit college campuses, a few horticulture students took their homework seriously. In a classic proof of the old saying, “What does not kill you makes you stronger,” some people soaked Cannabis seeds in the drug colchicine.The results of such seed abuse either killed the seeds, or created a disturbance in the first few cell divisions of the sprouting seed leading to a plant that came from diploid parents, but was now polyploid. And like many polyploids, those extra sets of chromosomes created a plant that was stronger with a much higher content of THC, the active ingredient in Cannabis. And thus began the human-driven evolution of mild Mexican pot to the powerful, resinous drug of today. What the pot farmers did was nothing new in the plant world. Colchicine and a few other chemicals, along with heat can be used to force normally diploid plants into becoming polyploidal. And just as with pot, the result is often a stronger plant with bigger fruit—a plant more desirable to humans. Some polyploids are able to reproduce and pass along the desirable traits to their offspring.
Mostly however the process of induced polyploidy disrupts the ability of the plant to produce seeds from fertilized flowers. This is another desirable trait for humans—the fruit is seedless. And thus we come to the modern banana. The common supermarket banana is most likely a Cavendish, a triploid version of two Asian banana species. Since there are no seeds, new banana plants must be produced asexually. For bananas, that turns out to be fairly simple, since bananas have built in asexual reproduction through rhizomatic corms. Corms are swollen underground plant stems. Within the corm, the plant stores starches and other foods necessary to survive seasonal conditions. Each corm is capable of producing an entire new plant, genetically identical to the mother plant. Thus, all one has to do is collect banana corms, ship them around the world, and the same banana plant is growing every where. About 20 species of bananas are grown commercially out of the 300 in the Musa genus. The most commonly cultivated
sweet, desert-style banana with which most people are familiar is the Cavendish. The Cavendish took over from the previous favorite beloved by the banana barons, the Gros Michel (Big Mike) in the 1950’s, when that variety was virtually wiped out in Central America by Fusarium oxysporum, the Panama disease. Creating polyploid plants, and then propagating them asexually, accents certain characteristics that improve the use of the plant or its fruits among humans. But just as the genetic alteration enhances some positive traits, it also enhances certain weaknesses. In nature, genetic diversity common among diploid plants offers some protection against a disease or pest wiping out the entire species. Creating a polyploid may, in addition to making the fruit bigger, make the plant more susceptible to certain pathogens. Planting asexually reproduced clones in huge fields, creates an environment where if any one plant is susceptible to a disease or pest, every plant is susceptible. A single dis-
ease organism can wipe out a valuable food crop in one field, then one country, then worldwide. Such was the fate of Big Mike, the United Fruit Company’s flagship banana. The methods and chemicals used to fight outbreaks of pest and disease in monocultures often do damage to the environment, and leave toxic traces within the food crops. The more we understand the botany of such monocultures, the more we realize such devastation is not just likely, it is inevitable. A new strain of Panama disease is slowly cracking the defense codes of the Cavendish in some areas of Asia. How long before millions of acres of that species are gone? Having a few short red bananas, fat ones, square ones, some plantains along with some bananas with seeds mixed in our fields and grocery stores might not make our produce aisles look more like a funky open-air market in the tropics with all kinds of wild and woolly specimens in the stalls of the farmers. The machine-like similarity of the mass-produced, factory-farmed bananas will predictably go the way of the Dodo. Miss Chiquita might have to sing a different ditty. But it makes good botanical and evolutionary sense. As in all things in life, focusing on our own image of the perfect blinds us to the amazing variety of experience the world provides, and dooms us to lose the very things we thought so important.
It’s a more interesting world than you know. (L) Sea Dayak women from Rejang, Sarawak on the island of Borneo. (R) Bananas from Sarawak, a food of the Sea Dayak.
Bananas in New Orleans
The Great White Fleet unloads Central American bananas in New Orleans Left: Engraving after Alfred R. Waud, American Civil War-era artist and illustrator. Waud sketched bananas arriving on the wharfs of the port of New Orleans after the Civil War. Independent schooner captains were importing bananas into New Orleans well before the rise of the commercial giants. New Orleans, once part of the Spanish colonial empire, was the closest and main port of entry for cargo from Latin America. United Fruit Company’s chief rival, Standard Fruit and Steamship Company, was founded by the Vaccaro and D’Antoni families, Sicilian immigrants to New Orleans. Sam Zemurray’s Cuyamel Fruit Company were also based in New Orleans before becoming part of the Bostonbased United Fruit Company. New Orleans continued as the major port for bananas for 100 years.
n the 1950s, New Orleans was the major port of entry for bananas shipped from Central and South America. Owen Edward Brennan, The owner of Brennans’ Restaurant, challenged his talented chef, Paul Blangé, to include bananas in a new culinary creation-Owen’s way of promoting the imported fruit. Simultaneously, Holiday Magazine had asked Owen to provide a new recipe to appear in a feature article on Brennan’s. In 1951, Chef Paul created Bananas Foster. The scrumptious dessert was named for Richard Foster, who, as
chairman, served with Owen on the New Orleans Crime Commission, a civic effort to clean up the French Quarter. Richard Foster, owner of the Foster Awning Company, was a frequent customer of and a very good friend of Owen. Little did anyone realize that Bananas Foster would become an international favorite and is the most requested item on the restaurant’s menu. Thirty-five thousand pounds of bananas are flamed each year at in the preparation of its worldfamous dessert. From Brennans Restaurant, New Orleans
Bananas Foster Ingredients: --1/2 stick butter --1 cup brown sugar --1/2 teaspoon cinnamon --1/4 cup banana liqueur --4 dessert bananas, cut in half lengthwise, then halved --1/4 cup dark rum --4 scoops vanilla ice cream
top of the stove, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the banana liqueur, then place the bananas in the pan. When the banana sections soften and begin to brown, carefully add the rum. Continue to cook the sauce until the rum is hot, then tip the pan slightly to ignite the rum. When the flames subside, lift the bananas out of the pan and place four pieces over each portion of ice cream. Generously spoon warm sauce over Combine the butter, sugar, and cinnamon the top of the ice cream and serve immediin a flambé pan or skillet. Place the pan over ately. Serves Four low heat either on an alcohol burner or on From Brennans, New Orleans website
Unloading bananas at the United Fruit Company’s Thalia street Wharf in New Orleans, ca. 1950. Refrigerated rail cars from the UFC subsidiary, Fruit Grower’s Express, were backed up into the warehouse for loading. The Public Belt Railroad then pulled the cars along the New Orleans waterfront, past the French Quarter to a marshalling yard from where the bananas began their trip around the country.
A Bunch of Banana Books The full story of U.S. imperial adventurism in the Neotropics has two chapters. The first one is about the military invasions commencing with the Spanish-American War and continuing up until, well, just check today’s headlines. The second chapter is all about bananas. Often the two are interwoven. In general, the military invasions were justified in terms of keeping order and pacifying those “immature child-like republics of the Latins,” in the minds of the mandarins in Washington. The true purpose, apart from the heady exercise of imperial power pathologies and its subsequent statecraft, was connected to securing markets, resources, and commercial advantages for private American corporations––or American “interests,” as the diplomatic telegrams and communiqués put it. The details of the shameful era of undisguised and unrepentent imperialism in the Central American Neotropics is beyond the scope of this journal, yet these are stories that are essential for understanding daily life here. The web is a good source of information, yet nothing beats these books. The editor’s selection below is a good start for your Understanding Central America library.
The Banana Wars: United States Intervention in the Caribbean, 1898-1934 by Lester D. Langley. SR Books; 2nd edition, 2001
Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel. Plume; Reprint edition, 2008
The Banana Wars offers a sweeping panorama of America’s tropical “More than just a food history, Banana transverses the globe, empire in the age spanned by the two Roosevelts and a detailed modern genetics, and past and present political struggles in a fastnarrative of U.S. military intervention in the Caribbean and paced narrative that reads more like a travelogue than a textbook.” Mexico. The Banana Men: American Mercenaries and Entrepreneurs in Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World Central America, 1880-1930 Peter Chapman. Canongate U.S.Edition 2009; British edition is by Lester D. Langley & Thomas D. Schoonover. University Press more forthrightly titled: Jungle Capitalists. of Kentucky, 1995 In this compelling history of the United Fruit Company, Financial Times writer Peter Chapman weaves a dramatic tale of big business, deceit, and violence, exploring the origins of arguably one of the most controversial global corporations ever, and the ways in which their pioneering example set the precedent for the institutionalized greed of today’s multinational companies.
“The heart of the book is an engaging and fascinating narrative of the entrepreneurs and mercenaries who ‘ravished’ Central America between 1880 and 1930. Langley and Schoonover captured the spirit of the age and the personalities of those who walked across it by letting their characters speak for themselves and including descriptive passages in their traditional narrative.”
Banana Wars: Power, Production, and History in the Americas Steve Striffler (ed.). Publisher: Duke University Press, 2003
Review snippets from Amazon.com
Over the past century, the banana industry has radically transformed Latin America and the Caribbean and become a major site of United States–Latin American interaction. Banana Wars is a history of the Americas as told through the cultural, political, economic, and agricultural processes that brought bananas from the forests of Latin America and the Caribbean to the breakfast tables of the United States and Europe. Contributors include Marcelo Bucheli, contributor to this issue of Neotropica. Banana Plantation, Jamaica. Detroit Publishing Company, U.S. Library of Congress
To understand Central America, follow the bananas.
The United Fruit Company and Economic Nationalism by Marcelo Bucheli
The U.S. multinational, the United Fruit Company, has been considered the quintessential representative of American imperialism in Central America. Not only did the company enjoy enormous privileges in that region, but also counted on authoritarian governments in dealing with labor unrest. The literature assumes that United Fruit and the dictators were natural allies due to their opposition to organized unionism. This paper shows that this alliance could only survive as long as the multinational company provided the dictators with economic stability for the country. However, when the multinational proved to be incapable of doing that, the dictators allied with the working class to confront the multinational and extract higher rents from it.
he pejorative term, “Banana Republic,” is often used to describe a small and backward, poor, and unstable country with widespread corruption and a submissive relationship with the United States. American writer O. Henry first used this term to describe the imaginary country of “Anchuria” in his novel Cabbages and Kings. (1) O.Henry was inspired by what he saw in Honduras, a country invaded in 1910 by agents of the American banana corporation, the Cuyamel Fruit Company. Honduras later almost went to war with neighboring Guatemala due to the rivalries between Cuyamel and the Boston-based United Fruit Company. Other writers followed O. Henry in the perception of the corrupted nature of the Central American governments and the overwhelming power the American fruit companies had in those countries. Among them are Nobel Prize winning-writers, Miguel Angel Asturias with his novels, Strong Wind, Green Pope, and The Eyes of
the Interred (the so-called Banana Republic trilogy), Pablo Neruda with his poem “United Fruit Company,” and Gabriel García Márquez with his novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Unfortunately, the image of these countries as corrupt and unstable places strongly controlled by the foreign fruit companies was not a result of pure imagination. During the first half of the 20th century, most of Central America was ruled by some of the most infamous dictators of the Western Hemisphere––military strongmen who maintained a highly unequal social system by repressing the masses of agrarian workers for the benefit of the local landowners or foreign investors. In addition, they repeatedly meddled in each other’s affairs, generating a regional-wide state of continuous instability and constantly competed for the approval of the United States.(2) It was into this scenario where the United Fruit Company and to a lesser extent the Standard Fruit Company built impressive
banana production and distribution networks from Central America and the Caribbean to the United States. Their enterprises included plantations, railways, telegraph lines, housing, hospitals, and ports in the producing areas. Many of these investments were made after getting concessions from local governments eager to attract foreign capital to modernize their economies. United Fruit employed thousands of local workers and created an export infrastructure where it did not exist before. The close relationship United Fruit had with the local dictators gained this company a terrible reputation in Latin America. This was apparent not only in the fictional works mentioned above, but also in social studies scholarship. The classic book by Charles Kepner and Henry Soothill argued that “[This] powerful company has throttled competitors, dominated governments, manacled railroads, ruined planters, choked cooperatives, domineered over workers, fought organized labor, and
exploited consumers. Such usage of power by a corporation of a strongly industrialized nation in relatively weak foreign countries constitutes a variety of economic imperialism.”(3) Kepner and Soothill considered United Fruit partially responsible for the region’s poverty and lack of democracy. (4) For decades, Kepner and Soothill were an obligatory reference for those studying United Fruit and their work shaped the view of the company as the quintessential representative of U.S. imperialism. Were United Fruit and the region’s dictators natural allies? Under what conditions would nationalism rise in the local governments of the producing countries? In this paper, I show that the multinational and the right-wing dictators were not necessarily natural allies. The alliance depended on the ability of the banana sector to generate economic stability and on the need the government had to accommodate the working class. Right-wing dictators tended to ally with the local landowners and the foreign
corporations against the labor force as long as the multinational’s operations provided the country a steady income. However, if the banana sector failed to provide income to guarantee economic stability, the rightwing dictators broke their alliance with the multinationals and intervened in the sector in order to increase the rents generated by banana exports. If the multinationals resisted, the dictators allied with the working class to confront the corporations. This kind of nationalist policy by the right-wing governments did not mean any change in their ideology, which remained strongly anti-communist and pro-American. This paper shows three periods of Central American nationalist attitudes towards United Fruit: The Era of the “Banana Republics” and the American Mare Nostrum,1900-1945. This was a period in which the resistance to United Fruit’s power and nationalist initiatives came mostly from the labor movement, and the governments’ reactions by repression of resistance and support to United Fruit. Although some planters resented United Fruit’s power, most of them feared Communism more, so they allied with the government and United Fruit. Additionally, the overwhelming political power and military presence of the United States in the region gave the governments more strength when confronting the opposition. Reforms, Nationalism, and Rebellion in Honduras and Guatemala, 1945-1954. This is the period in which for the first time United Fruit faced government opposition to its operations. The election of Juan José Arévalo in 1945 and Jacobo Arbenz in 1951 as presidents of Guatemala created a brief era of government initiatives that sought to control United Fruit’s power, and to increase the rents from banana exports. These policies created a counter alliance among the Guatemalan military, the local landowners, the U.S. government, and the rulers of the other Central American countries against the Guatemalan government, which resulted in Arbenz being overthrown in 1954. During the same period, encouraged
by some social reforms, the Honduran labor movement confronted United Fruit in a process that peaked in 1954 with a strike that threatened the very existence of the Honduran government. Cuban Revolution, Alliance for Progress, and the Company’s Retreat, 1954-1974. This was a period of nationalism all over the Third World. Recently decolonized countries expropriated properties of their former metropole, Fidel Castro triumphed in Cuba and expropriated American property (including that of United Fruit), and the U.S. and the Soviet Union reached the tensest moments of the Cold War. In order to control the revolutionary tide, the U.S. government encouraged Latin American governments to follow some social reforms benefiting the working class. This was a policy that translated in new labor codes and the creation of agrarian reform legislation in most countries. The world was changing in such a way that United Fruit considered it better to gradually sell some of its production properties before they would become target of economic nationalism. Oil Crisis and the New Nationalism, 19741976. The oil crisis of the 1970s was the event that forced the right-wing rulers to break their traditional alliance with United Fruit. The local governments imposed higher taxes and demanded better participation of local planters in the banana export business. The crisis generated a new type of alliance between right-wing dictators, democratically-elected presidents, local landowners, labor unions, and left-wing politicians against United Fruit. The company decided to fight against these initiatives, but failed to get support from the U.S. government. In the end, the company was forced to accept the new terms, but never lost control over world marketing of bananas. Nationalism, political systems, and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The relationship between multinational corporations and the local political actors of a host country has generated a wide body of scholarship. NeoMarxist scholars argue that the existence of authoritarian regimes in poor countries facilitates the operations of a multinational
corporation by keeping low labor costs through repression of the labor movement. In addition, they claim that a non-democratic regime can write the kind of legislation the multinational needs without opposition. This is possible because the local elites and the country’s rulers get economic benefits from the operations of foreign corporations. As a result, the multinationals, the government, and the local elites create what they have called a “Triple Alliance” against the working class. (5) As a result, they conclude that the operations of the multinational corporations in poor countries exacerbate the existing poverty, unequal income distribution, and political repression. (6) Recent scholarship has debated whether authoritarian regimes benefit multinationals more than democratic ones. Nathan Jensen argues that democratic institutions create a safer environment for foreign investors due to the existence of checks and balances that lead the government to respect agreements and contracts with foreign corporations. (7) Li and Resnick agree that democracies protect property rights more than autocracies. However, they also point out that elected politicians tend to control monopolies, and cannot offer foreign investors incentives that look too generous to their constituency. (8) Thus, they conclude that the weaker the democracy, the more likely foreign firms will have monopolistic power. Oneal goes even further arguing that in developing countries, authoritarian regimes and multinationals have a “cozy” relationship, which encourages both parties to protect each other. (9) Research on the political economy of foreign direct investment in the primary sector has shown that companies investing in agriculture, mining, or oil affect local polities more than those operating in the manufacturing or service sector. Kobrin & Li and Mihalache argue that not only firms producing in the primary sector are more vulnerable to nationalist policies due to their vertically integrated structure and sunk costs, but also that these sectors are usually targets of political violence. (10) Other authors point out that multinationals working in the primary sector tend to support
MAXIMILIANO HERNANDEZ MARTINEZ General of El Salvador “It is a greater crime to kill an ant than a man,” said General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, a firm believer in the occult, “for when a man dies he becomes reincarnated, while an ant dies forever.” The official records of Hernandez Martinez’s anti-communist purge of 1932 were removed from EI Salvador’s National Library, but the massacres, which left 40,000 peasants dead and exterminated the country’s Indian culture, remain etched on the nation’s collective memory. A failed uprising organized by EI Salvador’s Communist Party founder, Farabundo Marti, six weeks after Hernandez Martinez had seized power in a 1931 coup, sparked the General’s crackdown on “communists.” “Roadways and drainage ditches were littered with bodies,” writes Raymond Bonner. “Hotels were raided; individuals with blond hair were dragged out and killed as suspected Russians. Men were tied thumb to thumb, then executed, tumbling into mass graves they had first been forced to dig.” U.S. warships were stationed off-shore, ready to send in Marines to aid the General in case he ran into serious opposition. Hernandez Martinez was run out of the country in 1944, but his memory was celebrated as recently as 1980, when the Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez Brigade carried out a series of death-squad assassinations of prominent Salvadoran leftists. Farabundo Marti, killed during the purge, has also left a legacy: the rebels currently fighting the U.S. backed government of El Salvador call themselves the FMLN, the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front. [Note: The rebels ultimately won and a FMLN president is sitting today.]
FRIENDLY DICTATORS TRADING CARDS Text © 1990 Dennis Bernstein & Laura Sydell.Art © 1990 Bill Sienkiewicz
right-wing dictatorships more than multinationals operating in the manufacturing or service sectors. (11) My study shows that Central America had a “Triple Alliance” among foreign capital, local governments, and local elites until the late 1960s. The alliance with authoritarian regimes collapsed with the oil crisis. In this crisis, the U.S. did not support the multinationals.
