First Source: “The Banana Trade Focus”
My first source is center around the video “Banana Split”, which was directed by Donald Harpelle (2002) and its contained on the article, “Paying the Price: The banana trade in focus” by Petter Clegg (2008). Cleggs analysis of the documentary is very insightful and helps put into context what repercussions the banana trade has in contemporary times. Banana split is a Canadian produced documentary, which provides a general overview economic, social, historical, scientific and environmental aspect of the banana production. The international banana trade has been the center of attention in recent years in the European Union as well as in North America because the main centers of production zone are Latin America, more specifically Central America and the Caribbean. The dispute has been very important in determining international trade policy as well as the economic profile of the Caribbean, there are other contentious issues related to the banana, and this documentary is useful in focusing attention on these.
Once in Latin America the film first provides a brief overview of how the industry was established through the pioneering work of entrepreneurs such as George Busch, Minor Cooper Keith and Lorenzo Dow Baker from the 1880s onwards that would eventually lead to the creation of the United Fruit Company (UFC) in 1899. From this moment the UFC established significant interests in Latin America and Jamaica that included sizeable land ownership (3.5 million acres at its peak) and control over infrastructure and local communities. Such control formed the notion of “banana republics” and the UFC as El Pulpo (the octopus). The film focuses on Honduras, which today exports around 500,000 tonnes of bananas, for its consideration of the role of the UFC in Latin American banana production. Indeed Honduras was the first country to be known as a “banana republic” because of its formerly high dependency on the banana industry.
The film focuses on two regions, Tela and La Lima, which have been scarred by their banana experiences. For a more historical perspective, Tela situated on the north coast facing the Caribbean Sea, is profiled. In early April 1954, dock workers in Tela refused to load one of the UFC’s cargo ships, demanding the overtime pay to which they were legally entitled. Within several days the strike had spread across the country to include workers employed by a number of other companies. Collectively the strikers demanded a number of improvements, including higher pay and better working conditions, as well as the right to collective bargaining. The strike lasted over two months, involved at its height 30,000 people and placed the Honduran economy under considerable strain. The striking workers were accused of being communists and drawing support from Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán who was soon to be overthrown with the aid of the U.S. government and the UFC. After violent attempts by the Honduran authorities and the companies to defeat the strike an agreement was reached that met some of the workers’ demands. Despite the strike marking a step forward in establishing organised labour in Honduras, the UFC soon left Tela, leaving behind a demoralised and destitute population. The film illustrates well the events of the time via a series of personal recollections.
To sum up, the documentary does a good job at giving a motivating overview of what is currently happening with the international banana trade, the people who produce it, and the main companies which are at the centre of scandal and abusive economic power.
Second Source: “The Banana: Empire, Trade Wars, and Globalization (Notes)”, James Wiley (2008).
This a very extensive research essay done around the Central American and the Caribbean banana trade and has many parts but I will focus my summary around the idea of the creation of empire, which related fully with our chapter assigned for our video. Generally speaking, the banana empire was around the movement of labour from the West Indies (Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, etc) and moved to the Central American continent for the purpose of specialized banana labour and because for the Americans working as main man communication in English was easier than hiring local workers for example. The notes mention that many of the had to stay in countries like Costa Rica and Honduras, territory called by the United Fruit Company, as ‘Banana Land’, and their descendants remained in these countries long after they labour was over. The essay also describes the buying of shares by the United Fruit Company in 1906, 50 % of them, from the Vaccaro Brothers Company, one of their rival companies in Honduras. Furthermore, the U.S court system rejected this acquisition at first, saying that it was a violation of antimonopoly legislation, so they company sold its shares after 1908. Ironically, the Vaccaro Brothers Company reorganizes again in 1924 as the Standard Fruit Company, and became the main competitor of the United Fruit Company in the Caribbean and Central America.
The essay also talks about the technical aspects of the banana production such as the language used in it. For example, a “Nine-hand-bunch” refers to the total output of one banana plant, measure vertically before being cut into smaller bunches which we see in stores ready to be sold. Therefore, a nice-hand-bunch was the industry’s standard measurement. In Colombia, at the Uraba zone in 1980s was also going in decline like many other banana producing countries in Central America, and the INC’s operating in the region started to move in again, this time moving to the Santa Marta region. This is a usual and typical characteristic move that companies of banana production do when they need to move from one region to another and it has happened again. This created a second shift which threatened the livelihood and the wellbeing of many banana growers in the region; to be more exactly, approximately, 40,000 thousand people were depending on this type of production and the 6,000 thousand housing complex which were given to these people were also take again from them.