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Questia - The Online Library

What is a banana republic?

By Chelsie Vandaveer

November 30, 2001

Sponsored By: Try out Questia's Online Library interactive tour!

The banana was unknown in the U.S. until 1870 when Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker purchased 160 bunches in Jamaica and sailed for Jersey City. The bananas were an instant hit and retailed for 10 cents each. (See Plants that Changed History, November 27, 2001)

Minor C. Keith saw dollar signs and went to Costa Rica. There he built a railroad and planted bananas along the railroad easement. He took bananas to the coast, loaded them on ships, and sent them to the U.S and European markets. By 1891, Minor Keith was Major Banana.

Keith then joined with Captain Baker and Andrew Preston to form the Boston Fruit Company. The companies merged by 1899 to form the world's biggest banana--the United Fruit Company.
Collection Rosenfeld - Quiriqua United Fruit Liner 1932

Quiriqua United Fruit Liner 1932
Collection Rosenfeld
Buy This Art Print At AllPosters.com

Along with rail lines, the company had telegraph lines and plantations all over Central America. United Fruit owned a fleet of white steamships cleverly called the Great White Fleet.

In 1901, the Guatemalan dictator, Cabrera, granted United Fruit exclusive rights to transport mail between Guatemala and the U.S. Keith formed a subsidiary of United Fruit and built a railroad between Puerto Barrios and the capital, Guatemala City. Cabrera allowed UFCO to purchase land very reasonably and gave the company a land grant 500 yards wide and one mile long on either side of the docks of Puerto Barrios.

If someone wanted to travel in Guatemala, they traveled on UFCO trains. If they wanted to send messages, they telegraphed on UFCO lines. If they wanted to mail a letter, they paid UFCO postage. If they wanted to get on or off a ship in Puerto Barrios, they paid a UFCO tariff to cross those 500 yards. And UFCO was exempt from taxes for 99 years. Whenever there was a change in dictator, Keith made sure the dictator belonged to UFCO.

By 1944, the Guatemalans had...had...it...up...to...here. They overthrew the dictatorship and held an election. They wrote a constitution, set up schools, and began redistributing UFCO land to citizens. By 1954, United Fruit had the U.S. State Department under John Foster Dulles and the CIA under Allen Dulles all upset about those "Communists" practically on the U.S. doorstep.

The Dulles boys really did not need convincing, since Allen had also served on the UFCO Board of Trustees. But they had to sell the President and U.S. taxpayers on a reason for invading Guatemala. And they did!

The University of Pennsylvania has more information about the Guatemalan coup in 1954, click on the link:


To read more about UFCO and their banana republic from the Guatemalan point of view, click on the link:


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