ALFREDO CRISTIANI President of El Salvador General Hernandez Martinez’s 1932 anti-communist purge was carried out on behalf of EI Salvador’s rich coffee oligarchy, the so-called “Fourteen Families.” New president Alfredo Cristiani is a member of those same “Fourteen Families” and his ARENA party is linked to brutalities surpassing Hernandez Martinez’s. Cristiani, former leader of the “Bad Boys” motorcycle gang, is a perfect figure-head: photogenic, moderate-sounding, schooled in Washington D.C., and indebted to the military for power. As puppet president, he yields to ARENA founder Roberto D’Aubuisson, whom former U.S. Ambassador Robert White calls a “pathological killer.” D’Aubuisson, a cashiered Army Major with ties to Jesse Helms arid the U.S. right, studied unconventional warfare in the U.S. and Taiwan. He once told European journalists, “You Germans were very intelligent. You realized that the Jews were responsible for the spread of communism, so you killed them.” According to D’Aubuisson, “the Christian Democrats [Ex- President Jose Napoleon Duarte’s party] are communists,” but Jesuit priests are “the worst scum” of all. U.S. State Department cables indicate D’Aubuisson “planned and ordered the assassination of the late Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.” It is believed he was behind the White Warriors Union (UGB), whose slogan was “Be patriotic - kill a priest.” In 1989 six priests were slain and Cristiani soon admitted his U.S.-trained soldiers had committed the murders. Although assassinations of priests are notable, 70,000 other civilians have been killed by the Salvadoran military and the death squads since 1980.
dated the U.S. position as the only power in the Caribbean Basin. The overwhelming American dominance in the region led the Central American politicians to follow accommodating policies towards the United States. The different republics competed for an American approval by repressing left-wing opposition, or blocking any social reform that would threaten the privileges of the traditional upper classes, while at the same time open The Era of the Banana Republics and the ing their doors to American investment. American Mare Nostrum: 1900-1945 This political model of accommodation inevitably led to the creation of repressive By the 1930s, United Fruit had consoliregimes and poor economic conditions for dated its power as the world’s major banana the majority of the population. (15) producing and marketing company. The The United States also achieved its company was established in 1900 after the political preeminence in Central America merger of several banana, steamship, and by direct military intervention. Whenever railroad companies eliminated all its comone of the American ally regimes or Ameripetitors through aggressive acquisitions can interests was in danger, the U.S. did not or merciless price wars. From the 1920s, dither about sending its armed forces withUnited Fruit controlled more than 70 per out fear of serious confrontation. Before cent of the banana business followed far 1945, the U.S. had already invaded Honduras behind by the New Orleans-based Standard (1903, 1907, 1912, 1919, 1924), the DominiFruit Company. can Republic (1903, 1914, 1916), Haiti (1914, United Fruit created its “Banana Empire” 1915), Nicaragua (1907, 1909, 1915), Cuba during times of unchallenged American (1906, 1912, 1917), Panama (1912, 1918, political supremacy in the Caribbean. In 1925), Guatemala (1920), and El Salvador the early 20th century, the Central Ameri(1932). (16) The Caribbean had become the can and Caribbean countries gradually fell American Mare Nostrum,(“our sea”) giving under the American economic and political the U.S. companies the confidence to expand sphere after the U.S. paid off some of these their businesses in that region. countries’ foreign debt owed to European The political process that assured the powers, some of this secured with customs American political domination in Central collections. This operation shifted the region America and the Caribbean took place from a pound sterling area into a dollar area, simultaneously with what Mira Wilkins calls securing U.S. economic hegemony. (12) In the “spillover” of American companies into their reports on Central America, the Britthat region. According to Wilkins, after the ish could not avoid acknowledging their lack Spanish-American war (1898), the American of power to deter the increasing American companies started operating in Mexico, Ceninfluence in the region. (13) Additionally, tral America, and the Caribbean as if they in 1907 the U.S. organized a conference were natural extensions of the United States. in Washington during which the Central (17) In addition to these favorable political American republics signed a General Treaty conditions, United Fruit enjoyed an everof Peace and Amity in which the countries growing demand for bananas in a tariff-free committed themselves to non-intervention system in the U.S. that encouraged increasin their neighbors affairs, to constitutional ing investments in the producing areas. (18) reforms prohibiting re-elections, and to non- Before World War II, the Central Amerirecognition of non-elected governments. can and Caribbean economies depended (14) Although the democratic elements of highly on the U.S. The percentage of exports the treaty were largely ignored, it consoli-
to the U.S. over total exports was 49 percent for Costa Rica, 53 percent for the Dominican Republic, 27 percent for Guatemala, 87 percent for Honduras, and 94 percent for Panama. Similarly, Costa Rica bought 53 percent of its imports to the United States, the Dominican Republic 62 percent, Guatemala 50 percent, Honduras 67 percent, and Panama 55 percent. To make things worse, these countries’ exports had a very low level of diversification. By 1913, 50 percent of Costa Rican exports were bananas and 35 percent was coffee; Guatemalan exports were 84 percent coffee and six percent bananas (which increased to 27 percent in the 1930s and was around 15 percent in the 1950s); Honduras’ exports were 50 percent bananas and 25 per cent precious metals, and Panama 65 percent bananas and seven percent coconuts. (19) United Fruit got most of its first lands in Central America as a result of railway concessions rather than banana production land grants. The rulers of these republics were eager to modernize their transportation infrastructure and saw the solution in United Fruit and its subsidiaries (including the International Railways of Central America – IRCA). In many cases, the property rights over the lands granted by the government to United Fruit were not clear, and the company clashed with settlers already living in those lands or other people claiming ownership. (20) This chaotic situation was exacerbated by the permanent political instability in the region. Honduras. This country was the second largest banana exporter in Central America from 1900 until 1916, and number one afterwards. The first banana companies operating in that country got their land grants during General Terencio Sierra’s dictatorship (1899-1903). Sierra was deposed by a rebellion whose leader lasted in power for just six months before being ousted by General Manuel Bonilla who remained in power until another military coup in 1906. Bonilla’s authoritarian government granted the first concession to the Vaccaro Brothers, a New Orleans-based company later known as Standard Fruit and Steamship Com-
pany, to build railways and market bananas. Bonilla stepped down after another rebellion that put General Miguel Dávila in power. During Dávila’s administration (1907-1911), the government approved some pieces of legislation that limited foreign ownership of Honduran soil. This attempt, however, was aborted by another rebellion by Bonilla who got funding for his rebellion from Samuel Zemurray, head of Cuyamel Fruit Company and the future President of United Fruit. With Dávila out of power, the rebels designated Francisco Bertrand as provisional president (1911-1912). Bertrand quickly eliminated Dávila’s timid nationalist land legislation before giving power to Bonilla who returned as president in 1913. With Bonilla in power again, Zemurray and his Cuyamel Fruit Company got tax benefits and more generous concessions. Later, United Fruit benefited from this policy by getting concessions for banana production. (21) United Fruit and Cuyamel competed with each other until 1930, when United Fruit acquired Cuyamel and named Zemurray as United Fruit’s president. With an accommodating government and local elites allied with United Fruit, the only possible nationalist opposition came from the working class. The Honduran labor movement had never been very strong, and presidents like Bonilla, Bertrand, or even Dávila never showed much sympathy for it. The first Honduran experience with labor unrest took place in 1919, when the banana workers demanded a wage increase and protested against the government’s generosity towards United Fruit. The strike turned extremely violent when the government tried to repress it, and eventually the workers succeeded in their demands. As a way to avoid these kinds of protests in the future, United Fruit decided not to obtain new lands through railway concessions, but bought the lands from private owners instead. (22). The main Honduran labor organization (the Honduran Unions Federation, or FSH) was created after the strike in 1920, but was constantly criticized by fellow Latin American labor unions for not being revolutionary enough and too modest in its demands. In
1930, a more belligerent FSH organized the first banana industry strike against United Fruit. This strike was a monumental failure. Most workers decided not to join it, the Army jailed and exiled most of the FSH leadership, and United Fruit protected itself against the few strikers with its own private security. Another banana workers’ revolt took place in 1932 and had a similar fate. (23) In 1932, General Tiburcio Carías won the presidential elections with a campaign financed by United Fruit, and he soon turned his government into a dictatorship that lasted for sixteen years. (24) The Great Depression generated a crisis in coffee exports and saw a fall in the banana prices and consumption of the fruit in the United States. United Fruit exacerbated the crisis when it tried to compensate the fall in banana prices by reducing the workers’ wages and the price it paid to local planters, something that led the workers to strike. (25) However the company had Carías as its ally. Once Carías took power, he quickly banned the Communist Party, prosecuted the opposition, and approached United Fruit whom he saw as the only institution that could help Honduras in its economic crisis. The government supported the company during the strike and permitted it to reduce wages as planned. (26) Carías quit voluntarily in 1949 leaving a former United Fruit lawyer, Manuel Gálvez, as his successor. Guatemala: Before the Depression, Guatemala showed the most solid relationship between the government and United Fruit in the region. Between 1898 and 1921, only one president ruled Guatemala: the notorious General Manuel Estrada Cabrera. Through military repression, fraudulent elections (in one of them Estrada got half a million votes and his closest opponent just three), Estrada remained in power and consolidated the concession system. In 1901, he gave United Fruit a transportation concession between Puerto Barrios on the Atlantic Coast and New Orleans. In 1904, he granted the IRCA a 99-year concession over the construction and management of a railway that linked Guatemala City with Puerto Bar-
rios, and in 1906 he granted United Fruit a banana production concession. (27) Estrada fell from power in 1920 and was succeeded by a series of short-term rulers until 1931, when General Jorge Ubico took power. There followed one of the most infamous dictatorships in Latin American history. Ubico took two approaches with the landless Indian masses. He visited them in their towns and listened to their complaints, something for which the Indians called him “Father.” At the same time he passed extremely harsh vagrancy laws by which all Indians who owned little or no land were ordered to work for local landowners for at least one hundred days a year. The landowners made the situation even more difficult for the Indians by agreeing among themselves not to compete for the labor force by offering higher wages, and kept artificially low salaries enforced by written contracts that the illiterate Indian population could not read. Additionally, Ubico made it legal for the landowners to murder stubborn or rebellious Indians. Rampant racism in Guatemalan society made these policies justifiable for the white and ladino (mixed race) population. A ladino intellectual said of the indigenous Mayan race, “[It] is cowardly, sad, fanatical, and cruel … [It is] closer to beast than man … For the Indians there is only one law — the lash.” (28) Ubico saw Communist conspiracies everywhere. He created a spy network in the army, in the government, and in small cities, extending his control into every aspect of the Guatemalan people’s lives. He opposed industrialization, fearing it would lead to the creation of a subversive proletariat. He forbade the use of “Communist” expressions like “trade union,” “strike,” “labor rights,” and “petitions.” He went so far as to decree the word “workers” illegal, replacing it with “employees,” which had a less subversive connotation. Considering himself a Central American Napoleon, he commissioned artists to paint portraits of him similar to those of Napoleon and filled the presidential palace with busts of Napoleon. (29) Ubico was a strong ally of the United States and welcomed foreign investors. When he came
ROBERTO SUAZO CORDOVA President of Honduras Honduras was the original “Banana Republic,” with its history inextricably intertwined with that of the U.S.-based United Fruit Company. In 1979, when Anastasio Somoza was overthrown in Nicaragua, Honduras got a new nickname: “The Pentagon Republic.” In 1978 Honduras received $16.2 million in U.S. aid; by 1985 it was getting $231.1 million, primarily because President Suazo Cordova, working with U.S. Ambassador John Dmitri Negroponte and Honduran General Gustavo Alvarez, allowed Honduras to become a training center for U.S. funded Nicaraguan contras. General Alvarez, according to Newsweek, “doesn’t care if officers are thieves, as long as they are virulent anti-communists,” assisted in training programs and founded a special “hit squad,” the Cobras. Victims of the Cobras were stripped, bound, thrown into pits, and tortured. The Reagan Administration claimed ignorance of these human rights violations, but U.S. advisors have admitted knowledge. Alvarez, who made enemies among his troops because he pocketed U.S. aid and because he belonged to the “Moonies,” a far-right South Korean religious cult, was overthrown by the military in 1984. Suazo’s ties to Alvarez cost him his bid in the next election, but death squad activity and U.S. aid to Honduras continue. Many high ranking government and military personnel during and after Suazo’s term were drug traffickers, and although the U.S. government denies knowledge of this, there is evidence to the contrary. In fact, the U.S. embassy was renting space from known drug dealers.
to power, IRCA showed this to its shareholders as a positive change. (30). Between Estrada and Ubico (1920-1931), IRCA constantly complained of the Guatemalan political instability and the triviality with which the Guatemalan government took its commitments, including the repayment of loans IRCA had provided it.(31) In 1930, Ubico signed a contract with United Fruit in which the company committed to build a port in exchange for land. However, by 1936 United Fruit dropped the port project so as not to compete with its affiliate IRCA. The port was never built, but Ubico permitted the company to keep its land and not pay any reparations. (32) Ubico was a victim of the social changes going on in his country. A small, but growing Guatemalan middle class composed of schoolteachers, government officials, and shopkeepers felt that a country controlled by a land-owning oligarchy left no room for them. In 1944, a group of young officials led by the army colonel Jacobo Arbenz supported striking schoolteachers,overthrew Ubico, and organized elections for 1945. (33) Panama: The American influence in Panama was stronger than anywhere else because this country was an American creation. Before 1903, Panama was a Colombian province with secessionist aspirations. In 1903, the secessionist movement declared the independence of Panama with the political and military support of the United States, which eventually gained the control of the Canal Zone. United Fruit arrived in Panama before 1903 and got its land concessions from the Colombian government. The Panamanian government not only did not alter the concessions previously granted by the Colombian government, but also gave new ones shortly after the creation of the new country. In 1904, the United Fruit subsidiary Tropical Telegraph and Telephone Company got a concession for the building of telegraph lines that linked the different cities of Panama with each other, and Panama with the Americas. As part of the same contract, the Panamanian government committed itself not to build any telegraph line for fifteen years. The
Tropical Telegraph and Telephone Company also provided services to the U.S. Navy in Central America. Finally, the Panamanian government granted land concessions to United Fruit for banana cultivation in the Atlantic Coast and later to the Pacific Coast because of soil exhaustion and the fungal “Panama disease” of the banana plantations. (34) Costa Rica: Although Costa Rica was more democratic than its neighbors, United Fruit managed to have a very strong influence in state matters thanks to the close relationship one of the founders of United Fruit, Minor Keith, had with the Costa Rican government. In 1900, the Costa Rican government gave Keith a land concession of 3,200 square kilometers to build a railway, which led to the company eventually being able to monopolize banana production. (35) The existence of political competition in Costa Rica made the concessions to United Fruit a topic of debate during the presidential elections. Concessions to United Fruit were also openly discussed in Congress, and found in Congressman Ricardo Jiménez one of their harshest critics. Jiménez approached both the workers and the planters showing his support and promising a change in the policy towards United Fruit. (36) In 1910, Jiménez was elected president, but once in power, his opposition to the company was neutralized by a United Fruit Company loan that permitted Costa Rica to pay its foreign debt. The nationalist opposition continued from the labor unions, but failed to create a united front due to racial tensions among the workers. (37) The next government of Alfredo González (1914-1917) started a series of social and economic reforms that included higher taxation on landowners and big enterprises. These reforms cost González his presidency. In 1917, he was overthrown by a coup led by Federico Tinoco, who shortly afterwards modified the concessions to foreign companies making them more lax. (38) Tinoco’s military coup did not turn Costa Rica into a long-term dictatorship. He was forced to quit in 1919, after a series of mass strikes and revolts permitted the
re-establishment of a pluralist system. After Tinoco, United Fruit faced some relatively mild nationalist opposition from the banana workers and some politicians. This situation changed with the Depression, when the country faced problems in both its coffee and banana exports. When facing these difficulties, the landowner and planter elites protested against United Fruit’s power, creating a bizarre alliance between landowners and agrarian workers that did not last long. Even the Costa Rican government itself wrote a report stating that United Fruit was not respecting the original contracts. This happened in a time in which the company was decreasing its banana production in Costa Rica as a response to the Depression. Supported by a large strike in 1934, the Costa Rican government negotiated a new contract with United Fruit in which the company allowed small planters to use part of its lands, but did not oblige United Fruit to increase wages. The Costa Rican government did not gain much from these modest achievements due to the strong dependence the country had on United Fruit and the economic crisis they were going through. In fact, United Fruit even got a new concession for banana production in the Pacific Coast to replace the plantations it was abandoning in the Atlantic due to banana plant diseases. (39) During the 1930s and 1940s, the nationalist opposition to the company came mainly from the Communist Party, which never managed to attract large numbers of followers. In 1948,the traditional Costa Rican stability ended with a military revolt that prosecuted Communists and started creating a new pro-business environment with the support of the landowners. By this time, United Fruit had already revived the Costa Rican banana exports from the Pacific Coast, keeping its monopolistic power in the country. (40) The period of the “Banana Republics” shows that the less democratic a government was, the more inclined it was to accommodate itself to the interests of the United States and United Fruit. These were also times in which the interests of United Fruit,
VINICIO CEREZO President of Guatemala According to Amnesty International, “arbitrary arrest, torture, ‘disappearance’ and political killings were everyday realities” for Guatemalans during decades of U.S. financed military dictatorship. In January 1986, Christian Democrat leader Vinicio Cerezo was elected President and said he had “the political will to respect the rights of man,” but it didn’t take long to find out that his political will was irrelevant in the face of Guatemala’s well-oiled military machine. Hopes for change were dashed when Cerezo announced he would not nullify the “self-amnesty law” declared on the eve of his election by General Oscar Mejia Victores, which established amnesty for all past military offenses committed from General Efrain Rios Montt’s coup in 1982 through the 1986 elections. Although Ronald Reagan’s State Department asserted “there has not been a single clear-cut case of political killing,” within months of Cerezo’s inauguration opposition leaders attributed 56 murders to security forces and death squads, while Americas Watch claimed that “throughout 1986, violent killings were reported in the Guatemalan press at the rate of 100 per month.” Altogether, Americas Watch says, tens of thousands were killed and 400 rural villages were destroyed by government death squads during Reagan’s term in office. Colonel D’Jalma Dominguez, former army spokesman, explains: “For convenience sake a civilian government is preferable, such as the one we have now. If anything goes wrong, only the Christian Democrats will get the blame. Its better to remain outside: The real power will not be lost.”
the United States, and the local ruling classes were similar (except for Costa Rica). The dictators helped United Fruit’s business, and United Fruit helped them to remain in power creating a system with little or no social reforms. During this period, Standard Fruit suffered the expropriation of some already unprofitable lands by the Mexican revolutionary government. (41) Mexico, however, was insignificant for the banana multinationals.
