La United Fruit Co.

It’s coming up on 54 years since the Eisenhower administration launched “Operation Success,” which employed mercenaries and the CIA to overthrow the democratically elected, progressive government of Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala. In the name of containing Communism, they installed a ruthless dictator, Col. Carlos Castillo Armas, who ushered in forty years of repression.

The worst thing about it was that it was all done at the instigation of The United Fruit Co., now known as Chiquita Banana. Árbenz had instituted an agrarian reform law that was a conscious imitation of the US’s 1862 Homestead Act. One provision was that uncultivated land would be appropriated and distributed to the landless class, albeit with compensation to the prior owners. At that time, United Fruit was the largest landowner in Guatemala, with 85% of its land uncultivated.

When the government began distributing the land, the UFC, with connections to Allen and John Dulles, lobbied the administration, telling them falsely that Árbenz was allied with the Soviets. The US began a campaign to plant Russian weapons as evidence, and began training mercenaries from Honduras and Nicaragua to fight. With US air support, Castillo Armas’ invasion was successful, and Árbenz was deported to Mexico.

That single event did more than any other to begin forty years of war between US-backed, right-wing dictators and leftist guerrillas. Ironically, the United Fruit Company did not fare appreciably better under Castillo Armas, its stock and profit margins declining. Pablo Neruda wrote a famous poem about United Fruit, which I’ll post here.

La United Fruit Co.
Pablo Neruda

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.


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