Thursday, June 30, 2005

Bitter Fruit: the Story of the American Coup in Guatemala by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer

The rise and long reign in Central America of the United Fruit Company reads today like a fable of American capitalism. From the dawn of the twentieth century, the company played the major role in the Guatemalan economy. For even longer, it had sought, through close ties with successive dictators, to control nearly a dozen nations scattered about the Isthmus and the Caribbean.

The saga of United Fruit began in 1870, when Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker of Wellfleet, Massachusetts, landed his schooner Telegraph in Jamaica and saw that bananas were among the most popular products at the local markets. Few Americans had ever seen the banana fruit. Baker, with some extra space in his hold, purchased 160 bunches of the still-green crop for one shilling per stalk from Jamaican merchants on the Port Antonio docks. Eleven days later, he brought the Telegraph into Jersey City and sold the bunches to curious vendors for two dollars each....

By 1898, the Fruit Company and several smaller American firms were importing 16 million bunches of bananas annually.


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