even mentioned in the company’s corporate reports to its stockholders. Although Communists and nationalists started the strike, in the end a reformist attitude prevailed. Gálvez himself was not a radical but a reformist, and was always concerned about the Communist influence among the strikers, which was never significant. (45) Guatemala: The events in Guatemala were more dramatic than those in Honduras. After the fall of Ubico in 1944, the mili Reform, Nationalism, and Rebellion in tary junta wrote a new liberal constitution Guatemala and Honduras (1945-1954) which ended censorship, forbade presidential re-election for more than two periods, Honduras: Honduras was always consid- classified racial discrimination as a crime, ered the quintessential Banana Republic, a freed higher education from governmental characteristic reinforced during the sixteen- control, banned private monopolies, estabyear regime of Carías’ presidency. In 1949, lished a 40-hour work week, forbade paythe aging Carías quit voluntarily and named ment to the workers in tokens changeable for former United Fruit lawyer Manuel Gálvez goods at the landowner’s store (a common as his successor. Carías might have been practice by landowners who did not pay fooled by Gálvez’s background. As soon as wages in cash) and legalized labor unions. Gálvez took power, he freed political prisThese changes created “uncertainties” for the oners, permitted political exiles to return, fruit company which it watched carefully. created the country’s first income tax, health The company complained about the costs insurance, social security, and an eight-hour that labor reforms created and the increasing day. These actions encouraged labor unrest belligerence of labor. (46) The government in the banana plantations led by Communist organized new elections under this constiorganizations. (42) tution, and former exile Juan José Arévalo In May 1954, the banana workers went won with 85 percent of the vote and with the on strike demanding higher wages and better strong participation of the recently legalized working conditions. This strike encourlabor unions. (47) aged other strikes all over the country, and Arévalo faced a coup attempt in 1949 that particularly in the urban areas. Because of was crushed by Captain Jacobo Arbenz, who the peaceful nature of the strikes, the local then became a hero with Arévalo’s followers. media and government officials showed their Arbenz resigned from his military career support. United Fruit requested Gálvez’s and ran in the 1951 presidential elections. government to send the Army and end the He won with 65 percent of the votes against strike, but the government declared itself the Conservative candidate, and former neutral in this conflict, something with friend of Ubico, Miguel Ygidoras. no precedent in Honduras’ history. (43) Following his election as President, Although the United States government saw Arbenz pursued an ambitious social proin this strike the first step towards a Comgram that focused on income distribution munist insurrection, the conflict remained and economic nationalism. He established peaceful until the end in June, 1954 when the the first income tax in Guatemala and tried workers settled an agreement with United to break monopolies by creating governmenFruit for a 21 percent wage increase (down tal competition. As a way to secure ecofrom the original 71 percent demanded by nomic independence from the U.S., Arbenz the workers) and health care for the workers’ promoted the construction of a highway families. (44) In fact, this strike was barely from Guatemala City to the Atlantic that
would run parallel to the railroad controlled by the fruit company-controlled IRCA; he pushed for the construction of a government-run port to compete with United Fruit’s port, Puerto Barrios; and he planned to build a national hydroelectric plant to offer cheap energy and break the Americancontrolled electric company monopoly. These actions encouraged IRCA’s workers who organized more massive and aggressive strikes with stronger demands. (48) A signal of the new times was that in 1951 the IRCA Annual Report included a “Labor Relations” section for the first time. Arbenz’s biggest goal was agrarian reform. He considered Guatemala’s unequal land distribution as the main obstacle to economic development, and saw the great estates owned by the national oligarchy (latifundios) as a backward legacy of colonial times. Arbenz believed that the country needed agrarian reform to put an end to the latifundios and semi-feudal practices, which would give land to thousands of peasants, raise the peasants’ purchasing power, and create a large internal market favorable to the development of domestic industry. In 1952, the Guatemalan Congress approved the agrarian reform law, which started the distribution of 1.5 million expropriated acres to around 100,000 families. The first United Fruit expropriations started in March 1953 with 234,000 acres of uncultivated land at a plantation of 295,000 acres. In February 1954, United Fruit lost 173,000 acres of a 253,000 acres plantation. The government calculated the land value at $1,185,000, based on the amount declared by United Fruit for tax purposes. The company protested and claimed that the land was actually worth $19,355,000. United Fruit was not the only landowner that protested the amount they would receive as compensation; other Guatemalan landowners had done the same. The government responded to these protests by arguing that if the landowners had not cheated on their tax forms, they would have received the amounts they were demanding. (49) United Fruit did not accept the government’s proposed compensation amount
and promptly appealed to the Guatemalan Supreme Court. When these attempts proved unsuccessful, they filed a complaint to the U.S. State Department, which had already vocalized its support of the company. In March 1953, the American ambassador to Guatemala demanded “prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.”(50) In February 1954, the American government demanded the Guatemalan government pay $15 million in compensation. The government refused and insisted on their right to comply with the Agrarian Reform Law, and claimed that the expropriations did not damage United Fruit’s production capabilities because they were only confiscating unused lands. (51) United Fruit countered this argument, saying that they needed extra acres to avoid soil exhaustion, and to keep the plantations separated to avoid dissemination of plant disease. Throughout 1953 and 1954, tensions rose between Arbenz, the U.S. government, and United Fruit. (52) Convinced that Arbenz represented a Communist threat in the Western Hemisphere, the Eisenhower administration approved a secret operation to overthrow Arbenz using some Guatemalan rebel forces stationed in Honduras. The rebel forces successfully took Arbenz out of power and nullified many of his reforms for the relief of the American government, the United Fruit, and the conservative Guatemalan landowning class, ending the most aggressive nationalist initiative against United Fruit up to that moment. (53) Cuban Revolution, Alliance for Progress, and the Company’s Retreat, 1954-1974 The 1950s and 1960s, showed important changes in the banana market. First, banana consumption decreased in the United States, because Americans were replacing fresh fruits for canned fruits. Second, United Fruit was forced to comply with the antitrust regulations by getting rid of some of its lands. And third, despite Arbenz’s overthrow, the company remained suspicious and cautious of the political developments in this area. (54)
United Fruit faced its first permanent expropriations after the triumph of Fidel Castro in the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Although its investments in Cuba were not very important, the company feared that Castro’s success could be used as an example by other countries. In that same year, Costa Rica passed new legislation that forced United Fruit to significantly increase its wages. These two events, in addition to the previous problems in Guatemala made the financial analysts of Moody’s Investors Services to classify United Fruit as a risky investment. (55) In the late 1960s, the company publicly acknowledged that it had to adapt to the social and political changes going on in Latin America. In a retrospective analysis Herbert Cornuelle, United Fruit’s president, wrote: “No matter how successful we are in this process, we still will be perceived, however, I am sure, as a threat to national independence and sovereignty. The fact that we are domiciled in a foreign country and that we are big assures that.” (56) In 1970, United Fruit merged with AMK Corporation creating a new company: United Brands. United Fruit then became part of a giant food conglomerate that included processed foods and meatpacking. In his first letter to the shareholders Eli Black, the first president of the conglomerate, emphasized again on the political issues the company had to deal with: [While] these operations are in stable countries with enlightened governments, the fact is that all Latin American countries are being swept by strong winds of nationalist aspiration. [The company] knows that it must adjust to change in Latin America. It is adjusting. […] One of the most sensitive areas is that of land use policies. […] Since 1952 the Company has divested itself of 65 percent of its holdings in the four countries. Many thousand acres have been given to the governments for distribution; the remainder has been sold to individuals and firms. […] In several countries land has been given to unions to build low-cost housing financed by the company. (57) Moody’s negative analyses improved
as long as the company sold its production assets in Central America. In this way, Moody’s told potential investors that the risk of expropriation or destruction decreased, something that made the company less profitable, but also less risky. The company’s risk ratio, usually above average, fell below the average of the top 200 companies traded on Wall Street. By 1970, the company had divested most of its plantations in Central America and transferred them to local growers or governments. (58) So, during this period United Fruit lost its lands not because of nationalism, but because of the uncertainties of nationalism in the future. The 1960s were also times in which the American government decided to follow a double-edge policy towards Latin America. Aware that poverty made Communism attractive to lower classes, the U.S. government encouraged and endorsed agrarian reform programs in the region through the recently created Alliance for Progress. These programs benefited United Fruit, which sold its lands to governments that needed the land for reforms and had the monetary resources from the U.S. government to pay for them. At the same time, the U.S. government supported anti-insurgency policies and military coups from its allies. (59) Besides the nationalist initiatives in Cuba and Costa Rica, the period from 1954 to1972 did not witness major nationalist threats from the local governments. Costa Rica was the only democratic regime in Central America and Cuba the only socialist one, while pro-U.S. military governments still ruled in the rest of the isthmus. The Oil Crisis and the Collapse of the Alliance Between United Fruit and the Military Governments During the 1960s and early 1970s, most of the Latin American countries fell into the hands of military dictatorships. With the exception of Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela, military governments supported by the U.S. ruled the whole continent. Moreover, the Alliance for Progress did not survive long past the Kennedy administration. The Alliance held on with a meager budget during the Johnson administration,
but died with Nixon and Ford. U.S. military aid and other economic assistance continued in Central America during the Johnson administration when the U.S. government considered that the Communist threat was higher than in the more solid South American dictatorships. However this aid almost disappeared during the Nixon years. (60) The oil crisis that started in 1973 had a terrible effect in Central America. All the countries imported oil (the price of which increased 400 per cent in a few months), their economies were still highly dependent on banana and coffee exports (representing around 80 percent of the region’s exports), and the area was still the poorest in Latin America. This crisis forced the local governments to realign their alliances and follow protectionist policies. (61) The cases of Colonel Omar Torrijos in Panama and General Oswaldo López Arellano in Honduras are clear examples of the shift in alliances during the crucial years of the early 1970s. Torrijos took power in 1969 after a military coup against the president Colonel Boris Martinez, who had recently announced an aggressive agrarian reform, and encouraged demonstrations against the American control of the Panama Canal. Torrijos’ coup and subsequent repression against some of his comrades that participated in the coup was supported by the United States. Once in power, Torrijos made some changes to the banking legislation that decreased to the minimum any regulation, benefiting the Panamanian upper class. (62) United Fruit also supported Torrijos by giving him personal monetary donations. In 1970, Eli Black, the company’s president, sent Torrijos a check for $25,000 with a note of support for the “cause you and your wife defend.” (63) General López Arellano had a background similar to Torrijos. He came to power for the first time in 1963 in a military coup against President Villeda, who had tried to create the first agrarian reform in Honduras while facing the
opposition of the large landowners and the Army. After the coup, López Arellano banned the National Peasant Federation, jailing peasant leaders and intellectuals. These initiatives did not stop the peasant movement, however, and the Honduran countryside experienced increasing turmoil despite government repression. In order to decrease tensions, in 1969 López Arellano bought some lands for distribution among peasants, but this was stopped by his successor, Ramón Cruz, who took power in 1969. Cruz did not last in power long. In 1971, there was another military coup in which López Arellano came back to power. In the company’s reports for 1972 and 1973 (the year the oil crisis started), President Eli Black proudly showed how the company was changing its behavior in Central America towards a more progressive and egalitarian relationship with the region. Black proudly presented the company’s social programs saying: “[There] was a dramatic change in the image of our company. It is a reflection of many years of effort to improve the working and social conditions of our employees, especially in Latin America. Our changing image was exemplified in numerous articles in [the media] in which it was said of the company, ‘It may well be the most socially conscious American company in the hemisphere.” (64) In another section of the same report, the company quoted the New York Times in saying “What emerges from talks with labor, management, and government is a picture of a company that anticipated the changes that have swept Latin America and has quietly set about to adjusting them.” As an example to show how things had changed, the company gave a very detailed description of the economic and social aid it provided the Nicaraguans after the devastating earthquake that country had in that year. (65) These changes, however, would not be enough for countries facing increasing problems in their balance of payments. Table 1 shows the dramatic situation the banana producing countries
GENERAL MANUEL NORIEGA Chief of Defense Forces, Panama The U.S. command post for covert Latin American operations is located in the former Canal Zone where a series of figurehead presidents, some backed by General Manuel Noriega, had involved Panama in U.S. intelligence operations. Noriega first met with then CIA Director George Bush in 1976 while Noriega was collecting $100 thousand a year as a CIA asset. Their friendly relationship persisted even after Noriega’s drug dealing was revealed by a 1975 DEA investigation. During the Reagan era, Noriega collaborated with Oliver North on covert actions against Nicaragua, training contras, and providing a trans-shipment point for CIA supported operations that flew weapons to the contras and cocaine into the U.S. Eventually Noriega refused to participate in further anti-Sandinista actions. In 1987, a Miami grand jury indicted him for drug-trafficking and the CIA tried to destabilize his regime. Noriega warned Bush that he had information which could change the course of the 1988 U.S. elections and the CIA backed off. When Noriega “annulled” Panama’s 1989 elections, citing CIA interference, Bush renewed attempts to unseat his one-time ally. Critics called Bush’s failure to support an abortive 1989 coup “indecisive,” but his response to that criticism, the December 1989 invasion of Panama, led to world condemnation. Noriega eventually surrendered to face U.S. drug charges, but under the guise of apprehending one drug dealer, the invasion led to more than 1,000 Panamanian deaths and installed a regime with similar close links to drugs, plus a willingness to alter Panama Canal treaties to suit U.S. interests.
were facing by the time of the oil crisis with trade deficits increasing and with almost no control, particularly between 1973 and 1974. In September of 1974, pressured by the oil crisis, the governments of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Colombia signed an agreement creating a banana export cartel modeled after OPEC called UPEB (Banana Export Countries Union, in its Spanish acronym). UPEB’s main goals were to increase taxation on bananas exported by the multinational corporations, to control supply in order to control the international prices of banana, and to modify the land and tax concessions granted to the multinational corporations by the local governments several decades before. (66) By this initiative, the banana producing countries were not only dealing with the oil prices, but also with the devastating effects of Hurricane Fifi that had destroyed hundreds of Central American banana plantations. (67) The founders of UPEB claimed that the producing countries were getting an unfair share of banana exports profits. According to one of them, the Central American countries were getting 11 percent of the income generated in the banana market, while the multinationals received 37 per cent and the retailers in the consuming countries earned 19 percent. (68) In addition, the inflation that the oil shock created made local growers put pressure to increase the fixed prices for banana purchases they had agreed to with United Fruit decades before. (69) The new export taxes these countries wanted to impose under UPEB violated what had been originally agreed upon in the concessions given to the multinationals. These concessions had been granted for long periods of time (between 58 and 99 years, and sometimes with an indefinite deadline) and established an average tax of 2 cents per bunch, which is equivalent to 80 cents per ton. In order to increase the tax to 55 dollars per ton, the governments of Costa Rica, Honduras in Panama passed laws that nullified the previous contracts between the governments and the multinationals in 1974, 1975, and 1976, respectively. While a democratically-
elected government in Costa Rica did these measures, they were also passed by the military governments of López Arellano and Torrijos in Honduras and Panama. These laws not only increased taxes, but also eliminated many of the generous concessions the foreign corporations had enjoyed until then. (70) The multinational corporations did not remain passive towards these changes. Both United Brands and Standard Fruit protested by interrupting their shipments and threatening the countries with export strikes and layoffs. Standard Fruit interrupted its exports from Honduras, and United Brands reduced its Costa Rican exports by 30 percent. (71) After this, the Central American governments began to use harsher language against the multinationals and strong accusations between them began. The situation reached a tense point in June 1974 when two high-ranking officials of the Panama government accused Standard Fruit and United Brands of conspiracy to murder Panama’s Torrijos and of supporting military coups in the region. (72) In the meantime, the banana workers in Costa Rica went on several strikes supporting the creation of UPEB. Torrijos refused to give in to United Brands saying that he would “take the war to its last consequences.” A diverse coalition of student groups, businesspeople, and labor unions mobilized to create a unified front against the attempts of United Brands to sabotage the governmental initiative. In spite of this, United Brands continued its boycott—destroying an estimated value of $1 million of its fruit production and refusing to continue exporting. Torrijos promised to pay the wages of the 15,000 banana workers as long as the conflict continued, while Fidel Castro allied with Torrijos by offering to buy the Panamanian bananas. (73) These events helped Torrijos show to the people at home and abroad his confrontation with United Brands as a war for national sovereignty. This reinforced the popular national support he needed, and helped him to gain international popularity in the rest of Latin America. In the meantime, López Arellano decided to go forward with the most aggressive agrarian
reform in Honduran history. He distributed lands he expropriated from Standard Fruit to 44,700 families and created 900 peasant cooperatives. (74) The foreign companies did not get aid from the U.S. when in conflict with the Central American governments. In fact, the producing countries even got loans for this program from U.S.-dominated multilateral institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). (75) The conflict was finally settled in September, 1974. With strong resistance from Torrijos and no help from the U.S. government. United Brands accepted the new policies of the Panamanian government, which also meant the acceptance of UPEB and the new political environment; shortly afterwards, the company re-started its operations and Torrijos became a very popular politician in Latin America. López Arellano did not end his conflict completely clean. In April 1975, Eli Black committed suicide, initiating investigations by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), who uncovered a corrupt scheme by the company to negotiate a reduction in the UPEB’s export tax. Black was at the center of a bribery case involving several high-ranking officials of the Honduran government, including López Arellano. United Brands admitted that it had paid $1.25 million in bribes to Honduran officials through the company’s subsidiaries, whose books had been falsified to cover up these transactions. According to the company, Black authorized the whole scheme. The deeper the investigations went, the worse the situation was for the company. The SEC also discovered that United Brands had paid $750,000 in bribes in Italy in order to get favorable business opportunities. (76) 1974, the year in which the “Banana War” took place was not a profitable one for United Brands. That year alone the company reported a net loss of $43,607,000, for which they blamed weather problems and the “Banana War. ” (77) The company informed the shareholders that the new agreements with the local governments were
GENERAL EFRAIN RIOS MONTT President of Guatemala “A Christian has to walk around with his Bible and his machine gun,” said bornagain General Efrain Rios Montt, military ruler of Guatemala from March 1982 to August 1983. Rios Montt was one in a long series of dictators who ran Guatemala after the Dulles brothers and United Fruit, backed by the CIA, decided that elected President Jacobo Arbenz held the country “in the grip of a Russiancontrolled dictatorship” and overthrew the country’s constitutional democracy in 1954. The succession of corrupt military dictators ruled Guatemala for over 30 years, one anti-communist tyrant after another receiving U.S. support, aid, and training. After the 1982 coup brought Rios Montt to power, U.S. Ambassador Frederic C. Chapin said Guatemala “has come out of the darkness and into the light.” President Reagan claimed Montt was given “a bum rap” by human rights groups, and that he was cleaning up problems inherited from his predecessor, General Romeo Lucas Garcia. Ironically, Garcia had given $500,000 to Reagan’s 1980 campaign, and his henchman, Mario Sandoval Alarcon, the “Godfather” of Central American death squads, was a guest at Reagan’s first inaugural celebration. Sandoval proudly calls his National Liberation Movement “the party of organized violence.” Rios Montt simply moved Garcia’s dirty war from urban centers to the countryside “where the spirit of the Lord” guided him against “communist subversives”, mostly indigenous Indians. As many as 10,000 Indians were killed and more than 100,000 fled to Mexico as a result of Rios Montt’s “Christian” campaign.
going to mean higher taxes and fees and less property in Central America, but added that the company “is proud of the long working relationships it has had with the nations of Latin America. We look forward to continued associations, which are mutually beneficial both to our company and to the peoples of the nations in which we work. We further have pledged to those nations our support as a responsible corporate citizen.”(78) Conclusion For most of the 20th century, United Fruit benefited from the autocratic Central American governments, mirroring what has been argued by Oneal, Kobrin, Li and Mihalache, Le Billion, and Ross. Most of the nationalist opposition came in periods of political opening (as in Guatemala and Honduras in the 1950s), or in countries with more democratic institutions (Costa Rica). The case of United Fruit in Central America does not show a pattern like the one argued by Jensen, in the sense that democratic institutions favored the multinationals’ business activities, something that still holds true when we compare contemporary cases like India (more democratic, but less foreign investment) versus China (autocratic, but attractive for foreign investors). The alliance with the autocratic right, however, was not set in stone. It lasted as long as the multinational’s operations provided a constant flow of income and economic stability. Under those circumstances, an alliance between the government, the elites, and the company against the labor movement made sense. However, this alliance collapsed when the governments and the elites needed extra rents in times of economic crisis. If the company refused to provide this extra income, however, the antilabor union governments were even willing to ally themselves with the labor movement in order to increase the country’s rents and decrease the possibility of political turmoil. These initiatives were not a result of changes in the rulers’ ideology, but strategies of realpolitik. In fact, it is worth remembering that these military governments remained as strong allies of the U.S. in the war against Communism. The previous alliances were
created by external factors (arrival of foreign direct investment), but also collapsed by external factors (oil crisis). This paper shows that an analysis the effects of a political regime over foreign direct investment requires the inclusion of factors such as external economic shocks, the relative importance of the multinational in the local economy, the general economic structure of the host country, and the host country’s political relations with the company’s home country. United Fruit was operating in small, poor countries with nondiversified economies, and with little political independence. Its agenda coincided with that of the local generals, local landowners, and the U.S. government. However, the oil crisis changed the world order too fast. Dealing with the Cold War and an oil crisis, the U.S. government was not willing to fight over bananas. Facing possible social turmoil due to the economic crisis generated by the oil sector, the Central American rulers were willing to break their alliance with the multinational and approach the labor movement. The countries had been extremely vulnerable to the export of one single product, but the 1970s showed that they were also too vulnerable to the import of one product (oil) over which they had no control. Confronting the banana companies was a price the governments were willing to pay in order to have some control over their economies. The alliance depended on many external issues besides the class interests of the different social groups in the host country.
About the Author Marcelo Bucheli is an assistant professor of business administration and teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This scholarly paper was published in a slightly different version as “Multinational Corporations, Totalitarian Regimes, and Economic Nationalism: United Fruit Company in Central America, 1899-1975,” Business History, vol. 50, No. 4 (July): 433454. 2008 Bucheli earned his B.S and M.A. in economics from the Universidad de los Andes and an M.A. and Ph.D. in history from Stanford University. He has taught business history at Harvard Business School. His book, Bananas and Business: The United Fruit Company in Colombia, 1899-2000, appeared in 2005 from New York University Press, and his article “Enforcing Business Contracts in South America” Business History Review, vol. 78, No. 2 (2004) was awarded with the Newcomen Prize for the best article published in that journal in 2004. He was recently appointed as a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois for 2009-2010. (Correspondence: email@example.com) Author’s Note: I wish to thank Mira Wilkins for useful comments in previous versions of this paper. I also thank the participants of the panel on “Nationalism and Confrontation” at the Business History Conference (Toronto 2006), but I take full responsibility on any error or inaccuracy.
1 Henry, O., Cabbages and Kings, 328 2 Bulmer-Thomas, The Political Economy of Central America, 16-20 3 Kepner and Soothill, The Banana Empire, 76 4 See also Kepner, Charles, Social Aspects of the Banana Industry. 5 See Evans, Dependent Development. Although Evans made his study for the manufacturing sector, the concept of an alliance foreign capital-national elite-national government is present among neoMarxist scholars. 6 See Dos Santos, Imperialismo; Frank, Capitalism 7 See North, Institutions, and Jensen, “Democratic Governance.” 8 Li and Resnick, “Reversal of Fortunes.” 9 Oneal, “The Affinity of Foreign Investors for Authoritarian Regimes.” 10 See Kobrin, “Expropriation as an Attempt to Control Foreign Firms in LDCs;” Li and Mihalache, “Democratic Institutions and Sectoral Foreign Direct Investment.” 11 See Le Billion, “Political Ecology of War,” and Ross, “What Do We Know About Natural Resources and Civil War.” 12 Munro, The United States and the Caribbean Area, 216-222. 13 See United Kingdom, Survey of Economic and Financial Conditions 1921-1922, 26-27, 54-55; United Kingdom, Economic Conditions in the Republic of Honduras, 12. 14 Mecham, J. Lloyd, A Survey of United StatesLatin American Relations, 336 15 Coatsworth, Central America and the United States, 46-48. 16 Coatsworth, Central America and the United States, 17 Wilkins, The Maturing, 154-160 18 Bucheli, Bananas and Business, 24-46. 19 Bulmer-Thomas, Economic History of Latin America, 58, 74, 76; Britnell, “Factors,” 106. 20 Kepner, Social Aspects, 77-80. 21 Taracena, “Liberalismo y poder politico,” 210211; Kepner, “Social Aspects,” 73-75, MacCameron, Bananas Labor, and Politics in Honduras, 10-11. 22 Taracena, “Liberalismo y poder politico,” 235. 23 MacCameron, Bananas, Labor, and Politics in Honduras, 15. 24 Posas, “La plantación bananera,” 157. 25 Bulmer-Thomas, “La crisis de la economía,” 351; Bucheli, Bananas and Business, 31-33. 26 Bulmer-Thomas, The Political Economy of Central America, 352.
