That Time America Went To War Over Bananas

By Nate Nkumbu

Often you look at a banana and you see a table item or a common breakfast food. But many people wouldn’t believe that the fruit holds a dark history in Latin America and that the United States government actually supported dictators for this peel-able food.

The Banana Wars were period between 1898 and 1934 were the U.S heavily intervened in Latin American politics.

Using the legacy of the Monroe doctrine, the U.S invaded countries like Cuba, Haiti, Panama, Colombia, and Honduras to protect the Banana plantations and other investments made in the countries according to Jose Cruz, Director of Research for the Kimberley Green Latin American and Caribbean center at Florida International University.

Cruz said in an interview with RISE NEWS that the period saw many in Latin America view the United States as occupying forces as opposed to being just a neighbor up north.

The Monroe doctrine help to establish America’s dominance in Latin America but in 1904, in an addition to the long standing US posture of dominating influence in the Western Hemisphere, President Theodore Roosevelt upped the ante.

In the Roosevelt Corollary, TR gave the U.S the ammo it needed to justify its intervention in Central and South America by arguing that America shouldn’t just prevent European control in the hemisphere, but that it should also use military force to further American interests there.

A worker offloading bananas in Mobile, Alabama in 1937. Photo Credit: C. Thomas Anderson/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

A worker offloading bananas in Mobile, Alabama in 1937. Photo Credit: C. Thomas Anderson/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Cruz said that the most blatant case during the banana wars was the U.S intervening in Honduras seven times between 1903 and 1925.

He said that companies like United Fruit which had owned plantations in Honduras would call on the U.S Marines to deal with political insurrections and that the local elite were supportive of the actions.

So yes. American Marines were basically the private police force of American fruit companies. Just let that sink in for a second and try not to laugh.

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“The local elite in Honduras got paid or received payments from companies like United Fruit to protect their plantations,” Cruz said. “In some places, the people working on the plantations were able to unionize thanks in part to some of the United Fruit workers coming from America helping them, but this was in small amounts.”

Photo Credit: AMISOM Public Information/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Photo Credit: AMISOM Public Information/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Cruz said that United Fruit had often put down worker’s strikes with violence. One notable case was the Banana Massacre of 1928 where Colombian workers for the company were killed following strikes demanding better working conditions.

Cruz said that the effect of the Banana Massacre is still felt today in places like Colombia.

“Just 10 years ago, Chiquita Bananas was accused of hiring paramilitary troops to put down strikes in their plantations in Colombia, likewise other corporations like Coca Cola,” Cruz said. “It isn’t rare today for actions like this to happen, but during the Banana Wars, it was quite common.” 

WATCH: Documentary clip about the Banana Wars. 

Know a weird history story that we should look into? Send us a tip to editor@risenews.net. 

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: elycefeliz/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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