Abstract: The Octopus Against the Banana Republicans: Latin American Nationalism and United Fruit

Marcelo Bucheli


During the first half of the twentieth century the United Fruit Company gained a notorious reputation for the immense political power and disproportionate economic control it had over its Latin American producing countries, which were pejoratively known as "Banana Republics." Before the 1950s, these countries provided a very friendly environment for United Fruit. The dictators ruling them granted the company generous concessions and repressed labor unionism. This situation, however, did not last forever. In the 1960s and 1970s, the producing countries saw the rise of nationalism among a new generation of military officers and a more organized labor unionism. These elements were exacerbated by the economic crises generated by the oil shock and foreign debt problems. Under these circumstances, the local governments confronted United Fruit, increasing its taxes and obligations to the labor force. The company responded with a futile resistance and in the end had no option but to adapt to the new local political conditions by divesting its producing operations and concentrating its efforts in international marketing. Every attempt made by the producing countries to break the company's control over marketing failed, creating a new kind of control by United Fruit over the local economies.