27 Taracena, “Liberalismo y poder politico,” 212215. 28 Gliejeses, Shattered Hope, 12-13. 29 Gliejeses, Shattered Hope, 13-19. 30 IRCA, Annual Report 1931, 6. 31 IRCA, Annual Report 1919, 5; IRCA, Annual Report 1920, 12-13. 32 Gliejeses, Shattered Hope, 21. 33 Schlessinger and Kinzer, Bitter Fruit. 34 Ricord, Panama y la Frutera, 11-14. 35 Taracena, “Liberalismo y poder politico,” 200; Bucheli, Bananas and Business, 46-47. 36 Chomsky, West Indian Workers, 214-215. 37Chomsky, West Indian Workers, 218-220. 38 Taracena, “Liberalismo y poder politico,” 220. 39 Bulmer-Thomas, The Political Economy of Central America, 347; Chomsky, West Indian Workers, 220-229. 40 Chomsky, West Indian Workers, 253-258. 41 See Standard Fruit, Annual Report 1939, 4, and Annual Report 1941, 4. 42 MacCameron, Bananas, 17-19. 43 MacCameron, Bananas, 28-30. 44 MacCameron, Bananas, 52-53. 45 MacCameron, Bananas, 23-24. 46 IRCA, Annual Report 1944, 6; IRCA, Annual Report 1945, 4; IRCA, Annual Report 1948, 3; IRCA, Annual Report 1949, 4. 47 Schlesinger and Kinzer, Bitter Fruit, 25-37. 48 IRCA, Annual Report 1951, 1-3. 49 Gliejeses, Shattered Hope, 164. 50 James, Red Design, 65. 51 Schlesinger and Kinzer, Bitter Fruit, 99-118. 52 US Department of State, Penetration. 53 While United Fruit expressed relief after Arbenz’s overthrown, IRCA mentioned good labor relations. See United Fruit Company, Annual Report 1954, 3; IRCA, Annual Report 1956, 4-5. 54 Bucheli, Bananas and Business, 33-38, 58-70. 55 Bucheli, Bananas and Business, 58-64. 56 United Fruit Company, Annual Report 1968 57 United Brands Company, Annual Report 1970 58 Bucheli, Bananas and Business, 65-70. 59 Coatsworth, Central America and the United States, 108-109. 60 Coatsworth, Central America and the United States, 102-126. 61 Bulmer-Thomas, The Political Economy of Central America, 204. 62 Coatsworth, Central America and the United States, 128-129. 63 Bourgois, Banano, 116. 64 United Brands, Annual Report 1972, 5.
65 United Brands, Annual Report 1972, 38-39. 66 Vallejo, Productos Básicos, 83-88. 67 See the dramatic Honduran government reports on the damages created by Fifi and the trade deficit in Banco Central de Honduras, Informe Económico 1975, iii, 32-43. 68 López, Economía del banano, 33-34. 69 Bulmer-Thomas, The Political Economy of Central America, 203. 70 United Nations, La Economía, 79-80. 71 Vallejo, Productos básicos, 284; Presa, Aportes, 11, 54-55; Clairmonte, “El imperio,” 21-22. 72 Vallejo, Productos básicos, 285. 73 Vallejo, Productos básicos, 286-287. 74 Guerra-Borges, “El desarrollo económico,” 58-59. 75 See the pleas by the Central American governors in IDB, Proceedings 1974, 127-131; IDB, Proceedings 1975, 102-108; IMF, Summary Proceedings Annual Meeting 1975, 102-108. 76 McCann, An American Company, 232-234. 77 United Brands, Annual Report 1975, 1, 2, 4, 10. 78 United Brands, Annual Report 1975, 3.
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Cultural Memory: the Banana as Icon Valeria Baker
Original Title: The Banana as Icon: Orientalism, Violence, and the Problem of Memory in Fallasâ€™s Mamita Yunai, Reyes-Manzoâ€™s Photography and the Cultural Imagery. Thesis for M.A. in Cultural Memory. Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies. University of London, 15 September 2009. Thesis Supervisor: Professor Parvati Nair. Copyright 2009 Valeria Baker. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission of the author.
Photograph of banana worker by Chrissie64 Flickr
Introduction At the beginning of the twentieth century the banana was transformed through capitalist production into a global commodity with profound consequences for the people of Latin America. This dissertation explores how the iconography of the banana created in the United States during the twentieth century contributed to the construction of an idea of Latin America as Other, and to the erasure of the exploitation, suffering and displacement of the people of Latin America. I examine this through the cultural imagery of the banana created in the United States; Mamita Yunai, a novel by the Costa Rican writer Carlos Luis Fallas published in 1941; and photographs of a Chiquita banana plantation in Puerto Armuelles, Panama, taken by the social documentary photographer Carlos Reyes-Manzo in 1990. I have chosen to examine Mamita Yunai and Reyes-Manzo’s photographs because they are cultural memory texts, from different historical times, that disrupt the grand narrative of the banana as icon by giving visibility to the silenced memories of the socio-economic realities of the banana plantation workers. Mamita Yunai denounces the exploitative practices and hegemonic interference in Latin America of the United Fruit Company (now known as Chiquita Brands). In the West, however, bananas represented exoticism, and Latin America and its people became identified with bananas and the exotic. I examine the construction of Latin America and its people as exotic, erotic and primitive through the iconography of the banana. My research addressed the following questions: In what ways was the banana transformed through performative memory into a cultural icon embodying the idea of Latin Americans as the exotic, erotic and primitive Other? How was a collective identity for Latin America constructed through the iconography of the banana and performative memory? How did the otherization of Latin Americans contribute to the construction of a collective identity in the United States? In what ways do Mamita Yunai and Reyes-Manzo’s photographs of the banana plantation make visible silenced memories of suffering, oppression, exploitation and displacement? Can the banana plantation workers and the marginalized of Latin America speak through representations in cultural memory texts? As the most widely consumed fruit globally, the memory of the banana was conveyed and sustained by performance through its consumption and representation in cultural imagery (Connerton 1989, 4), while memories of the suffering and exploitation of the banana plantation workers were erased.
Social Context The banana as icon must be examined within the historical context of the violence of colonialism and imperialism in Latin America. In Open Veins of Latin America Eduardo Galeano provides a historical account and critique of five centuries of the
plundering of the continent from the perspective of the marginalized and oppressed, in an alternative narrative to the dominant history of Latin America. Galeano writes, ‘Latin America is the region of open veins. Everything, from the discovery until our times, has always been transmuted into European - or later United States - capital’ (Galeano 1973, 12). At the beginning of the twentieth century United Fruit became the largest U.S. monopoly in the banana industry gaining control of the social and political infrastructure of countries in Central America (Moberg 1997, 19). Galeano describes the social, political and economic transformation of countries through the capitalist production of bananas as the ‘bananization’ of Latin America (Galeano 1973, 122). The dominant classes and governments of Central America were complicit with and supportive of U.S. imperialism (Galeano 1973, 126). The banana was transformed into a commodity of mass consumption through the displacement of indigenous communities, the appropriation of land, the destruction of the rainforest, and the control of railways and ports by United Fruit. The building of the railroads by United Fruit in the Limón area of Costa Rica cost the lives of thousands of migrant workers, and banana plantation workers laboured in conditions of exploitation and inhumanity ‘scandalous even by the jaded standards of imperial history’ (Moberg 1997, xvi). As a consequence, movements of popular resistance led by leaders such as Emiliano Zapata in Mexico (Galeano 1973, 136), and Augusto Sandino in Nicaragua (Galeano 1973, 124), fought against the economic exploitation of the people and the land. Meanwhile, in the United States the banana was transformed into an icon through its representation in popular culture embodying a representation of Latin America as Other, silencing the suffering and exploitation of banana plantation workers. For my theoretical framework I turn to the postcolonial concepts of Edward Said, Frantz Fanon and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and to the theories on memory of Maurice Halbwachs and Paul Connerton. I draw on postcolonial theory since postcolonialism is concerned with giving visibility and agency to the disempowered and marginalized in society, and furthermore, ‘claims the right of all people on this earth to the same material and cultural well-being’ (Young 2003, 2). The first chapter examines how the otherization of Latin America enabled the violence of imperialism, the second chapter looks at how this led to the silencing of memories of the people of Latin America, and the last chapter considers through Spivak’s text, Can the Subaltern Speak?, whether the banana plantation workers can be represented.
Theoretical Framework Edward Said’s concepts on Orientalism and the construction of the Orient as Other are relevant to the construction of Latin America as an exotic, erotic and primitive Other. According to Said the people of the Orient were essentialized and objectified as Other through ideas that were created and embodied in the term Oriental which was ‘sufficient to identify a specific body of information about the Orient’ (Said 2003,
205). Similarly, I argue, Latin Americans were otherized through the word ‘banana’ which became a reference for a body of knowledge on Latin America. Moreover, Latin America was constructed as an opposite in the construction of a U.S. collective identity, just as the Orient was constructed as contrasting opposite for the West, ‘the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience’ (Said 2003, 1). Furthermore, perceptions of Latin America as Other were used to maintain unequal power relations between Latin America and the United States, ‘the construction of identity is bound up with the disposition of power and powerlessness in each society’ (Said 2003, 332). I explore how the ‘bananization’ of Latin America was constructed as an ideological discourse in order to justify and mask U.S. imperialism, just as the construction of the Orient as Other was used to justify the violence of colonialism. In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon critiques the violence of colonialism and imperialism as ‘a process of domination, of exploitation, and of pillage’ (Fanon 2001, 39). During the first half of the twentieth century United Fruit was the spearhead of U.S. imperialism in Central America (Galeano 1973, 123). Fanon describes how the violence of colonialism erases the cultural memory of colonized people, destroying the ‘systems of reference of the economy, the customs of dress and external life’ (Fanon 2001, 31). In Central America the violence of capitalist working practices erased the historical and cultural past of the people and nations. Fanon argues that the violence of colonialism can only be confronted through violence (Fanon 2001, 48). In Central America the violence of the exploitation of banana plantation workers was challenged by trade unions and popular movements. Said describes Fanon’s work as ‘a response to theoretical elaborations produced by the culture of late Western capitalism’ (Said 1994, 324). In other words, Fanon takes capitalist ideology and transforms it into a tool for liberation arguing that when people respond to violence they are not powerless, and that lack of power leads to the silencing of memory. Mamita Yunai and Reyes-Manzo’s photographs, as cultural memory texts and representations of banana plantation workers create a space for the articulation of memory, however the question is, whose memory is represented? In Twilight Memories, Andreas Huyssen writes, ‘All representation - whether in language, narrative, image, or recorded sound - is based on memory’ and memory ‘is itself based on representation’ (Huyssen 1995, 2). Moreover, he argues, there will always be a gap between ‘experiencing an event and remembering it in representation’ (Huyssen 1995, 3). In Can the Subaltern Speak? Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak problematizes representation arguing that the disempowered cannot speak through a narrative of representation, as any representation of the marginalized will be a narrative from the ideological point of view of the creator rather than from the perspective of those it claims to represent, ‘the intellectual is complicit in the persistent constitution of Other as the Self’s shadow’ (Spivak 1988, 280). I agree with Spivak that behind any representation is a set of ideological values, however the
ability to read these is part of understanding any representation. Since representation is memory, narratives of the marginalized articulate and create memories of the unseen. If, as Marita Sturken argues, cultural memory and history are entangled (Sturken 1997, 5), when representations of the marginalized are created they become the history of the invisible. Memory makes visible the unseen and is, therefore, empowering. Mamita Yunai and Reyes-Manzo’s photographs are representations of the socio-economic realities of the plantations and the face of capitalist exploitation, and give visibility to the suffering and exploitation of the workers. Moreover, Spivak argues that in the West intellectual production or representation is complicit with the economic interests of the West (Spivak 1988, 271). The iconography of the banana created and reinforced perceptions about Latin Americans that were complicit with U.S. hegemonic economic and political interests erasing the identities and exploitation of Latin Americans. Any representation is constructed through a process of selection and, therefore, involves remembering and forgetting. However, representation creates memories, and when memories exist people can be heard and can become part of the official narrative. In On Collective Memory, Maurice Halbwachs argues that memories are socially constructed and maintained, ‘it is in society that people normally acquire their memories’ (Halbwachs 1992, 38). The banana, as the most widely consumed fruit in the United States, was already part of collective memory when an iconography emerged in the 1920s. Paul Connerton argues that collective memories are transmitted and maintained by performance (Connerton 1989, 4), and the iconography, therefore, as popular culture and a carrier of memory, ensured that the banana remained identified with Latin America in the collective memory. Moreover, in The Collective Memory Halbwachs argues that as individuals our thoughts are influenced by ideas that exist in society which we absorb in an unconscious process through, for example, books, newspapers or conversations (Halbwachs 1980, 45). Halbwachs describes these as ‘social influences’, though I would add that within these are embedded ideologies. According to Said, Orientalism was constructed as an ideological discourse through literature, even though ‘often literature and culture are presumed to be politically, even historically innocent’ (Said 2003, 27). I will explore how negative perceptions of Latin Americans were sustained and transmitted in collective memory by performance, contributing to the construction in the West of a collective identity of superiority. Connerton further argues that bodily practices ‘provide a particularly effective system of mnemonics’ (Connerton 1989, 102). I will look at how Carmen Miranda was a carrier of Bahian cultural memory, and how her cultural identity was appropriated by United Fruit and transferred to the banana-woman cartoon character ‘Chiquita Banana,’ conflating bananas and people.
CHAPTER ONE In what ways was the banana transformed through performative memory into a cultural icon embodying the idea of Latin Americans as the exotic, erotic and primitive Other? When the banana was commodified at the beginning of the twentieth century, bananas and the people of Latin America were already associated with the exotic and primitive through their representation in illustrated newspaper reports in the nineteenth century (Soluri 2003, 50), and in school textbooks that created the idea that ‘the fortunate natives of the tropics have nothing to do but roam the flowery glades and live on bananas’ (Adams 1914, 21). Virginia Scott Jenkins argues that as the banana became the cheapest and most widely consumed fruit it lost its exotic image (Jenkins 2000, 15). However, although it may have lost its exoticism as a commodity, I would argue that from the beginning of the 1920s the link between exoticism, the banana, and the people of Latin America was reinforced through the increasing production of cultural imagery related to the banana. During the 1920s and 30s the banana was transformed into a cultural icon through new technologies of reproduction and live performances of songs (Jenkins 2000, 163). One of the most popular at the time, ‘Yes, We Have No Bananas!’, which references periodic shortages caused by Panama disease (Koeppel 2008, 251), includes the exotic Other as the Greek greengrocer who ran out of bananas and whose imperfect English is reproduced in the song. At the same time, the banana symbolized the comical and ridiculous through visual representations in cartoons and illustrations of slipping on banana skins, and on its phallic connotations (Jenkins 2000, 158). Numerous other representations were created in the West, too many to mention within this dissertation, but I would like to refer to Josephine Baker dancing at La Revue Négre in Paris in 1926 wearing a banana skirt (Jules-Rosette 2007, viii), as this touches on the issue of the conflation of bananas and people which I discuss later in relation to Carmen Miranda. Her performance as an African American when segregation existed in the United States would have reinforced existing negative perceptions about slavery and African Americans, conflating the exoticism of slavery and of the banana. A discourse of the banana was created with its own language, concepts and ideology through terms such as ‘to go bananas’ to represent craziness and instability, and ‘banana republics’ to describe the countries of Central America as corrupt and inefficient. Woody Allen’s film ‘Bananas’, an anti-Cuba propaganda film produced in 1970 embodies the concepts of craziness and corruption. For Said, language carries within it misconceptions and misrepresentations (Said 2003, 203), and quotes Friedrich Nietzsche who observes that truths ‘after long use seem firm, canonical, and
obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are’ (Nietzsche 1976, 47). According to Halbwachs, individual memory is shaped by collective influences, though we are unaware of this, as ‘most social influences we obey usually remain unperceived’. (Halbwachs 1980, 45). In other words, when language and expressions become commonplace the memory of how they originated is erased. In the following sections I examine how a discourse of Latin Americans as Other was constructed in the iconography of the banana focusing on the role of the singer and actor, Carmen Miranda, and the following marketing productions created by the United Fruit Company: the Chiquita Banana commercial, the Chiquita label, and the educational film Journey to Banana Land.
Carmen Miranda Described as the ‘Brazilian Bombshell’ in the U.S. popular press of 1940s, Carmen Miranda epitomised an exotic, primitive, and erotic Latin America (Soluri 2003, 62), and became part of the iconography of the banana through the 1943 Hollywood film, The Gang’s All Here, and songs such as ‘Bananas is My Business’. Born in Portugal, Miranda grew up in Brazil attending a Catholic convent school, but created an identity as actor and singer using the Bahian market woman’s basket as an entertainment prop and including the samba in her repertoire (Soluri 2003, 62). In 1939 she was offered a contract to move to Broadway, and from there to Hollywood (Enloe 1989, 125), where she was used to represent the human face of Latin America as part of President Roosevelt’s 1933 ‘Good Neighbor’ policy (Enloe 1989, 127), in order to create a cultural memory of a benign United States and a friendly, exotic Latin America. Miranda was used as a contrasting image in the construction of a U.S. national identity; as Said writes, the ‘construction of identity [...] involves establishing opposites and “others”’ (Said 2003, 332). In her early Hollywood films such as ‘Down Argentine Way’, ‘Weekend in Havana’, ‘That Night in Rio’, Miranda played minor roles where her dance, dress and singing defined her as exotic, and her accent and broken English as comical and ridiculous. The films were located in an imagined and essentialized Latin America where cultural difference was erased. However, while publicly promoting a policy of ‘friendly neighbour’, the United States continued to pursue a policy of military intervention. As Said argues with reference to Orientalism, the ‘bananization’ of Latin America was a ‘political doctrine’ of aggressive domination and control over Latin America, which elided Latin America’s ‘difference with its weakness’ (Said 2003, 204); a weakness, I would argue, created by the U.S. military and economic interference in the region. It can be argued that Miranda, as the Hollywood face of Latin America, was complicit in the creation of a collective identity for Latin Americans that inferiorized them as the exotic, erotic and primitive Other, which erased their cultural identity and was used by the United States to justify the violence of U.S. imperialism.
Therefore, when Miranda appeared in The Gang’s All Here she was already a cultural symbol embodying a collective identity of Latin America as the exotic Other. In ‘The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat’ scene Miranda becomes identified with the banana, another cultural symbol signifying the exotic (YouTube 3). Exoticism, eroticism and primitivism are represented through a musical set on a banana plantation staged in a Broadway nightclub. People and bananas are linked through the erotic symbolism of the chorus women and their interaction with the fruit; lying under banana plants in suggestive positions waiting to be taken just like the bananas growing ‘naturally’ on the plants, and then dancing with phallic life-size bananas as partners, an image reinforcing the association between bananas and people. No reference is made to the human cost of producing the fruit. Miranda’s Tutti-Frutti hat, a marker of her identity, is transformed into a hat of infinite bananas reaching out to heaven in a biblical universe of bananas, ensuring that the subliminal association of Latin Americans with bananas is remembered in the U.S. collective consciousness. Primitivism and exoticism are represented through images of contrasting opposites, sophisticated nightclubbers in dinner jackets and shirtless men leading an ox drawn cart. Miranda arrives sitting on top of a pile of bananas on the cart speaking in broken English. She was described in the popular press ‘in terms of the physical, of the body - wild, savage, and primitive, like an exotic animal’ (Roberts 1993, 10). Said describes how people from the Orient were objectified and referred to, ‘in terms of such genetic universals as [their] “primitive” state, [their] primary characteristics’ (Said 2003, 120), thus inferiorizing them and erasing their cultural identity. The film would have been seen in Latin America and would have had a psychological effect on Latin Americans’ perception of themselves. ‘In many regions of the subcontinent, the predominant, and often virtually exclusive type of cinema was what Hollywood exported’ (Rowe and Schelling 1991, 232). Said writes on the psychological effect of the ‘web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology’ constructed by Orientalism (Said 2003, 27). Fanon, too, describes how the erasure of cultural memory creates an inferiority complex in people who find themselves ‘face to face with the language of the civilizing nation’ (Fanon 1986, 18). The ideology of ‘bananization’ was used to reinforce the superiority of the United States and to remind the people of Latin America of their inferiority and weakness, creating opposing collective identities. A knowledge about Latin America was created through Miranda and bananas. Miranda was presented as the archetype of Latin American exoticism. Latin Americans were perceived as inferior and less threatening when seen as exotic, ridiculous, good at singing and dancing, and would have reinforced the idea that Latin America existed to serve the United States’ interests. Already in 1912, ‘President William H. Taft declared: “The whole hemisphere will be ours in fact as, by virtue of our superiority of race, it already is ours morally”’ (Galeano 1973, 121). According to Said, knowledge and power went hand in hand, to ‘have such knowledge of such a thing is to dominate it, to have authority over it’ (Said 2003, 32).
