Week 9: Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire

I had always known that Latin America and the United States have had a tumultuous relationship, but I have never thought about how truly complex it was. Just by reading Chapter 6 in the textbook, I got a fair idea of how truly damaging yet necessary this relationship was.

I really enjoyed reading about the banana republics, because I like bananas; they’re a staple in many homes, so reading the history of how they gained popularity was very interesting. It is also a fantastic example of the conflicting relationship that Latin America had with their northern neighbours. The United Fruit Company (UFCO) became a critical entity in the south, especially in Guatemala. The banana business brought many benefits, including employment, and further investment into Guatemala’s infrastructure. UFCO also operated schools, hospitals, radio-stations, banks, breweries and hotels. Overall, it seems that UFCO was a great thing in Latin America! Unfortunately, it wasn’t all that it was made out to be.

Banana zones, while employing tens of thousands, brought about a lot of consequences, since they required a lot of migrant labour. The workers lived in company housing, with less than ideal conditions, away from their families, and often, they did not speak the local language. This lead to the banana zone communities to have high rates of alcohol abuse, prostitution and violence. As Dawson said, “workers often chafed at their own work conditions and pay” but being employed by UFCO was better than being employed elsewhere. This is the sad truth that many, including UFCO, did not acknowledge, and that is truly unfortunate. It makes me sad because nowadays, it is most likely still happening, and I think of places like Singapore, where migrant workers make up a significant portion of the construction industry. Could it be that imperialism still exists in a different form, one which nobody wishes to acknowledge?

I found the readings interesting because they made me look at modern commodities in a different light; acknowledging their history and how they became commodities in the modern day and age. It has also made me think of modern imperialism and if it still exists as an incarnate form. What are your thoughts? Do you believe a form of imperialism exists? If so, where? What do you think are the positive and negative effects of such situations?

2 Replies to “Week 9: Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire”

  1. I think imperialism definitely exists; it is just politically incorrect to call it that! Latin America is still a huge contributor of our fruit and vegetables. Just looking in my freezer at my supplies, my broccoli is from Guatemala.
    It is a catch 22 really. The folks in Latin America rely on the export of their products and produce to contribute to their economy. I certainly hope that President’s Choice (the brand of broccoli in my freezer) has a better relationship with the Guatemalan farmers and communities. It certainly does bring to light the whole question of fair-trade…something I always consider when I see the plethora of Starbucks everywhere—less than 10% of Starbucks coffee is considered fair trade, and most of their coffee comes from Latin America.

    1. I thought about the definition of fair trade in relation to coffee while reading this article as well. I work in the specialty coffee/tea industry, and a lot of independent roasteries/tea makers pride themselves on the principle of pushing free trade beans/teas. A lot of places tend to go out to the areas and personally work with many of the farmers to ensure the experience is beneficial for everyone. I’m uncertain of whether or not these farmers are adequately paid, but here’s hoping that independent joints work within better ethics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Spam prevention powered by Akismet