“Banana Republic: The United Fruit Company,” offers a great run-down of the United Fruit Company’s origins till its fall, which took place from the 1870s to the 1970s. The article beings with the construction of the railroad in Costa Rica in 1871, led by 23 year-old Minor Keith from Brooklyn. With mass amounts of determination, he did anything to lead to his success. At a young age, he was given the title “The Uncrowned King of Central America” for his success.
As the construction of the railroad in Costa Rica progressed, he planted bananas alongside the railroad in hope that they would grow with success. Ten years later, as the bananas flourished, he owned as many as three banana companies, transporting the “new” fruit to the United States and Europe. Soon after, he then partnered up with a Cape Cod sailor and a Boston businessman, raising money to found the Boston Fruit Company. In 1899, their company merged alongside the United Fruit Company, forming the largest banana company in the world with plantations in seven different countries located in both Central and South America. Along with the company’s banana monopoly, the United Fruit Company owned eleven steamships (also known as the Great White Fleet) and 30 other ships that were used as rentals as well as 112 miles of railroad that linked plantations with ports.
The article mainly focuses on the United Fruit Company’s huge influence on Guatemala. Although other countries in Central and South america fell under the “thrall of the mighty UFCO,” the UFCO obtained its most power in Guatemala. In 1901, the Guatemalan dictator granted the United Fruit Company the exclusive right to transport postal mail between itself and the United States. This, alone, gave the U.S. massive amounts of power in Guatemala. It wasn’t long after until the United Fruit Company gained control of almost all means of communication and transportation in Guatemala.
The relationship between the UFCO and right-wing Guatemalan dictators grew unconditional, as the UFCO’s empire was located in Guatemala. Unhappy with an unfair and terrorizing government, the people of Guatemala overthrew their dictator of the time, Jorge Ubico, and held their first true elections in 1944, electing Dr. Juan Jose Arevalo Bermejo. As president, he created a new constitution based on the U.S. Constitution. In power, he made great progress, especially in education and healthcare.
In Guatemala’s next free election, Jacob Arbenz succeeded Arevalo. He continued Arevalo’s progress, proposing the idea to redistribute the huge amounts of unused land back to the Guatemalan people, but most of the land was held by the United Fruit Company. The U.S. State Department, alongside the United Fruit Company, started a campaign to convince Americans that Guatemala was becoming a Soviet “satellite” state. With success, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency orchestrated a coup in 1954, replacing Arbenz with another right-wing dictatorship that would cooperate with the UFCO.
The United Fruit Company did, in fact, boost economies where they had plantations, building schools, housing, hospitals, and research laboratories, as well paid its employees better than other companies did, although showed detrimental aspects. If the UFCO saw unionism growing in areas, it would abandon the areas, tearing down all the housing and schools it had built. This left these areas desolate, with nothing.
In the 1970s, the UFCO lands were bought by the Del Monte Corporation, an existing and successful company. Del Monte does not engage in any political manipulations, like the United Fruit Corporation had in the past.
As partners, Nayid and I are doing our video project on Week 9: Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire. One of our main focuses is going to be the influence the United Fruit Company had on Central and South America, so I believe that knowing its roots will be very important in constructing a better video.