The banana and Carmen Miranda mirrored each other as carriers of memory. The banana as icon was a signifier and referent for a body of knowledge about Latin America, and similarly Miranda was a signifier and referent for stereotypes on Latin Americans. Halbwachs, disagreeing with Henri Bergson who opposes image and concept, argues that images and concepts are entangled in memories (Halbwachs 1992, 173). In other words, the banana and Carmen Miranda are symbols that embody ideological concepts. As Jenkins writes, bananas ‘are also symbols of danger - spiders, snakes, and illegal immigrants - and of romance, of tropical adventure in the Caribbean’, reinforcing stereotypes associating people with bananas through negative concepts (Jenkins 2000, 142). Walter Benjamin wrote on the use of technologies of reproduction for propaganda purposes, referring in particular to fascism and communism, as effective carriers and transmitters of ideologies with their capacity to reach a massive audience (Benjamin 2002, 122). Hollywood films, as carriers and transmitters of memories, were an effective medium for diffusing propaganda. The relationship between Hollywood and the U.S. State Department is well documented, and while the films were produced to promote the ‘Good Neighbor’ policy, they created and transmitted memories of Latin Americans as Other which erased other memories of their cultural identities. As Marita Sturken argues, ‘photographed, filmed, and videotaped images can embody and create memories; on the other hand, they have the capacity, through the power of their presence, to obliterate them’ (Sturken 1997, 20). Carmen Miranda as a carrier of exoticism, eroticism and primitivism transmitted collective memories of Latin Americans as Other through her bodily performances. Connerton stresses ‘the mnemonic importance and persistence of what is incorporated’ because it is ‘not easily susceptible to critical scrutiny and evaluation’ by those who perform the practice (Connerton 1989, 102). It is not clear whether Miranda was aware of the wider implications of her performances exaggerating her Latinamericanness, but as Connerton argues, her bodily performances were a particularly effective way of transmitting memories since the symbolism of her performances was not questioned and therefore more easily perpetuated.
Chiquita Banana United Fruit produced the one minute and a half long Chiquita Banana commercial in 1944 to promote bananas to the middle classes (YouTube 2). ‘When bananas became the poor man’s fruit, they disappeared from the dinner tables of the wealthy (Jenkins 2000, 143). United Fruit appropriated and transferred Carmen Miranda’s image to the banana-woman, ‘Chiquita Banana’. Miranda’s Bahian market woman’s hat, her dancing, singing, hand gestures, and classic wink at the end of her performances were reproduced in the banana-woman, transforming the fruit into an erotic female, and the
real Carmen Miranda into a banana, effecting a conflation of Latin American people represented by Miranda, and bananas. The existence of the ‘real’ Carmen Miranda who embodied exoticism and eroticism added desirability to the banana as an exotic product. Carmen Miranda’s association with Hollywood added aura to her, and Carmen Miranda, in turn, added aura to the banana implying that by buying a banana you were also buying a bit of Hollywood, and when consuming a banana you were also consuming Hollywood. And at the same time, the iconography of the banana representing Latin Americans as Other was being culturally consumed. The unequal power relationship between Latin America and the United States is presented through the contrasting opposites of the banana-woman and the men in suits. ‘Chiquita Banana’ is the female eroticised banana offering herself up for consumption to men in dinner jackets representing power. Bananas lounging on the beach wearing sunglasses suggest indolence and the primitive. The refrigerator acts as a referent for middle class families who were beginning to acquire refrigerators in the 1940s (Jenkins 2000, 71). The image of bananas running away from a man trying to catch them to put them in the refrigerator is evocative of slavery in Africa, evoking a comparison with the colonization of Africa and U.S. imperialism in Latin America, and between slave plantations and banana plantations. Aviva Chomsky writes that in many ways ‘labor relations on the United Fruit Company plantations mirrored those on slave plantations’ (Chomsky 1996, 33). The calypso music song of the cartoon was played on the radio as often as 376 times a day (Jenkins 2000, 72), a memory that was imposed and transmitted in society by a technology of reproduction and became part of popular culture. United Fruit used new technologies of reproduction to reach a huge number of people. Capitalism works through advertising images and recorded sound to appeal to people’s desires. As a carrier of Miranda’s image, the Chiquita Banana film and song reinforced the otherization and ‘bananization’ of Latin America and its people through repetition. Chiquita Banana, as part of popular culture, was the inspiration behind the 1966 song ‘Juanita Banana’ about a Mexican banana grower’s daughter who becomes a successful opera singer in the United States. Today, ‘Juanita Banana’ is a term used to refer to Mexican cleaning women in the United States perpetuating the identification of Latin Americans with bananas. This demonstrates how the image of the banana continues to be used to objectify people, and symbolisms attached to the banana are transmitted through the performance of the banana as a carrier of cultural memory (Connerton 1989, 4).
Chiquita Label Carmen Miranda’s association with the banana is embodied in the Chiquita label where she is represented with her Tutti-Frutti hat, a carrier and transmitter of Bahian memories. The sticker on the banana acts as interface between banana production and
consumption, erasing the exploitative conditions of production (Willis 1987, 593), and the consumer’s only contact with the producer is through the image of a happy Latin American woman, conveying a message of fruit produced in ideal working conditions. However, although represented on the label, Miranda’s memory has been dissociated and erased from the image. The label performs as a carrier of the memory of the association between bananas and people (Connerton 1989, 5).
Journey to Banana Land The twenty minute film, Journey to Banana Land, documents the journey of bananas by ship from the plantations in Guatemala to the United States and represents the banana as a person that will travel to the United States, ‘follow the banana right back to your home’ (Mudhooks). ‘Between 1955 and 1962, nearly 15 million pieces of banana literature were published by United Fruit for students’ (Jenkins 2000, 70). In ‘The Conquest of the Tropics’ published in 1914 as a biography of the United Fruit Company, bananas were represented as people with a “yellow streak” fighting for their rights when the United States Senate attempted to impose a tax on them of five cents per bunch for entering the United States, ‘Under attack it forgot that it was a meek and lowly immigrant with a “yellow streak,” and when it donned its fighting garb millions of housewives, toilers, and consumers of all classes rallied to its defense’ (Adams 1914, 334). The identification, therefore, between bananas and people was established early on in the commodification of the banana. The film embodies a discourse of Latin America as the exotic and primitive Other; Latin America as the ‘inferior’ primitive and passive underdeveloped society, and the United States as the ‘superior’ creator of modern ships for transporting a regular supply of bananas to the United States. The imperialism of the United States in Central America was maintained through a discourse of ‘bananization’, and the purpose of the film was to sustain this discourse. As Said writes, ‘representations have purposes’, and operate, ‘according to a tendency, in a specific historical, intellectual, and even economic setting’ (Said 2003, 273). The film focuses on the production of bananas in Guatemala and ‘was in such demand in 1954 that the number of prints were increased from 214 to 314’ (Jenkins 2000, 70). This was the same year that the government of Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown in a U.S. led coup, ‘with troops trained and equipped for the purpose by the United States, and with support from U.S.-piloted F-47 bombers’ (Galeano 1973, 127); and with the involvement of United Fruit. Allen Dulles, head of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, ‘had previously been on United Fruit’s board of directors’ (Galeano 1973, 128). In 1952 Arbenz implemented an agrarian reform law to redistribute unused land paying expropriated owners an indemnity in bonds, which by 1954 had benefited over 100,000 landless families, however much of the unused land was owned by United Fruit who ‘was using a mere 8 percent of its land’ (Galeano 1973, 127). This would suggest that the film was produced and widely distributed in
order to create a cultural memory of Guatemala as the primitive Other and to supplant memories of the United States’ involvement and even to justify it.The production of United Fruit’s marketing literature seems to have run in parallel with an increase in U.S. military interventions in Central America. The Fulton banana festival in the United States held for thirty years ‘on concerns about communism in Latin America’ (Jenkins 2000, 126), is a testimony to how the banana was used as a ideological weapon to fight communism, with the last one in 1992 as Latin America was by then associated with drugs rather than communism (Jenkins 2000, 140). The festival linked the youth of the United States and Latin America through cultural exchanges, constructing a memory of good relations between the two regions, and erasing the involvement of the United States in the military conflicts in Central America. At the same time bananas were used to transmit the ideology of the United States through the cultural exchanges and to reinforce the idea of Latin Americans as the exotic Other. A continent once plundered by the Spaniards for its gold, the narrator of the film states ‘today fast white steamships travel across the Caribbean with cargoes more valuable than pirates’ gold’ (Mudhooks), associating bananas with gold; and, in fact, they are also known as ‘green gold’. The language of the film reveals the epistemological framework through which the United States saw Latin America, ‘as an entity over whose destiny they believed themselves to have traditional entitlement’ (Said 2003, 221). However, the film does not articulate that the United States would ensure that nothing stopped them from delivering their valuable cargoes even if it meant resorting to military intervention. In fact, President Taft had declared in 1912 that ‘U.S. foreign policy “may well be made to include active intervention to secure for our merchandise and our capitalists opportunity for profitable investment”’ (Galeano 1973, 121). A dichotomous discourse of ‘us’ and ‘them’, the modern North and the primitive South, is represented through United Fruit’s Great White Fleet, suggesting the purity of the enterprise and the superiority of the United States. The ships that transported bananas one way to the United States were taking tourists to Central America to see the exotic countries for themselves as spectacles reinforcing their superiority, just as the Orient ‘helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience’ (Said 2003, 1). A U.S. collective identity as a superior nation was constructed through the ships. In contrast, the transport of the indigenous people is described as ‘primitive, old fashioned’, and the people as believing in doing things as their fathers did. In other words, they are too ‘primitive’ to be able to market the wealth of their land, whereas the United States has the modern technology to do so. The indigenous people ‘are presented in the imagery of static, and neither as creatures with a potential in the process of being realized nor as history being made’ (Said 2003, 321). Represented as a people without a past and without a future, the cultural memory of the people of Guatemala is erased, and is supplanted by
a body of knowledge as the primitive, static Other, a discourse enabling the United States to exercise their power over them (Said 2003, 32). The film, as a representation of banana production, erased memories of conflicts between United Fruit and plantation workers, and silenced the exploitation of workers and the displacement of indigenous communities from their lands, veiling U.S. imperialism in Latin America. Presented as factual information to a generation of schoolchildren, the film would have been received as a historical ‘truth’ about banana production and would have shaped their perceptions on the people of Latin America. Therefore, the repetition of the cultural imagery of the banana sustained and transmitted perceptions and stereotypes of Latin Americans as the exotic, erotic and primitive Other in the U.S. collective memory (Connerton 1989, 72).The banana was constructed as a discourse, a knowledge, an ideology, just as Orientalism was (Said 2003, 3). Knowledge empowers, and just as Orientalism was created as a body of information to empower the West and disempower the Orient, the banana was used to construct a body of knowledge about Latin America to disempower it, ‘for “us” to deny autonomy to “it”’ (Said 2003, 32). The banana as icon was constructed as the embodiment and representation of Latin America and its people as inferior in order to control the region politically, economically and intellectually. However as Said writes, the ‘worst aspect of this essentializing stuff is that human suffering in all its density and pain is spirited away’; memories of the socio-economic realities of the people of Latin America were erased. In the second chapter I examine Mamita Yunai by Carlos Luis Fallas, the Banana Boat Song, and photographs of a banana plantation by Carlos Reyes-Manzo, as representations of the unseen memories of suffering, displacement and exploitation. These are narratives that contradict the representation and memory of Latin Americans as exotic, erotic and primitive, the seen memories embedded in the cultural imagery of the banana.
CHAPTER TWO In what ways does Carlos Luis Fallas’s Mamita Yunai make visible silenced memories of suffering, oppression, exploitation and displacement? Carlos Luis Fallas emerged from United Fruit banana plantations at the age of twenty two to tell the story of the suffering, exploitation and displacement of the people of Central America in Mamita Yunai, dedicating the rest of his life to improving conditions for banana plantation workers through the trade unions and as a member of the Communist Party in Costa Rica. First published in the Communist party newspaper, ‘El trabajo’, as short stories and later as a novel (De Fonseca 1978, 20), Mamita Yunai acts as a counter-narrative to the dominant discourse of the banana and the construction of Latin America as the primitive Other by the United Fruit Company, and represents the banana as an icon of violence. I explore how Fallas makes visible the suppressed cultural memory of the Talamancans, African Caribbeans, and the banana plantation workers. Furthermore, I examine how Fallas transforms Calero into a symbol representing all those who died on the plantations and how silenced memories are articulated through the theme of bones. Fallas critiques U.S. imperialism and the violence of United Fruit through a counterdiscourse on the concept of ‘civilization’, and uses ‘gringo’ and ‘yanqui’ to refer to people from the United States as Other. The term ‘civilization’ is used ironically to critique imperialism’s pillage of the wealth of the South, for accumulation ‘in distant centers of power’ (Galeano 1973, 12). ‘¡Gloria a los rubios banqueros del Norte! ¡Paso a la Civilización!’ (Fallas 1970,140). It was ‘civilization’ that annihilated the indigenous Talamancans who had managed to repel the Spaniards five centuries earlier, ‘Y ya los pobres indios no pudieron contener el avance de la “nueva civilización”’ (Fallas 1970, 74). The terms ‘gringo’ and ‘yanqui’, as a language of resistance, embody a historical memory of liberation. No one could escape the ‘gringo’ or United Fruit who had occupied Central America. Nicaraguans were forced to flee their country which was fighting a war of liberation against U.S. imperialism, ‘huyendo de la bota del gringo’ only to ‘caer nuevamente en las manos del gringo’ on the banana plantations in Costa Rica (Fallas 1970, 165). ‘Entró la locomotora y sacó millones y millones de frutas para los gringos’ (Fallas 1970, 74). The railways, a symbol of modernity, were fundamental in the expansion of capitalism and colonialism, and represent the violence of the penetration of the land. Robert Young emphasises ‘the role of capitalism as the determining motor of colonialism, and the material violence involved in the process of colonization’ (Young 1995, 167). Fallas critiques the violence of modernity which transformed the land into bananas (Fallas 1970, 74), and United Fruit’s capitalist practices in Central America; ‘éstos levantaron sus rieles, destruyeron los puentes y, después de escupir con desprecio sobre la tierra exhausta, se marcharon triunfalmente hacia otras tierras de conquista’ (Fallas 1970, 74). When land became affected by fungal disease, United Fruit destroyed the infrastructure they had put in place, including the railways, ‘in order to prevent competitors from being able to renew production on a smaller scale’ (Bourgois 1989, 8). ‘Their first encounter was marked by violence’ (Fanon 2001, 28); United Fruit’s
involvement in Central America was marked from the beginning by violence. United Fruit was established in 1899 through the merger of Minor Keith’s railroad company, which had been contracted to lay a railroad in Costa Rica in the 1870s, and the Boston Fruit Company (Chiquita), and an estimated four thousand migrant workers died ‘laying just the first twenty miles of track’ (Moberg 1997, xvi). United Fruit representing the United States started the ‘process of domination, of exploitation and of pillage’ (Fanon 2001, 39), and the railroads symbolize the start of the process of violence and silencing of memory in Central America. Workers were also exploited through their spending power. ‘Lo que valía cinco en las ciudades se pagaba a nueve en la Línea. ¡Jugoso negocio!’ (Fallas 1970, 142). Often paid in coupons worth less if presented elsewhere (Chomsky 1996, 56), they were forced to spend their wages in United Fruit shops, known as ‘commissaries’. Thomas McCann, a former United Fruit executive, documented how the commissaries generated a profit of $3 million on sales of $19 million in the 1950s (McCann 1976, 49). When Panama disease struck in the mid 1910s more land became available for small farmers, and United Fruit took ‘advantage of its laborers’ desire for independence by delegating much of the actual production’ to private and semiprivate farmers (Chomsky 1996, 59). United Fruit used this to their advantage to regulate the market by accepting fewer bananas from private farmers. ‘En la última corta qu’hice puse ciento sesenta racimos en la plataforma … y me recibieron veintidós’ (Fallas 1970, 111). A high proportion of small plot owners in Costa Rica were African Caribbeans who preferred to be independent banana planters, regarding wage labour as a continuation of slavery (Chomsky 1996, 45). Fallas contextualises the historical memory of African Caribbeans in Central America within the history of slavery and dominant history. ‘Huyeron en la jungla afrícana de los cazadores de esclavos; tiñeron con su sangre las argollas en las profundas bodegas de los barcos negreros’ (Fallas 1970, 26). The violence of the discrimination and displacement of African Caribbean Costa Ricans is articulated through Chico, who explains that they were being forced to emigrate to Panama as there was no work for them now that the plantations on the Atlantic coast were affected by fungal disease and United Fruit was moving to the Pacific coast, ‘No hay trabajo, ni podemos cultivar la tierra, ni nos dejan ganarnos la vida en el Pacifico’ (Fallas 1970, 21). They could not move to the Pacific coast, since they were not permitted to without identity cards, which were being denied to them (Fallas 1970, 21). ‘Adonde irián a dejar sus huesos?’ (Fallas 1970, 26), emphasises the importance of a burial ground as a marker of social and cultural identity. ‘Pareciera que para los negros se ha detenido la rueda de la Historia: para ellos no floreció la Revolución Francesa, ni existió Lincoln, ni combatió Bolívar, ni se cubrió de gloria el negro Maceo’ (Fallas 1970, 26). Fallas situates Antonio Maceo, the African Cuban revolutionary leader who fought against the Spaniards’ invasion of Cuba in 1895 alongside statesmen in history, thus also situating banana workers within official history and raising their visibility. The violence of colonialism ‘turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and
destroys it’ (Fanon 2001, 169), silencing their historical past and collective memories. Fanon, in the discourse of colonization and decolonization, describes ‘tabula rasa’ as a total transformation, ‘a whole structure being changed from the bottom up’ (Fanon 2001, 27), a policy that U.S. imperialism implemented against the indigenous people of Costa Rica, the Talamancans, whose cultural memory and history were erased when United Fruit took over their land. The topography of their land, their trees, cemeteries, paths, signs, were destroyed and ‘millones de metros cúbicos de robles y cedros y laureles y de todas clases de maderas buenas que se pudren de abono p’al banano’ (Fallas 1970, 121). The topography of the land mapped their cultural memory, it provided the link with their ancestors and cultural heritage; a link that was destroyed when they were displaced from their lands by the railways and banana plantations. ‘In the colonies, the foreigner coming from another country imposed his rule by means of guns and machines’ (Fanon 2001, 31), erasing indigenous peoples’ cultural memories. ‘Y ya los pobres indios no pudieron contener el avance de la “nueva civilización”’ (Fallas 1970, 74). Fallas in a countercolonial discourse describes the Talamancans as ‘la Raza Heroica’ who had not been conquered by the sword or the cross of the Spaniards, but were displaced and defeated by ‘imperialistas yanquis, secundados por criollos serviles’ (Fallas 1970, 73). U.S. imperialism and United Fruit were supported by the national governments, of Central America, as Galeano writes, ‘Comic opera dictators watched over United Fruit’s interests with knives between their teeth’ (Galeano 1973, 124). ‘Y ardieron sus palenques, se destruyeron sus sembrados y se revolcó la tierra en que dormían los huesos de sus bravos guerreros’ (Fallas 1970, 74). The plantations were superimposed on the site of the Talamancans’ villages, and planted on top of their cultural memories. The indigenous people of Latin America are given prominence in Galeano’s historical account of the continent as the ‘most exploited of the exploited’ (Galeano 1973, 61). Galeano describes how otherization and violence are intricately connected, ‘Expropriation of the Indians - usurpation of their lands and their labor - has gone hand in hand with racist attitudes’ (Galeano 1973, 62). ‘Y volvío el silencio al valle de Talamanca; pero un silencio de muerte. Se fueron los gringos y sus secuaces, pero no regresaron los indios’ (Fallas 1970, 74). Although Fanon argues that for ‘a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land’ (Fanon 2001, 34), the land the colonizers give back will not be the same as it was before the colonizers’ arrival, it will be a transformed land erased of its cultural heritage. A number of critics have argued that Fallas’s use of language to refer to African Caribbean and indigenous Costa Ricans in Mamita Yunai portrays them as Other (Mackenbach 2003, 132). However, I would argue, that as a working class person and someone who lived through the experience of working on the plantations, Fallas demonstrates empathy and solidarity with African Caribbean and indigenous Costa
Ricans. United Fruit created the conditions for conflicts of race and used them to control and oppress the work force and to prevent collective organisation (Moberg 1997, xxviii). I would argue that by focusing on Fallas’s portrayal of black and indigenous people, the violence of the oppression, exploitation and pillage of the United Fruit Company is silenced. Calero Calero represents all the people who died and disappeared on the banana plantations. Fallas articulates their memory and history through the theme of bones as embodying spirituality and cultural memories, and as a metaphor to link past and future generations. ‘Huesos de nicas. Huesos de ticos. Huesos de negros. ¡Huesos de hermanos!’ (Fallas 1970, 165). The plantations became burial grounds for displaced migrants from different countries and communities who moved from plantation to plantation according to the availability of work. Calero is crushed under a tree as he clears the land; the ‘most dangerous and unpleasant work was new land work. This meant attacking an essentially virgin forest’ (Chomsky 1996, 41). ‘Hasta el clima nos van a cambiar botando la montañas’ (Fallas 1970, 121). Fallas makes visionary reference to the link between the destruction of the rainforest and climate change, and the ecological violence of the commodification of the banana, linking past and future memories. Fallas represents the memories of banana workers through Calero’s song on the sea, defining their collective identity through displacement and suffering. ‘El mar me dijo: son los desheredados de la tierra, son tus hermanos que sin pan ni abrigo van a morir entre mis ondas negras’ (Fallas 1970, 180). The banana plantations are metaphorically compared to the sea where workers sank, disappeared and drowned without trace or memory. The sea and the plantations are represented as carriers of displaced people travelling aimlessly looking for food and shelter, and also as a dual site of death and burial. The banana with its curved shape evokes an image of a boat sailing on the sea. Migrant labour was a feature of banana plantations with the entire work force imported as it had been in earlier slave plantations (Chomsky 1996, 6). Through the metaphor of the sea Fallas represents the workers as displaced migrants looking for work for whom there was no alternative employment to the hazardous banana plantations. The workers were landless poor who relied on wage labour to survive and as unskilled workers were easily replaceable with other Central Americans and Caribbeans (Chomsky 1996, 1). The sea and banana plantations act as carriers of collective memories. ‘Calero se quedó de abono de aquel bananal’ (Fallas 1970, 17), emphasises the number of people who died on the plantations and were transformed into humus for bananas without leaving any trace or memory; while in the United States, the people of Latin America were transformed into bananas through the cultural imagery. Fallas represents bananas as created through the transformation of the blood and sweat of the workers into the flesh of the fruit. Bananas, therefore, embody the soul and soil of Latin America. Calero can be understood in heroic terms as sacrificing his life for bananas. Eating a banana, therefore, can be seen as a ritual performance embodying
Christian symbolism of the transformation of the body and blood and conveying memories of the violence of capitalism (Connerton 1989, 40). ‘Y hasta tendría las mujeres hermosas que tanto deseó’ (Fallas 1970, 180). Everyone working on the plantations had dreams, one of which was to get out and to fall in love (Fallas 1970, 140). But those who had worked on the plantations for many years no longer dreamed, ‘Los linieros viejos ya no sueñan en nada, no piensan en nada. Sudan y tragan quinina’ (Fallas 1970, 131). Fallas comments on capitalism’s denial of dreams to workers. Transformed into ‘lost shadows’ (Fallas 1970, 172), they were mere cogs in capitalism’s machinery, paid just enough to keep the machinery moving, but not enough to be able to escape. Calero was part of the machinery that built the railways and opened up a path for capitalism. Whether he existed or not, Calero became a memory representing the numbers and face of suffering. ‘Su carne deshecha, convertida en pulpa dulce del rubio banano, sería acariciada por los ojos azules y por los labios pintados de las rubias mujeres del Norte’ (Fallas 1970, 180). Calero is transformed into a banana and reincarnated as the symbol and carrier of the blood and sweat of the workers. Fanon describes the wealth of Europe as ‘nourished with the blood of slaves’ and coming directly from the ‘soil and from the subsoil of that underdeveloped world’ (Fanon 2001, 76). Fallas describes the production of bananas in the same way, as growing out of the blood of the workers in the soil of the plantations. When Calero is exported to the United States he is empowered as an agent of counter-imperialism, and transformed into the invading aggressor. But at the same time the dominant idea of the people of Latin America as Other is reinforced. Reincarnated as a commodity, Calero is consumed culturally and gastronomically as a dual erotic and exotic entity from the South by blonde women wearing lipstick. The women’s blue eyes represent the gaze of power of the North on the South as an object that can be acquired and consumed, evoking the iconography of the banana created for the eyes of the North, iconic advertising images produced to transform the banana into a desirable commodity. And if the banana, as a symbol of the exotic people of the South, could be desired and acquired, so could the territories of the South. Said argues that Orientalism embodies a discipline of ‘the systematic accumulation of human beings and territories’ (Said 2003, 123), and the ‘bananization’ of Latin America embodied the same principle of acquisition. Calero embodies a memory of the human effort of producing bananas. Fallas immortalizes Calero as a memory embedded in bananas representing every banana plantation worker.
