Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why We Shop at "Banana Republic?"

This is one of the best interviews you will ever hear about our economic situation. I recommend that you devote the 45 minutes to it. It may be the best 45 minutes you've invested in decades. After listening, read what I've documented about the U.S.'s military takeover of Guatemala directed by and for the benefit of the United Fruit Company. It's history - and shocking still to read.

Guns and Butter - The New Junk Economics: From Democracy to Neoliberal Oligarchy - February 10, 2010 at 1:00pm Click to listen (or download)
The following information is from Raj Patel's nonfiction book, Stuffed & Starved, published in 2007 (which I am currently reading), and it's not a hair out of date. I recommend this also. Find it at your local library. "The United Fruit Company" (UFC) "founded in 1899, was the world's largest banana merchant."
At its peak, the company controlled the trade not only in bananas, but also in freight, mail and money across an archipelago of Central American countries. It guarded its power jealously, and little stood in its way. When locally elected governments tried to curb the company's power, or when residents of the country organized to alleviate their exploitation, it struck back.

Most famously, the United Fruit Company used its connections in the Truman and Eisenhower administrations - especially through the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, whose law firm had represented the company - to argue that Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, the democratically elected President of Guatemala, was about to become a Communist. The reason? Arbenz Guzmán had in mind to buy unused land from the UFC to give to landless peasants, at the artificially low price at which the UFC had declared the land's value on its tax returns. In response, the President (Eisenhower) authorized in 1954 a CIA-backed invasion of Guatemala, Operation PBSUCCESS. The resulting war claimed 200,000 lives, over 40 years. The land, however, remained in the UFC's hands. Hence, 'success.'

. . . The complicity of the UFC in Central American poverty has rarely been acknowledged in the US. It is a history that has been erased. Indeed, the shorthand phrase through which most people come to know of banana-exporting countries in Central America and the Caribbean reflects not a history of rapacity and violence but the comically inept regimes installed by the export corporations. Such countries are known not as victims of Empire, but as 'Banana Republics.' It's a taint which sullies the reputations of these countries' citizens, rather than reflecting back on the cause of their impoverishment. It is, in short, a textbook case of blaming the victim.

Today, the UFC has been rebranded as the warmer, fuzzier 'Chiquita Brands.' As a result of public relations exercises and 'fair trade' schemes, the company has worked hard to earn a slightly more favourable taste in our mouths. Not that it deserves it. The company recently paid a US $25 million fine as part of a guilty plea in its funding of paramilitary death squads in Colombia. But beyond the tribulations of this particular corporation, the trajectory of the UFC presents, in microcosm, the story of today's agribusiness conglomerates. It's a story of colonialism, control over channels of production, distribution, marketing and finance, mobilization of national interest, and a racialized repainting of the Third World (pg. 102).

And you thought the Iraq venture was a shot in the dark? Very dark, indeed. And you've always enjoyed shopping at "Banana Republic?" I remember when I went into the first one I had seen and immediately thought "Do these people know what a banana republic is?" For lovers of empire I guess it's all good. Keep in mind the perceived opinion of the "installed governments" of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the rest of the American-run/owned countries in that part of the world. Kind of puts a new twist on the machinations going on in ex-Soviet Georgia, doesn't it? Nuff said? Suzan ________________


Liberality said...

I get so depressed when I think about this country's entire history--starting with bringing slaves to the new world and the killing and enslaving of the natives all the way up to the present day where we invade countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Suzan said...

You and me both, L.

And now they are enslaving us.

As if we deserved to see from the other side, huh?


(And thanks for commenting.)


the killing and enslaving of the natives all the way up to the present day

Tom Harper said...

The contrast is incredible -- those warm fuzzy Chiquita Banana commercials vs. America's brutal colonizing in Central America. We established "democracy" (i.e. a rightwing military dictatorship) in Guatemala in the early 1950s on behalf of United Fruit Co. The previous year we did the same thing in Iran on behalf of the oil industry.

Suzan said...

Iran in 1954.

My favorite memory is hearing Dumbya spout off about how the attackers of 9/11 "hated our freedoms!"

No, I told my classes, what they hated was our exploitation of their world. Freedom to them was an unknown word that would have had very little meaning in the context of their civilization.

Thanks for commenting, friend.


warm fuzzy

Greendayman said...

Excellent post, Suzan - my kids also know the difference between know-nothing bull (they hate our freedom) and lashing out at exploitation. I actually used the Somalian 'pirates' as a current example. As usual, my I.Q. is increased exponentially by reading your blog. Thanx! -g

Suzan said...

Thanks, g.

Your kids must be awesome, but with you as their Dad, what choice did they have?

Now that you mention it, I've been waiting to write something about those "pirates" (who tend to be defending their homes and livelihoods instead of playing pirate games with the most well-prepared Navy in the history of the world).

Thanks for increasing my I.Q. too!