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United Fruit Company

The United Fruit Company (1899 - 1970) became prominent in trading tropical fruit (notably bananas and pineapples) from third world plantations to the United States and Europe. The company, its predecessors (such as the Boston Fruit Company and Cuyamil Fruit Company) and successors (United Brands Company[?] and Chiquita Brands International[?]), comprise an archetypal example of multinational influence extending deeply into the internal politics and policies of so-called banana republics and could furnish an example of neocolonialism.

The United Fruit Company owned vast tracts of land in Central America, and sometimes the Company was said to be the real power in control of those nations, the national governments doing the Company's bidding. The Company several times overthrew governments which they considered insufficiently compliant to Company will, for example in 1910 a ship of armed hired thugs was sent from New Orleans to Honduras to install a new president by force when the incumbant failed to grant the Fruit Company tax breaks. The newly installed Honduran president granted the Company a waiver from paying any taxes for 25 years.

The Company had a mixed record of encouraging and discouraging development in the nations it was involved in. For example in Guatemala the Company built schools for the people who lived and worked on Company land, while at the same time for many years prevented the Guatemalan government from building highways, because this would lessen the profitable transportation monopoly of the railroads, which were owned by United Fruit.

In order to administer its farflung operations, United Fruit became a major developer of radio technology, which it later pooled with other companies to form the Radio Corporation of America.

According to some sources, the Guatemalan government of Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was toppled by covert action by the United States government in 1954 at the behest of United Fruit because of Arbenz Guzman's plans to redistribute uncultivated land owned by the United Fruit Company among Indian peasants. The UFC and the bankers that supported it convinced the CIA and president Dwight Eisenhower that this was the first sign of a communist takeover in Central America, and Guzman's government was overthrown. As many as 100,000 people may have died in the ensuing civil war.

Today, successor companies of United Fruit have interests in:

The impact of the United Fruit Company has inspired the poet Pablo Neruda to write a poem (in Spanish) with the company's name as the title.

Further Reading:

  • West Indian Workers and the United Fruit Company in Costa Rica, 18701940 by Aviva Chomsky, Louisiana State University Press
  • Pablo Neruda, "La United Fruit Co." (in his poetry collections)

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