In Latin America...the banana was an icon representing a cultural memory of violence. The plantations were established through the displacement of indigenous communities from their lands erasing their cultural memories, and were sustained through the violence of capitalism...
CHAPTER THREE Can the banana plantation workers and the marginalized of Latin America speak through representations in cultural memory texts? Andreas Huyssen writes, ‘The past is not simply there in memory, but it must be articulated to become memory’ (Huyssen 1995, 3). Huyssen argues that representations articulate the past and transform it into memory. Therefore representations of the marginalized transform their past into cultural memory. And if, as Marita Sturken argues, cultural memory and history are entangled, representations are also the history of the marginalized (Sturken 1997, 5). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak problematizes the representation of subaltern or disempowered people through the question, ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ (Spivak 1988, 294). Spivak draws on Antonio Gramsci’s use of the term ‘subaltern’ to describe ‘nonhegemonic groups or classes’ and on the Subaltern Studies collective’s use of the word (Morton 2007, 96). I would like to comment on the use of the term ‘subaltern’ as this relates to the subject of this dissertation on the creation and perpetuation of stereotypes through language and cultural imagery. The term ‘subaltern’, I would argue, takes away agency from the marginalized and silences them, since it embodies the idea that they should not speak without permission.The marginalized and oppressed in society do have a voice but it is not heard; and the question, therefore, is not just whether subaltern people can speak, but also whether they are heard. Referring to Western intellectuals’ representation of the marginalized, Spivak argues that the marginalized cannot speak because any representation will reflect the ideology of the creator. She critiques Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari for failing to consider the question of ideology in their discussion on ‘the relations between desire, power, and subjectivity’ (Spivak 1988, 273). Fallas’s and Reyes-Manzo’s own cultural memories would have formed their political beliefs and acted as a platform for understanding the social conditions surrounding them and feeling empathy for the people they represented. Therefore, they were influenced by their ideological positions in the creation of their representations of the banana plantations. Fallas described himself as growing up in a proletarian family (Fallas 1970, 11), and represented banana workers politically as a trade union activist, as a member of the Communist party, and as part of the movement for national liberation in Costa Rica, ‘la mayor parte de mi tiempo lo dedico a la lucha por la total liberaci—n de mi peque–a patria’ (Fallas 1970, 12). And as a writer, he represented their economic exploitation and suffering in Mamita Yunai through his personal memories. Reyes-Manzo was introduced to the people on the banana plantation as a ‘Chilean exile from Salvador Allende’s Socialist government’. Establishing communication with the workers through similar political positions enabled him to dialogue with the workers and to explain why he wanted to document them.
Therefore, the ideology of the creator of a representation can play a positive role in the construction of a representation. Moreover, ideology can be the motive for a representation. Fallas wrote Mamita Yunai because he believed in social justice and wanted to expose the capitalist practices of United Fruit. Carlos Reyes-Manzo situated the banana plantation workers within the wider context of social struggle for justice in the continent. It is important to create representations since even if they are not seen immediately they might be seen one day. Mamita Yunai was unknown as a text until Pablo Neruda included Calero in his Canto General, an epic on the struggles of the people of Latin America, ‘pas— desapercibida por a–os, hasta que el soplo poderoso del gran poeta Pablo Neruda la ech— a correr por el mundo’ (Fallas 1970, 12). Neruda’s representation of Calero contextualised banana plantation workers within the history of Latin America. ‘De aquellas p‡ginas vuelan tu risa y las canciones / entre los bananeros, en el barro sombr’o, la lluvia y el sudor’ (Neruda 1957, 529). Calero, whose life began as a memory, became part of collective memory through Neruda’s re-presentation. And the photographs of the workers on the Puerto Armuelles plantation were denied visibility because they critiqued the social and political historical context of colonialism. In her essay, Spivak agrees with Michel Foucault who suggests that giving visibility to the unseen not only means creating representations, but also addressing texts or representations that have been silenced by history and have not been allowed to have visibility (Spivak 1988, 285). There will be many other hidden or suppressed cultural memory texts that can emerge in the appropriate time and space. The question remains whether marginalized people can speak through a representation, ‘the slippage from rendering visible the mechanism to rendering vocal the individual’ (Spivak 1988, 285). Spivak argues that a gap exists between a representation and the voices of those who are being represented, and that the voices of the marginalized therefore cannot be heard. A gap, however, also exists between a representation and its reception by an audience. In other words, even if the marginalized represent themselves their voice can be misheard. The interpretation of a representation is determined not only by how it is constructed by the creator but also by how it is read by the audience, whose cultural codes or ideology will determine the reading of the representation. And this will shift according to the historical space and time in which the representation is viewed or read. A representation is performative, existing as a representation when it is shown or read. As Connerton argues, ‘images of the past and recollected knowledge of the past [É] are conveyed and sustained by (more or less ritual) performances’ (Connerton 1989, 4). Representation, therefore, is created out of communication between the creator and the subject, and is transmitted as a memory through communication between the representation and the audience.
Wearing a traditional Panamanian hat and a shirt stained with the sap of the banana plants, suggesting yearsâ€™ of work on the plantation, the worker stands defiantly with his spade planted on the ground and machete on his hip challenging the viewer with his gaze. His rubber boots suggest the need for protection against the mud, spiders and snakes, while the bananas are protected in plastic to keep them intact for export to the United States. Chiquita banana plantation, Puerto Armuelles, Panama 1990. ÂŠ Carlos Reyes-Manzo 1
Left: The workers sitting on the back of a tractor appear to be resting, perhaps at the end of a shift, and gaze defiantly at the viewer holding their working tools, a machete and long spade which embody cultural memories of their working environment and the dangers on the ground. Chiquita banana plantation, Puerto Armuelles, Panama 1990. © Carlos Reyes-Manzo Right: Memorial plaque marking the recognition of the banana workers’ union by United Fruit on 13 November 1960 after a long strike. Chiquita banana plantation, Puerto Armuelles, Panama 1990. © Carlos Reyes-Manzo/Andes Press Agency
4. Workers standing next to the banana stalk ends laid out on a cloth on the ground, as if guarding proof of their work, evoking the Banana Boat Song, and reflecting labour relations with Chiquita. Chiquita banana plantation, Puerto Armuelles, Panama 1990. © Carlos Reyes-Manzo/Andes Press Agency 5. Sign in the shadow of the plantation’s administrative buildings. The banana is represented as a symbol of national identity through its production for export. The emphasis on the communal benefits of the banana as an export commodity erases any reference to the workers’ struggle. Chiquita banana plantation, Puerto Arguelles, Panama 1990. © Carlos Reyes-Manzo/ Andes Press Agency 6. Women work in the washing and packing of bananas, and are exposed to the pesticides added in the water at the final stage of production before the labels are added. The Chiquita label embodies cultural memories of Carmen Miranda, and when the bananas are exported to the United States is a transmitter of memories of banana production. Chiquita banana plantation, Puerto Armuelles, Panama 1990. © Carlos Reyes-Manzo/Andes Press Agency Puerto Armuelles is located on Panama’s Pacific Coast in the Chiriquí Province on a tiny spit of land shared with Costa Rica. Formerly called Rabo de Puerco (“Pig Tail”), the name was changed to honor a Panamanian hero who fought against Costa Rica in the Coto War for possession of the peninsula in the 20s. United Fruit moved in to Puerto Armuelles in 1927 as they expanded their plantations on the Pacific coasts of Central America. Militant workers, and a famous strike in 1981 prompted United Fruit to sell its holdings to a worker’s cooperative.
About the Writer and Artist
Valeria Baker is a journalist and picture editor at Andes Press Agency in London, where she works with Carlos Reyes-Manzo. Baker was born in Rome. Her mother is Italian and her father is British. She has lived most of her adult life in London. Val translates poetry from Spanish into English. In 2009 she completed a M.A. in Cultural Memory at the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies at the University of London. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Carlos Reyes-Manzo (born 1944 San Antonio, Chile) is a documentary photographer, photojournalist and poet. He studied photography and worked as a photojournalist and filmmaker in Chile. The U.S. directed and supported a military coup against President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973 in which the criminal dictator, thief, and murderer General Augusto Pinochet came to power (courtesy of Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and the C.I.A.). Allende was murdered, and the disappearances and tortures of the Left began. Carlos was detained and imprisoned for two years and in 1975 was exiled to Panamá and worked as a photojournalist for Revista Senda and the Associated Press. In 1979 he documented the Nicaraguan revolution and the negotiations for the handover of the Panamá Canal from the United States. In 1979 Reyes-Manzo was kidnapped in Panamá by the Chilean secret police and sent back to Chile via London. He escaped from the airplane in London’s Heathrow Airport and has since lived in London. In 1982 he established the Andes Press Agency, a photo agency and publishing house. Carlos Reyes-Manzo has travelled extensively throughout Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia documenting people who are marginalized from society and who suffer human rights abuses. In 1984 he travelled with Cardinal Basil Hume to document the Ethiopia famine and his work was published in the book, I Was Hungry. In October 2002 he travelled to Iraq and in February 2003, just before the war in Iraq, he held an exhibition on the people of Iraq at Foyles Gallery in London. In 2004 he documented the murders of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and in 2005 the murders of women in Guatemala. (Partial sources: Wikipedia) Contact: email@example.com Andes Press Agency, London www.andespressagency.com/
A Few Victims of Pinochet
Said discusses the problem of memory and representation and questions whether ‘there can be a true representation of anything’ and whether ‘all representations, because they are representations, are embedded first in language and then in the culture, institutions, and political ambience of the representer’ (Said 2003, 272). Therefore, in order to understand a representation we have to ask which ideology is embedded within the representation, and what is the purpose of the representation? A representation can raise the voices of the marginalized in so far as it makes them visible but it will always be a representation mediated by the creator. Spivak also argues that representations of the disempowered by the West are ‘complicit with Western international economic interests’ (Spivak 1988, 271). An obvious example is that of United Fruit who produced literature such as Journey to Banana Land which represented the people of Latin America as primitive and inferior reaffirming the United States’ power and ‘moral entitlement’ to plunder Central America. Representations, as Said argues, are often misrepresentations (Said 2003, 272). In Open Veins of Latin America Eduardo Galeano re-presents the dominant history of Latin America from the perspective of those who have been silenced in history. He makes visible memories of the violence which defined the history of the continent, and represents banana plantation workers within the historical context of United Fruit’s exploitative practices. Earlier this year when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez presented U.S. President Barack Obama with a copy of Galeano’s book, it became a bestseller, establishing the silenced voices and memories of the marginalized of Latin America in collective memory (BBC News 2009). This is why Galeano writes, ‘All memory is subversive’ (Galeano 1973, 308); representations since they are memories have the power to destabilize official history. Halbwachs describes collective memory as a ‘current of continuous thought’ kept alive by a group and transmitted from generation to generation (Halbwachs 1980, 80); and as long as memories are kept alive by a group they can challenge dominant history. Representations, I would argue, play a similar role, embodying memories and keeping them alive; and in the right historical space and time they have the power to establish a silenced memory in the collective memory.
CONCLUSION I examined the construction of the banana as icon in the United States through cultural imagery embodying the idea of Latin Americans as Other, and how it contributed to the silencing of memories of the people of Latin America. The iconography of the banana created a cultural memory representing Latin Americans as inferior which provided the United States, as the superior power, with the moral authority to dominate Latin America, just as the Orient was constructed as an essentialized entity through Orientalism for domination by the West (Said 2003, 32). Memories of Latin Americans as the exotic Other were created through films produced by Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s to promote President Roosevelt’s ‘Good Neighbor’ policy. Carmen Miranda was used by Hollywood to represent Latin Americans as the exotic and comical Other, and became identified with bananas through the film, The Gang’s All Here, reinforcing the association of Latin Americans with bananas. United Fruit, as the largest U.S. monopoly in the banana industry, appropriated Miranda’s image for marketing purposes and transferred it to the Chiquita banana-woman perpetuating a memory of Latin Americans as Other through technologies of reproduction. United Fruit also produced large quantities of educational literature and films on the banana for distribution in schools, imposing on a generation of schoolchildren a memory of Latin Americans as primitive and inferior, and the idea that U.S. imperialism and the economic exploitation of Central America were therefore justified. In Latin America, however, the banana was an icon representing a cultural memory of violence. The plantations were established through the displacement of indigenous communities from their lands erasing their cultural memories, and were sustained through the violence of capitalism (Fanon 2001, 31). Mamita Yunai and Reyes-Manzo’s photographs, as representations of banana plantations, render visible erased memories of the suffering and exploitation of the people of Latin America. At the same time the texts represent the people with agency as protagonists in history struggling against colonialism and imperialism. I explored whether the voices of the marginalized can speak through a representation (Spivak 1988, 294). Although, as Spivak argues, representations reflect the ideology of the creator, representations as carriers and transmitters of memories, articulate the past. However, since erasure is part of the process of creating memories, it is important to to be aware that some memories are excluded in the process of representation (Huyssen 1995, 3). The construction of the banana as icon reveals the complicity of human beings in the transmission of negative stereotypes through cultural memory. Unaware of the extent to which we absorb perceptions and attitudes existing in society (Halbwachs 1980, 45), when ideas and concepts are incorporated in language and
culture we tend to accept them without questioning how they originated. And while the original context is not known or erased, memories of the content and meaning are perpetuated and transmitted by performance, as the transmission of stereotypes on Latin Americans through the cultural imagery on the banana demonstrates (Connerton 1989, 4).
The event ‘Go Bananas!’ organised in March of this year by Fair trade to promote ethically traded bananas illustrates this point. People dressed as bananas and gorillas were jumping up and down in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, encapsulating the association between bananas, people and exoticism. However, bananas do not grow in the natural habitat of gorillas (Jenkins 2000, 162), demonstrating the extent to which perceptions and attitudes are embedded and reinforced within society. Although Fair trade promotes ethical standards in the production of bananas, they appear not to have been aware of the symbolism and stereotypes created by associating gorillas, bananas and human beings. And symbolism creates memories that supplant and exclude other memories. Further research related to the banana as icon could include a study on the effects of the discourse of the banana on the cultural memory of the concept of democracy in Latin America. The notion, for example, that the recent coup in Honduras was justified, as Honduras is only a ‘banana republic’, was part of the representation of the coup in the media. Research could also be undertaken on the ways in which the ‘bananization’ of Latin America has shaped and affected the collective identity of the people of Latin America, which I touched on in relation to how representations of Latin Americans as Other in Hollywood films created a cultural memory of their identity that affected them psychologically.
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Adams, Frederick Upham, Conquest of the tropics:The Story of the Creative Enterprises Conducted by the United Fruit Company (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1914)
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...flies sticky with submissive blood and marmalade...
Poem by Pablo Neruda, Canto General, 1950
When the trumpet sounded everything was prepared on earth, and Jehovah gave the world to Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda, Ford Motors, and other corporations. The United Fruit Company reserved for itself the most juicy piece, the central coast of my world, the delicate waist of America.
La United Fruit Co. Text by Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), Canto General, 1950 Cuando sonó la trompeta, estuvo todo preparado en la tierra, y Jehova repartió el mundo a Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda, Ford Motors, y otras entidades: la Compañía Frutera Inc. se reservó lo más jugoso, la costa central de mi tierra, la dulce cintura de América. Bautizó de nuevo sus tierras como “Repúblicas Bananas,” y sobre los muertos dormidos, sobre los héroes inquietos que conquistaron la grandeza, la libertad y las banderas, estableció la ópera bufa: enajenó los albedríos regaló coronas de César, desenvainó la envidia, atrajo la dictadora de las moscas, moscas Trujillos, moscas Tachos, moscas Carías, moscas Martínez, moscas Ubico, moscas húmedas de sangre humilde y mermelada, moscas borrachas que zumban sobre las tumbas populares, moscas de circo, sabias moscas entendidas en tiranía.
La United Fruit Co.
Entre las moscas sanguinarias la Frutera desembarca, arrasando el café y las frutas, en sus barcos que deslizaron como bandejas el tesoro de nuestras tierras sumergidas. Mientras tanto, por los abismos azucarados de los puertos, caían indios sepultados en el vapor de la mañana: un cuerpo rueda, una cosa sin nombre, un número caído, un racimo de fruta muerta derramada en el pudridero. ENGLISH TRANSLATION
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) El poeta chileno Pablo Neruda nació Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto (1904-1973) conocido por el seudónimo y el nombre legal de Pablo Neruda, considerado entre los mejores y más influyentes de su siglo, siendo llamado por el novelista Gabriel García Márquez “el más grande poeta del siglo XX en cualquier idioma.” Entre sus múltiples reconocimientos destacan el Premio Nobel de Literatura en 1971 y un Doctorado Honoris Causa por la Universidad de Oxford. En palabras del crítico estadounidense Harold Bloom, “ningún poeta del hemisferio occidental de nuestro siglo admite comparación con él.”
It rebaptized these countries Banana Republics, and over the sleeping dead, over the unquiet heroes who won greatness, liberty, and banners, it established an opera buffa: it abolished free will, gave out imperial crowns, encouraged envy, attracted the dictatorship of flies: Trujillo flies, Tachos flies Carias flies, Martinez flies, Ubico flies, flies sticky with submissive blood and marmalade, drunken flies that buzz over the tombs of the people, circus flies, wise flies expert at tyranny. >>>
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda is considered one of the major poets of the 20th century. Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez calls him the greatest poet of the century in any language. Literary critic Harold Bloom wrote that no poet in the Western Hemisphere in our time can be compared to him. Neruda received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.
With the bloodthirsty flies came the Fruit Company, amassed coffee and fruit in ships which put to sea like overloaded trays with the treasures from our sunken lands. Meanwhile the Indians fall into the sugared depths of the harbors and are buried in the morning mists; a corpse rolls, a thing without name, a discarded number, a bunch of rotten fruit thrown on the garbage heap.
What is Neocolonialism by E. San Juan I understand neocolonialism as the domination of peoples and societies by capital through the liberal market and other ideological means, not through direct political rule. It is the practice of exploitation and oppression of the majority of the world’s laboring masses under the guise of democratic access to markets, the free flow of commodities, technology, ideas, bodies, and so on. We need to translate the abstraction “neocolonialism” into concrete empirical situations. We have to specify various neocolonialist practices in every region or place where the ascendancy of corporate transnational capital generates effects of misery, violations of human rights, rape, malnutrition, genocide, and so on. E. San Juan Jr. was born in Manila. He is one of the most notable cultural theorists working in the U.S. San Juan has written extensively on race, gender, ethnicity, Marxism, Post-Colonial theory, literature and on his native Philippines.
Gustave Doré illustration of Gargantua from Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais
by Emile Rishty send Dividend Checks of unearned money to the faceless hordes of Holders of Stock who, of course, are the Real Owners of the Very Big Corporation. And don’t forget those CEOs who need Big Salaries as inducements for them to keep working so hard for the company.
A Primer on Dependent Periphery and the Core If you live in the Neotropics, do not ask where the Dependent Periphery is. Just look around you: You are There. The Dependent Periphery is not found neatly demarcated in a standard world atlas, or on those ominously-detailed CIA maps of the world. The Dependent Periphery is where people who have brown or black skin, and who maybe dress funny, live. The Dependent Peripherians (DPs) live in modest dwellings, maybe with dirt floors. They don’t have much, and they don’t earn much, because most of it got shipped to the Core, but they owe a lot. It doesn’t matter what actual nation the people of the Dependent Periphery live in, nor what flag they revere, nor soccer team they root for––these are all just illusions of separateness and sovereignty. They’re all the same: these are the people who give the Core all they have got––land, resources, labor, their health, and their lives. The Dependent Periphery is the Big Encomienda: the mission of the people there is to make the people in the Core Happy, Wealthy, and Comfortable. These words are capitalized because this is describing important things about How the World Really Works. The Core is the metropole–– those financial capitals where Men in Suits walk around and go to Important Meetings and make money to finance the Men with Machines who work for the Very Big Corporation and make the weapons that Men with Guns use to make sure the Dependent Peripherians keep working and supplying the Cheap Resources needed by the Core.
The poor people in the Periphery who are not busy mining, growing, or grinding Cheap Raw Materials, or growing, cutting and loading massive amounts of Bulk Agricultural Commodities to the Core may be working in shops selling Cheap Goods that have been sent by Very Big Corporations to be sold to the hapless DPs.
are older, and seem to be emitting thicker and smellier exhaust. People are hanging out in great knots on the street waiting for buses. Sick people, beggars, drunks, and schizophrenics are hanging around everywhere. A few men wearing ties may be seen hurrying to an office building carrying work to be done in the branch offices of the Very Big Corporation that influences the politicians and elected or unelected officials who know, deep down, that they are working for the VBC.
The DPs are those people who somehow didn’t get the memo that Free Market Capitalism will benefit them and, though it will be painful, help them develop one day into becoming a Grown-up Nation that will able to compete with the Big Boy Nations and consume more and more resources and raise their pathetic Standard of Living. If the nations of the Dependent Periphery need money, no problem the First World Bank will loan them whatever they need, as long as it involves buying stuff from the Very Big Corporation, with Interest and Guaranteed Subservience and Dependence Forever.
But this kind of talk of Development is just fodder for the Solemn Editorials about Growth and Opportunity written by the oligarchs who publish the newspapers that are read by the few Elite Peripherians. The Drone The Dependent Periphery is the place from where resources flow to the Core. The Core is where the Peripherians don’t read the Solemn Editorials; they expats came from––that big empire they left behind. But the Dependent Periphery is where the wealth would rather read the tabloid publications with the front of the Core came from. The Dependent Periphery is those edges and margins that, curiously, always cover pictures of smiling nubile maidens with big butts in seem to be the same places where live the DPs--those poor people who live in the flimsy, cheap houses, bikinis. and who have to walk or take old, black diesel smoke-belching buses to get around their shoddy little The people and nations on the periphery will forever be towns and trashed-out cities when they are going to work. Out in the country-side, if they have a job at all, it’s probably working on a plantation or giant factory farm raising Something Valuable that will on the brink because the Core will never stop sucking The Dependent Periphery seems normal from the air be packed in a railroad car or truck and driven over potholed-roads to a port where it will be put into up their wealth. This is the constant tune of colonialism played on the lyre of despair and oblivion. as you fly in, but as you get closer to the ground, you containers, then loaded on gigantic ships and dispatched over the oceans to the Core. For this work, can see that the houses and buildings are noticeably which is guaranteed to pay wages Just Enough to Squeak By On and Not Die, the workers get to give Welcome to the Dependent Periphery. shabby, and maybe even outright slums. The cars up their lives so that the Very Big Corporation can have what is known as a “Profitable Quarter,” and
A Haiku to a Banana Plant
he Japanese word for the banana plant is Bashō and not accidentally the nom du plume of one of the best-known of the Japanese haiku poets––Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694). The mystic poet Matsuo had a banana plant that he was especially fond of growing in the humble garden next to his hut. This banana plant was the subject of many of his 17-syllable philosophical and poetical musings. His followers and students, observing his devotion to the plant, nicknamed the poet Bashō after his tree. Matsuo was delighted with his new name and also used the banana plant as his emblem and for his school of haiku, which became known as the Banana Plant School. In cold Japan, the banana plant grew, but did not set fruit. The people of these climes could not enjoy the fruit, but the plant had important, non-utilitarian uses as an object of beauty, contemplation, and poetic insight. Since the Fifth century C.E., both Chinese and Japanese poets wrote poetry about the banana plant. The verses were not about the plant’s rare fruit, nor its startling, lotus-like bract, but about the plant’s graceful and vulnerable leaves. When the winds blew, the long uncurling banana plant leaves were quickly torn and shredded. Critic Donald Shiveley has proposed that Bashōsaw a visual metaphor between his life as a humble wandering poet and the ragged banana plant leaves. Shively’s examination of Chinese poetry revealed the imagery of the banana plant as a symbol of the frailty of human life. The flowers of yesterday are only a dream today. Even more transient is the dew on the banana leaf, which appears at dawn and silently and quickly disappears as the day wears on.
Even the most insignificant thing is material for the poet’s sensibilities: the broad leaves catch the patter of raindrops and make a soft staccato sound. The leaves are delicate and easily torn—a symbol of the frailty of human life. When the wind picks up, the leaves are whipped and flailed and turned into feather-like shapes. To Bashō the shredded leaves looked like the tail feathers of the phoenix. The softly waving leaves looked like beckoning arms of a kimono-clad seductress in the moonlight. Bashō was a poet of the sparest simplicity. He was not a monk, but dressed as one and had few possessions--a walking staff, a bowl, a blanket, and little else. He begged for his supper and made do with so little. The austerity of poverty opened his sensibilities to the natural world and infused his simple poetry of a mere seventeen syllables each. He reduced his poems to its barest essentials and these wisps of sounds and images suggested the richer details of an infinitely more complex nature. His sympathetic poet’s eye could see in the frailty of a cricket or the shredded leaves of a wind-whipped banana plant simple but important insights into life.
that the poet feels sad that his favorite plant is being battered and broken by the wind. It too is a living thing.
A banana plant in the autumn gale I listen to the dripping of rain Into a basin at night.
To Bashō this life seemed but a momentary resting place in a world of suffering. Solace could best be found in nature where solitude and discomforts aided contemplation. He was a man of small build and frail health, and occasionally became ill on his journeys. He seems to have derived some ascetic satisfaction from the miseries of the trips, as if the cold rains, the sleepless nights in poor accommodations, and the dangers of the road gave him new insights into life and nature. He could feel a special affinity to the banana plant, which like himself was lonely and defenseless, torn by the storms of this world. It symbolized the frailty, the transiency, of his own life-as he liked to picture it.”
A banana plant in the autumn gale I listen to the dripping of rain Into a basin at night. Donald Shively interprets the poem: “This poem suggests that the poet in his flimsy hut on a windy, rainy night in autumn hears the banana leaves thrashing against the wall and the water dripping into a wooden rain tub. The sounds of both wind and rain deepen the feeling of loneliness on this wretched night. We can imagine
Bashō and companion, 16th century Japan. Wandering haiku poets
Bashō meditating near his beloved banana plant
Here is an account of his life in BashĹ?s own words.
The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel by BashĹ? In this mortal frame of mine which is made of a hundred bones and nine orfices there is something, and this something is called a wind-swept spirit for lack of a better name, for it is much like a thin drapery that is torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind. This something in me took to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its lifelong business. It must be admitted, however, that there were times when it sank into such dejection that it was almost ready to drop its pursuit, or again times when it was so puffed up with pride that it exulted in vain victories over the others. Indeed, ever since it began towrite poetry, it has never found peace with itself, always wavering between doubts of one kind and another. At one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service of a court, and at another it wished to measure the depthof its ignorance by trying to be a scholar, but it was prevented from either because of its unquenchable love of poetry. The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and therefore, it hangs on to it more or less blindly.
Ink painting by Sharron Frye-Agulia
The Next Revolution
by Roan St. John
verything that artist and chef Ernesto Spinelli does takes time. Lots and lots of time. Whether he's working on the 8 foot by 70 foot hand-cut mosaic mural for the newly-renovated train station in Cleveland that he will install this year, (and which required six months of intricate fabrication), or cooking the perfect risotto with the Boletus edulis mushrooms he hand-picked in the mountains behind his house in Colorado, it's all very slow going, with the process itself being nearly as important as the final result. But then, he's only carrying on his country's––and family's––tradition. Ernesto's devotion to the process began when he was a young boy in Italy. His father Vittorio was the ultimate renaissance man. Besides having a passion for fine food, he also fabricated violins and cellos with inlaid mother of pearl and marquetry, racing bicycles, and even produced a superb wine on his farm in the country. But his chef d'oeuvre was supervising the construction of the Kolubi St. Gabriel Coptic church in Ethiopia, which is the largest of this early Christian sect in the world and was built at the behest of the Emperor Haile Selassie, for whom Spinelli worked for thirty years. Precision, detail, and perfection were his father's trademarks, and when it came to food, there was no one more particular or finicky than Vittorio Spinelli. “Long before the Slow Food movement took hold in Europe, I was tagging along with my father who would set off early in the morning for a day-long excursion into the countryside, driving 110 kilometers from our village of Maccio to a farm outside Refrancore in the Piemonte to get Barolo and Barberra wine, Gorgonzola or Taleggio cheese, white truffles, and the famed porcini mushrooms. By then it would be noon, but the quest was not yet over. With the backseat loaded with his food treasures, we would then head for Calcini twelve kilometers away to get salami and prosciutto made from pigs who had only eaten one thing their entire lives: chestnuts. Why chestnuts? Because chestnuts give meat products a delicate sweet flavor that can't be achieved if the pig ate just any old thing. It's this magnificent flavor that prosciutto connoisseurs are after. If it all seems a little obsessive, I suppose it is,” he shrugs, “but the quest for perfect food products
was the way my father had grown up in pre- and post-war Italy, so for me this was just part of our lifestyle – long before it became a trend. My father taught me that something as simple as a thick slice of country bread, brushed with fresh olive oil and toasted, then topped with a slice of Calcini salami, and washed down with the perfect Barolo was the epitome of the sensual Slow Food experience.” So what is Slow Food exactly? Well, it's not food that's been cooked in a Crock Pot. Slow Food exploded as a culinary movement in 1989, three years after Carlo Petrini (who hails from Bra near Turin, Italy, but was living in Paris at the time) organized a protest against McDonald's to keep them from opening a franchise near the Spanish Steps in Rome. At the time, fast food was just beginning to slither its way into the traditional food culture that was such a big part of Italian life, and Petrini was determined to stop it. And that he did. Now there are entire villages in Italy that prohibit any kind of fast food outlet. As revolutionary as it seemed twenty years ago, Slow Food had its predecessor – the Agricola, which was determined to maintain the purity and integrity of artisan food products for which Italy was so well known. The premise behind Slow Food is good, clean food based on hundreds of years of gastronomic traditions, and is a direct backlash against the multinational companies that are marketing mass produced, industrialized food for the general population. The post-World War II economic boom saw the consumption of meat, cheese, eggs, fruit, and sugar rise threefold, but it also separated the consumer from the culinary heritage of rural Italy. Although those easily accessible items may have improved the quality of life for many, it also cut the ties that connected the consumer to the farmer, and that's where Petrini thinks things went horribly awry. Ernesto Spinelli couldn't agree more. “What Petrini did was elevate food consciousness to a new level, making it very hip to search out the best food products available, and to actually know from where your food came. The
by-product of this knowledge was the establishment of a personal relationship with those who produced it. When you support relationships with farmers and fishermen, or cheese makers, you also promote the concept of eating locally grown food. Wouldn't you rather eat fruits and vegetables that were picked just before they went to market instead of having traveled thousands of miles on a truck, often taking as long as three weeks to get from farm to consumer?” As Petrini states in his book, Tierra Madre: How to Keep Our Food from Consuming Us, people have been forced into standardized, unnatural diets, while aggressive, chemical-based agriculture is ravaging ecosystems from the Great Plains to the Kalahari. “Even with this sobering fact in mind, there was no shortage of critics of Slow Food who simply got it all wrong,” says Spinelli. “Their argument was that Slow Food is elitist and something only the rich can afford. But that's not true at all. A diet based on fresh fruits and vegetables grown and available locally will always be less expensive than a diet of completely processed or packaged food. Everyone deserves high quality food, which mass produced food definitely is not,” he states emphatically. Lest you think that the Slow Food movement is confined strictly to Italy or France, nothing could be further from the truth. With its distinctive snail logo markingits advances, the food revolution has now spread to all continents with over 100,000 members who have organized into 1300 associations and more than 2000 local food alliances to promote sustainable, healthy food. The recent anniversary of the movement was marked by celebrating the Tierra Madre food network of farmers and producers in 150 countries who promote the benefits of food that not only tastes good, but is good for you, and is produced without harming the environment. The significance of the snail logo is to promote eating well and eating consciously, and this takes a lot more time than driving to McDonald's for a Big Mac. “We are in a global fight against the fast food and food processing giants, so Slow Food is a return-to-basics philosophy that seems revolutionary only because an entire generation has been raised on mass-produced food with no idea at all where their food really comes from, or how it is produced. But in this troubling time of
concern over global warming, globalization, and a potential food crisis, Slow Food is the only thing that makes any sense. Plus the enjoyment of searching for gourmet food items in the area where you live can be immensely gratifying. It's part of food enlightenment!” When asked about how he envisions this revolutionary movement spreading to Costa Rica and other parts of Latin America, Spinelli is enthusiastic and optimistic. “When I first started coming to Costa Rica five years ago, I was thrilled by the abundance and vast array of fruits and vegetables with which to create luscious meals. The feria (farmer's market) on Friday afternoons is an artist's palette, and that is where I go to choose what I will cook for the week. Whether it's the volcanic soil in which food is grown, or the fact that produce is weeks fresher than what's available in the States, the end result is that there is a dynamic to the food here that whets the appetite for more. My wife and I are predominantly vegetarian. Between the variety and the fabulous colors of the food, plus the intensity of the flavors, it's really easy to be a vegetarian here. It's so much more interesting––and healthy–– than a diet of meat and potatoes. Getting to know the vendors at the open market in your neighborhood is a great way to build a new relationship to your food.” The Spinellis live in the countryside just north of San Ramón, and often joke that this area has more cows than people. For Ernesto, that is a real perk. “Just past our house is a farm where we buy all our dairy products––fresh-made queso palmito cheese that is a specialty of Costa Rica, plus fresh butter and milk straight from the cow. It's really satisfying to know those cows are not being raised in a factory farm, but rather are out grazing the hillsides and infusing the milk with all the nutritional benefits that come from having been grazed on grass. Except in some few parts of the U.S., raw milk is illegal, so it's a real pleasure to have free access to it here; besides, it is so much better for you, and the cows too.” For everyone who moves here, Costa Rica is a journey of discovery, and it's no different for Ernesto. “Little by little I am learning about foods I have never seen before, or even heard of, but nonetheless, when prepared properly provide an interesting dynamic to our diet. Aracache is one of those items. That's a root tuber that is ground up, then sautéed with
“If it all seems a little obsessive, I suppose it is, but the quest for perfect food products was the way my father had grown up in pre-and post-war Italy, so for me this was just part of our lifestyle––long before it became a trend.” ––Ernesto Spinelli
The Sloth The Costa Rican Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus tridactylus) is so slow that scientists put “slow” in its name. The Greek root bradys means slow. The ancestors of today’s sloths were the huge ground sloths of the Americas which became extinct due to hunting by humans in the Paloelithic era approximately 12,000 years ago. Sloths are vegetarians. Mostly they eat the buds, tender shoots, and leaves of the Cecropia trees that grow in the Neotropics. The leaves are plentiful, but do not digest easily. It can take a sloth a month to digest a meal.
The Great Race Which is the slowest, a sloth or a snail? Let’s look at the contestants. Although neither contestant would look great in nylon running shorts, sloths would look better because they always have that endearingly goofy smile on their faces. (Of course when they are upside down in trees, it looks like a frown.) Snails carry their shells with them, which covers their slimy nakedness, but might seem to slow them down, bit it does not! After the starter pistol sounds, snails tear off down the course at a blistering .00784 miles an hour. Bradypus comes lumbering in at .00010 miles an hour. If you are bad at math, this means a snail can travel a mile in 5.5 days, but a sloth would take 42 days to go that distance! The winner (or loser) Bradypus tridactylus! But he is still smiling! Clearly, Sloth Food is the slowest food around.
garlic, onions, cilantro, potato, and a dash of achiote for coloring. Then there are hearts of palm. Combined with avocado, boiled shrimp, and a tarragon vinaigrette, well, it doesn't get more exotic or delicious than that. Fresh hearts of palm are referred to as a millionaire's food, but here in Costa Rica, I can buy a half-kilo for about $1.50.” Discovering, experimenting with, and preparing new food is something Spinelli did during his 20-plus year career as a fine dining chef at the St. James Club in Antigua, and then in his own award-winning restaurants in the mountains outside Denver. His Baci Ristorante was a favorite of Julia Child, who ate there whenever she visited her niece who lived nearby. Spinelli's restaurants specialized in Italian cuisine, and everything was of the highest quality, which is the reason they won awards. When asked how he would promote the concept of Slow Food in Costa Rica and other parts of Central America, Ernesto's replies, “First of all, I would make it even slower.” He pauses for a moment as if in deep thought, then breaks into a big smile. “What's slower than a snail? A sloth!” he laughs. “Yes, that's it, Central America will have Sloth Food!” Beaming with self-satisfaction, Spinelli then goes on to define Sloth Food. Instead of relying on others to produce all your food, Spinelli advocates having a small garden where you can grow a few items, even if it's nothing more than a variety of herbs. “No garden is complete without a steady supply of basil. Not only is it a medicinal herb, but it is essential to a good pasta sauce made with those luscious red tomatoes from the feria. And don't forget Italian parsley, which does really well here, and adds flavor and texture to almost any dish. A lot of our culinary needs are met right here in our own neighborhood because some of us have gardens that produce enough of one of two things that we can share. One neighbor has a patch of sweet potatoes, the one food that several of us here really missed . It’s the old-fashioned Louisiana sweet potatoes so ubiquitous in the States and which are so good for you. Luckily, they are originally native to Central and South America so they will grow in any type of soil with very little water or fertilizer. Some of us
took cuttings and planted them in our gardens, so there will be no shortage any time soon. Another neighbor has plantains, which are also one of my newly discovered favorite foods, so we trade organic baby lettuces or herbs for a hand of plantains. I was also very happy when another neighbor started selling fresh eggs from his free-range chickens. Not only are free-range eggs healthier, a backyard chicken coop doesn't pollute the environment like factory farms do. Without even hardly trying, the practice of Sloth Food is already here!” The most important culinary ingredient is garlic, which came under fire when it was revealed that the majority of garlic available in Costa Rica is imported from China. “Garlic does well here if you get the local variety. My wife introduced me to what's called criollo garlic. The heads and cloves are much smaller, but they are so much more fragrant and pungent, and I have to believe are better for you than mass-produced Chinese garlic that's been fertilized with human waste, and doused with deadly fungicides. Right now we have 75 cloves planted, which will take about four months to mature.” Spinelli holds up a garlic braid that he made from the last harvest. “For a chef, it doesn't get any better than this.” On a recent night out with friends, Spinelli was excited to meet restaurateur Mario Valenciano, who owns Mario's Restaurant in San Ramon. Eating out is a rarity for Spinelli since he prefers to cook and eat at home, but when he discovered Mario's he was glad to meet a kindred spirit who takes his food seriously. “Mario raises his own beef and his wife's family owns a dairy farm where they make all the fresh mozzarella for the restaurant. He even has a small vegetable farm where he gets his produce. It was a pleasure to eat out knowing that everything was fresh and freshly prepared. . .in a slothful kind of way,” he smiles. Ernesto Spinelli envisions everyone's participation in the Sloth Food movement starting with buying from local farmers, but also being responsible for growing a few items in your own garden, even if it's just big pots of herbs to flavor and enhance what you bought at the feria. If you really wanted to take this concept to a higher level, CR Communities has created three new developments in the San Ramon area in response to growing consumer demand for a chemical-free environment
in which to live and produce food. Organic Estates, located in a mountaintop settlemnt called Berlin, has already sold out; Organic Views and Organic Heaven will be launched soon with a full-time organic consultant on staff. “These developments will incorporate the best of Sloth Food–– organically grown fruits, vegetables, and coffee right outside your door, leaving you plenty of time to scour the countryside, as my father and I used to do, in search for that perfect cheese, freshsmoked ham, or liter of warm milk with the cream still on top!” Ernesto’s departing advice from his father Vittorio: “Slow down. You’ll live longer and eat much better.”
Portrait of the artist with gigantic, wild-harvested Porcini mushroom
Michael Pollan Talks about Food Americans today are having a national conversation about food and agriculture that would have been impossible to imagine even a few short years ago. To many Americans it must sound like a brand-new conversation, with its bracing talk about the high price of cheap food, or the links between soil and health, or the impossibility of a society eating well and being in good health unless it also farms well. But the national conversation unfolding around the subject of food and farming really began in the 1970s, with the work of writers like Wendell Berry, Frances Moore Lappé, Barry Commoner and Joan Gussow. All four of these writers are supreme dot-connectors, deeply skeptical of reductive science and far ahead not only in their grasp of the science of ecology but in their ability to think ecologically: to draw lines of connection between a hamburger and the price of oil, or between the vibrancy of life in the soil and the health of the plants, animals and people eating from that soil. I would argue that the conversation got under way in earnest in 1971, when Berry published an article in The Last Whole Earth Catalogue introducing Americans to the work of Sir Albert Howard, the British agronomist whose thinking had deeply influenced Berry’s own since he first came upon it in 1964. Indeed, much of Berry’s thinking about agriculture can be read as an extended elaboration of Howard’s master idea that farming should model itself on natural systems like forests and prairies, and that scientists, farmers and medical researchers need to reconceive “the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man as one great subject.” No single quotation appears more often in Berry’s writing than that one, and with good reason: it is manifestly true (as even the most reductive scientists are coming to recognize) and, as a guide to thinking through so many of our problems, it is inexhaustible. That we are all implicated in farming ––that, in Berry’s now-famous formulation, “eating is an agricultural act” -- is perhaps his signal contribution to the rethinking of food and farming under way today. All those taking part in that conversation, whether in the White House or at the farmers’ market, are deep in his debt. From: The Nation, September 10, 2009
Why are they killing the rivers in Costa Rica
Why Kill the Rivers of a Precious Place?
Gene Warneke, Carol Cespedes, and Bruce Melton Photos by Gene Warneke
ecently my seven year old daughter had just finished reading an issue of National Geographic when she said to us, “Wow, there’s so precious little left untouched in this world.” My Costa Rican wife responded in Spanish, “Yes, including the mess in your bedroom. Now please go clean it up or there will be no dessert for you tonight!” The Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica and the Golfo Dulce in the southeast corner of Costa Rica along the Pacific Ocean is actually one of those few precious places left virtually untouched in this world. The government of Costa Rica decided in 1975 to create a large national park and subsequently a national forest adjacent to the park. But now another administration is on the verge of allowing destructive gravel mining of the rivers that drain into the gulf. Just how precious is this area? The Osa contains the largest remnant of virgin tropical rainforest along the Pacific coast of the whole of Central America. The National Geographic described the Osa Peninsula as “the most biologically intense place on earth.” This includes its surrounding marine environment as well. Its unique forests also contain a large number of endemic plants and animals. How biologically diverse is this area? Well, for starters, 375 bird species are found here, 70 species of marine crabs, 61 fresh-water fishes, 46 amphibians, 71 reptiles (including the American crocodile, the Spectacled caiman, 4 marine turtles: the Leatherback, Olive Ridley, Black Sea and Hawksbill turtles), 124 terrestrial mammals (including the Jaguar, Ocelot, Puma, Three-toed Sloth, Baird’s Tapir, and four monkey species) and an astounding 58 species of bats. The status of many of these species is endangered or threatened, and outside of zoos, can no longer be found elsewhere. Fortunately, at present the area is big enough for the species that need wide ranges to maintain populations large enough to maintain genetically viable and healthy populations. I just got bitten by a mosquito for the third time today. That’s a reminder that there are uncountable numbers of insect and non-
The Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica and the Golfo Dulce in the southeast corner of Costa Rica along the Pacific Ocean is one of the few precious places left virtually untouched in this world. But now Costa Rica is allowing destructive gravel mining of the rivers that drain into the Golfo Dulce.
vertebrate species that exist here. This bioregion is an absolute paradise for a gardener. Most all of the tropical plants I used to see and buy in U. S. grow here naturally. There are more than 4,000 species of vascular plants (82 of them endemic), including a total of 334 trees, 26 palms and more than 200 species of orchids. The eastern watershed of the peninsula is drained by rivers emerging from beneath majestic pristine tropical rainforests. The rivers tumble down the slopes and through a gravely alluvial plain that extends most of the length of the Osa Peninsula. They feed fresh water to the Golfo Dulce, one of the world’s three deep-water tropical fjord-like basins. Marlin, Rooster Fish, Sailfish and Dorado are caught in the mouth or in the nearby ocean. More than 25 marine mammal species, including three species of dolphin, Humpback and Pilot whales either live yearround or migrate to the gulf to mate and calve their young. Mangrove swamps at several of the river mouths provide important filtration for the gulf and provide crucial habitat for a slew of fresh and salt water animal species, not to mention the multitude of terrestrial animal and plant species that are part of the mangrove food chain. It rains a lot in the Osa––up to 7 meters per year in the rainiest areas. The rivers have been illegally mined for gravel and sand for at least the last six years. Much occurs during the short two to three month dry period when it only rains occasionally, but it also happens year round as the river levels subside quickly after rainfalls. The maintenance of a healthy biodiverse system depends on the quality and availability of its water supplies. Riparian habitats along rivers are extremely important because so many interlinked and parallel food chains depend on the well-being of their rivers and streams. As I sit here writing this article in a home on the Osa Peninsula, a dozen or so dump trucks are lined up ready to be filled with river gravel and sand by large backhoes two kilometers upriver from the crossing of Highway 245 over the Rio Tigre. The concession that was granted to the mining company by the Costa Rican government allows for the company to mine huge amounts of river gravel to build up the highway for an asphalt surface and for approach ramps to a half dozen or so new bridges over the rivers. A beautiful cool fairly narrow river where we used to swim and hunt for shrimp and crayfish along the shore is now bath-water warm, four or five times wider than it used to be, looks like a wasteland and has been stripped of most of its riverside shade trees and vegetation.
At one point earlier this year, the federal government had applications for 10 mining concessions to extract gravel and sand from Osa rivers where they cross the relatively flat alluvial coastal plain. If all were approved, they would have impacted up to 18 kilometers on five rivers with several of the concessions existing back to back. Some of the concessions have not been approved to date and other applicants have given up due to their inability to provide valid environmental impact reports. However, there still remains the possibility that the remaining concessions, if approved, would have devastating impacts on the Osa and Gulfo Dulce environments. That so many are being considered in such a small area is bad enough, but what makes matters totally unacceptable is that there is virtually no monitoring by government agencies because of a lack of manpower to ensure that environmental guidelines will be followed. It is common practice for concessionaires to ignore such guidelines, so combining that reality with lack of enforcement and the bribing of responsible government officials to look the other way (another unfortunate common practice), we have a recipe for an environmental disaster. This heavy in-stream mining involves the excavation and removal of a living river. All the little meanders, pools, riffles, rocks, bars and bends are taken out of the river. The river flattens and widens. The well-compacted bed, that took centuries to form, no longer confines the remaining gravel. Multiple braided shallow streamlets replace the river. The unconfined gravel shifts endlessly clouding the water with fine sediments. The shallower water flows faster, eroding more. Bank caving destroys the stream side vegetation. This unique ecological niche disappears. The process of river bed formation is a geological process. Once the riverbed is removed, it can only be recreated over geological time frames. The gravel will basically keep moving until this geologic process is complete. How many hundreds or thousands of years from now will it take to come back to maturity, no one knows, but it won’t happen in our lifetime. The lives of the river animals are destroyed. The big holes under banks that were protected by overhanging roots are lost. Insects and crustaceans no longer find homes in the rapidly shifting gravel. The shallower shadeless water warms and the oxygen concentration is lowered. This environment is hostile to all but a few species. The river becomes merely a phantasmagoric shadow of a natural river.
The river is the core of a region’s ecology. Mining damage cascades away from the river and continues decades after the mining insults stop. The loss of the insects in the river, for example, impacts birds and bats as well as fish. If the insects’ stream side habitat is destroyed by in-stream mining, those insects no longer are present, and the animals that depended on them for food must look elsewhere to survive. The food they eat, in-turn, is some other animal’s food. If the food supply of other animals is used by the animals that once depended on the river for survival, those other animals must also look elsewhere for food to survive. The only thing that stops the chain reaction is when the animals cease to exist. The cumulative impacts decrease biodiversity in the surrounding mountains and forests. They can have a disastrous effect on aquifers and water supply. Salt water reefs, mangroves, and fisheries are impacted or killed by the large quantities of fine silt that continue to cloud the river long after the excavators have gone. The impacts are so long-lived that many areas in North America, such as Central California, have programs to restore river mining damage from the 1850s gold rush. And sadly, this “river-cide” is completely unnecessary. Costa Rica has abundant sources of the same gravel and sand deposits in nearby areas. Open-pit mining outside of the riverbeds would be an environmentally less damaging option. Many developed nations have banned the practice of in-stream mining. Costa Rica should join them now and stop using rivers as sources of building material before the natural bounty of living rivers, the otters, caiman, frogs, fish, crustaceans, birds and abundance of insect life disappear completely, leaving a tragically impoverished environment. Costa Rica has garnered worldwide acclaim for its system of national parks and reserves earning more than a million visitors every year. Yet it continues to neglect one vital area of the environment: it has failed to give adequate protection to its rivers and streams, the consequences of which could destroy or degrade this country’s rich natural endowment and allow for the degradation of one of those few precious places left on earth. •
This is NOT a healthy river. It has been gutted by in-stream mining for gravel. It will take centuries to repair itself.
Ciudad Nielly, Osa Peninsula
Carol Cespedes. Ph.D. & Bruce Melton PE, Here’s what happens when a sand and gravel mining operation ––called in-stream-mining––excavates the bed of a living river. Removing material causes an immediate change in the existing river geometry, which refers to the shape and course of the river.
Riverbed mining has impacts that reach far beyond the bed of the river. The river is the heart and circulatory system of a regional ecosystem. If the river is damaged, or removed, the damage impacts the ecosystem around it and does not go away when the mining stops.
It includes all the little meanders and pools, the rifes, rocks, bars and bends, as well as the streamside vegetation. In-stream mining destroys this geometry and replaces it with a relatively at surface.
The alteration of the riverbed feeds on itself and can become more destructive with time, even extending to the headwaters of the river. This is called an environmental feedback. As more damage is done to the river, the impacts on the surrounding area increase. Biodiversity is drastically reduced and species eliminated. The cumulative impacts degrade the river and the entire system around it, including forests, agriculture, and human communities. It can have a disastrous effect on aquifers and water supply. It will also impact the vitality of the zone around the river mouth including reefs, mangroves, and sheries.
Waterfalls on the Barú River as an example of the natural beauty of the country. I wonder if the publishers of La Nación or the readers of the article have any idea what the future holds for this beautiful river.
The sad part of this story is that in-river mining is not necessary. Large deposits of sand and gravel exist in many places near rivers and along the coastal plane. Materials for roads and construction don’t have to come from our rivers; they can be mined from beneath pasture and farm land where the ecological damage will be much less. Most developed countries prohibit in-river mining. The reason our rivers are under assault is that rivers are public property and the concessionaire doesn’t need to purchase the land in order to mine it. He only needs to acquire the concession, and these are relatively inexpensive to obtain. Short term prots are high, and this makes inriver mining attractive to all kinds of opportunists. Over the long term, however, out-of-river mining is more profitable, and our rivers will be allowed to remain intact.
There is still time to stop the destruction of the Barú River. Don Lulu Jimenez of Nauyaca Waterfalls has taken the lead in the battle. The board of directors of ASANA has given the protection of the Barú River top priority. The most important necessity at this time is to acquire nancing for a scientic study of the ecosystems and biodiversity of the river. This helped stop the concessions on the Savegre River. Another priority is gathering support from communal organizations like the Dominical Development Association (ADI) and the Association for the Administration of the Dominical Water System (ASADA.) If you would like to help the effort to save the Barú please contact Ronald Villalobos at the ASANA ofce, 2787 0254 or <firstname.lastname@example.org. Anything from letter writing to nancial support for the study will be welcome.
This simplied geometry increases the velocity of the river, which in turn increases the erosion. The faster-owing water tends to spread out the rocks and sand and gravel in the river rather than deposit it in bars and rifes. This eliminates the deep holes and slow-moving areas, leaving the creatures that rely on the deeper water to survive without homes. The greater erosive force of the altered riverbed creates more erosion along the outside of bends in the river and increases the rate that the river meanders, or moves around within the riverbed. This increases the sideways erosion of the river even more. Increased erosion soon leads to loss of the riparian (or streamside) environment, a unique habitat that bridges the land and water, made up of species that generally exist only along the riverbank. These species not only provide unique vegetation and fruits for the environment, but they also have roots highly adapted to holding the riverbank in place against the erosive forces of the river. If the in-stream mining doesn’t directly remove this streamside vegetation, the increased erosive force of the mined river will. Not only are the homes and food supply of the animals gone, but the big holes under cut banks that were protected by overhanging roots are lost as well. All this vegetation loss means more sun now hits the river. This completely changes the aquatic environment: It’s brighter (predators can see better) and warmer (which many species cannot tolerate). Compounding all of this, the warmer water lowers the absorption of oxygen for the aquatic creatures to “breathe.”
Once every other year, Columbia and Yale Universities publish the results of a study called the Environmental Performance Index in which they rank 163 countries according to their conservation record. Costa Rica placed third in the overall ranking in 2009. The Costa Rican daily La Nación published an article about this distinction. In the article they had a beautiful picture of Nauyaca
Manglares. Barú River, Dominical
Repriinted with permission of the authors from a column in the “Perspective” section of The Tico Times. It would be very difcult for me to improve on their description of what happens when a river is degraded by gravel mining. ––Jack Ewing
ming downstream. Today we often observe otters in the mangrove estuary and other waterways of the Hacienda Baru National Wildlife Refuge, but none so friendly as our old friends on the Barú River. All the otters I have seen in other places have immediately dived upon detecting my presence.
I Hope Not! by Jack Ewing Back in the 1970s Diane and the kids and I lived in the casona, the old Hacienda Barú home. We didn’t get around to digging a well until the early 1980s, and every year, the spring that supplied our water would dry up in mid February. To deal with the situation we carried drinking water in 5 gallon plastic containers from another spring two kilometers away and water for washing dishes and ushing toilets in 55 galon drums. The woman who worked for us went to the Barú River to do laundry, and every afternoon around 4:00 PM everyone went to the river to bathe in the crystal clear water. The village of Dominical was out of water too, so most of the town – about 8 people at that time -- met us there, and the afternoon bath became as much a social event as one of personal hygiene. Another daily visitor to the bathing ritual was the Neotropical River Otter (Lontra longicaudis). No sooner did we started splashing around than a couple of otters would appear from down river, swimming toward our location at the Paso del Guanacaste. They would swim directly at us at high speed, and about four meters short of our location they would dive. Sometimes they stayed underwater only a few seconds and sometimes longer than a minute. When they resurfaced it could be anywhere, but it would denitely be at least four meters from the nearest person. It was like they were playing a game with us, but only to a certain point. If otters love to play, they love to eat even more. Most animals wolf down their food as fast as they can. Not so with an
The otters can still be seen on the Barú River in the area around the mouth and as far up river as Villas Rio Mar. If you would like to see them, go to the river bank or even the bridge, around 6:00 A.M. or 4:30 P.M. Scan the surface of the river and look for a sleek, dark, brown head moving across the surface. March is the best time of year to see the otters when the river is low, calm and clear. If you really want to see them I recommend that you go soon, because next dry season may be too late. Little do the otters know that their river habitat is in grave danger.
Neotropical River Otter with an otter. Occasionally I would spot one catching a small sh, a craysh, or some other delicacy. Sometimes the otter would swim around on its back leisurely eating the prize, but usually it would nd a at rock, stretch out and devour the prey slowly in small bites, savoring every morsel. I was reminded of a gourmet diner enjoying a delicious meal. It almost made me want to catch a craysh and sample the fare––cooked, of course, and denitely not raw and whole, shell, legs, antennae and all. I once paddled down river on a boogie board with the idea of nding their den, but to no avail. If any of us moved more than 20 meters or so downstream, all of the otters would disappear and not return until another day. Otters are normally quite shy, but these became so accustomed to our presence that they lost their timidity. But only if we followed their rules -no closer that four meters, and no swim-
At this time there are six applications pending for gravel mining concessions in the Barú River. The areas being requested range from the mouth of the river to above the crossing on the road to Nauyaca Waterfalls. If all of these concessions are granted, the Barú will become a riverine waste-land with a non-functional ecosystem. If you want to see an example of what is about to happen to the Barú, just take a short drive to the Naranjo River on the costanera a couple of kilometers south of the Quepos airport. Or if you happen to be in the Osa Peninsula check out the Río Tigre. Take a good look at the results of many years of gravel mining in a river and ask yourself if you would like to have a similar view from the Barú River bridge. Ask yourself if visitors would want to stay in Dominical after driving across a river with a view like that from the Naranajo or Tigre River bridges. The Naranjo River has already suffered grave damange and may be past the point of no return. Additionally there are a number of applications for
Thanks Humans! We Neotropical River Otters haver been swimming and playing in the rivers of the Neotropics for more than nine million years. But I guess cheap gravel and quick profits for greedy corporations is more important than our existence. But watch it. You could be next! We’re all in this together.
concessions on the Savegre River, but theseare temporarily on hold due to overwhelming opposition from local communities. Another thing that has helped considerably in the battle to conserve the Savegre is the existence of extensive biological studies which verify the high level of biodiversity of the river. The Barú is still a relatively pristine river with no major source of contamination or extensive ecological damage. Hopefully the communities that have come
to love the river will now come to its defense. Go stand on the Barú River bridge in the early morning. Look up and down that beautiful river and ask yourself if the view is worth saving. And, while you are there keep an eye peeled for my old friend the Neotropical River Otter, and ask yourself if he is worth saving too. I hope you decide that he is, because I’m not ready to say goodbye to my old friend. •
Jack Ewing is the creator of Hacienda Barú just north of Dominical. Hacienda Barú is a 400 hectare reforestation project being funded by private investors, World Bank carbon credits, small grants, and eco-tours through the rainforest full of sloths, snakes, anteaters, monkeys, poison dart frogs, and some top predators including jaguars and ocelots. Jack’s incredible reforestation projects have restored a cattle ranch back to a wild environment. Jack teaches local communities to protect and appreciate their surroundings. He is the reason the local beach received the Bandera Azul award, given to outstanding Costa Rican beach restoration and preservation activities.
Photograph by Stephen Duplantier
The Costa Rican Magazine for Living in the New Tropics