Chiquita bananas, CIA funded coups, and Colombian hit squads. 

chiquita bananas

Chiquita bananas, CIA funded coups, and Colombian hit squads.

Why do people in the United States eat so many bananas? Bananas are a staple of American breakfast, specifically Chiquita Bananas. Easy, quick, and nutrient dense, families for generations have been turning to the phallic fruit to start their day. However, the Chiquita banana company (formally known as United Fruit Company) has a dark history of oppression and violence that would make even the drug cartels proud. I think it’s time we reevaluate our love of the banana and consider a new fruit without such a violent path to our mouths.

With the average American eating more than 25 pounds of bananas yearly, there is no question of the popularity of the fruit. They are always available, and cheap at that. However, few Americans know the true devastation and political instability that Chiquita bananas have left behind. The multinational United Fruit Company, which later became known as Chiquita Brands International, was involved in a controversial operation to overthrow the Guatemalan government in 1954 with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

In the early 20th century, the United Fruit Company had significant economic and political power in Central America, where it controlled large swaths of land and employed thousands of workers. The company’s influence extended to the Guatemalan government, which was friendly to U.S. interests and supportive of United Fruit’s operations.

However, in the 1940s and 1950s, a social reform movement emerged in Guatemala that sought to redistribute land and wealth, improve workers’ rights, and challenge the dominance of foreign corporations like United Fruit. The movement was led by President Jacobo Árbenz, who was elected in 1950 and implemented land reform policies that threatened the interests of United Fruit.

In response, United Fruit lobbied the U.S. government to take action against Árbenz, arguing that his government was Communist and posed a threat to U.S. interests in the region. The CIA was tasked with carrying out a covert operation to overthrow Árbenz and install a government more friendly to American interests.

The CIA operation, known as Operation PBSUCCESS, involved a propaganda campaign to discredit Árbenz and financial support for a rebel army led by a former Guatemalan military officer named Carlos Castillo Armas. United Fruit played a key role in the operation, providing logistical support, intelligence, and lobbying efforts in Washington.

In 1954, the CIA-backed rebels launched a successful coup against Árbenz, who was forced to flee the country. Castillo Armas was installed as the new president, and the U.S. government recognized his government as legitimate.

The coup had devastating consequences for Guatemala, as it led to decades of political instability, repression, and violence. The new government reversed many of Árbenz’s reforms and cracked down on political dissidents and labor activists. The legacy of the coup continues to shape Guatemalan politics and society to this day.

The United Fruit Company’s involvement in the coup, along with the U.S. government’s role in supporting it, has been widely criticized as a violation of international law and an example of U.S. imperialism in the region. It has also raised questions about the responsibility of corporations like United Fruit for contributing to political instability and human rights abuses in the countries where they operate.

This was not the only instance of United Fruit meddling and shaping political landscapes. Their horrors have deep roots in Colombia as well, where they have been exploiting their workers for over a century. In 1928, United Fruit was paying their entire Colombian workforce of more than 30,000 with company credit, only good at company stores. When workers held a strike to demand payment in cash, the company called in the Colombian military who proceeded to breakup the strike with armed conflict. Over the next few days it is estimated that between 1,000 and 3,000 workers and their families were killed by the military forces in what was dubbed the Banana Massacre.

United Fruit continued to destabilize the region for decades, fueling the ongoing conflicts between government and guerrilla groups. During the 1990s and early 2000s, in order to protect its operations, Chiquita Banana began making payments to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary group.  This group was responsible for numerous human rights violations, including massacres and forced displacement of communities. The payments, which totaled over $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004, were made through a subsidiary company called Banadex and were falsely classified as “security expenses.” The AUC hit squads performed many murders on behalf of United Fruits interest, and eventually this collaboration became public knowledge.

In 2007, Chiquita Bananas (formerly UFC) pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to charges of supporting terrorism for its payments to the AUC and agreed to pay a $25 million fine. The company admitted that it knew the AUC was a violent group and that the payments were illegal, but claimed that it had no choice but to make them in order to protect its employees and operations.

Chiquita Banana shaped politics throughout Latin America and still today has a great influence in Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Belize, Honduras, and other tropical nations. Purchasing the fruit directly supports the actions of the company and it is high time for conscious Americans to remove the fruit from their breakfast table. Travel to a tropical country and eat bananas where they are fresh and delicious. All the Chiquita bananas in the States were picked green and shipped thousands of miles anyhow, and you’ve likely never even had a decent one unless you’ve traveled.

People are sure to comment that they cannot survive without Chiquita bananas because they need potassium. While bananas are often associated with being a good source of potassium, there are many fruits and vegetables that actually contain even more of this important mineral.

Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of potassium, with a medium-sized sweet potato containing around 542mg of potassium, compared to a medium banana, which has around 422mg.

Spinach: Spinach is a leafy green vegetable that is packed with nutrients, including potassium. One cup of cooked spinach contains approximately 839mg of potassium, which is more than double the amount found in a medium banana.

Avocado: Avocados are high in healthy fats and fiber, as well as potassium. One medium-sized avocado contains around 708mg of potassium, which is significantly more than a banana.

Acorn squash: Acorn squash is a type of winter squash that is rich in potassium. One cup of cooked acorn squash contains approximately 896mg of potassium, which is more than double the amount found in a medium banana.

White potatoes: While white potatoes have gotten a bad rap in recent years due to their high glycemic index, they are actually a good source of potassium. One medium-sized white potato contains around 926mg of potassium, which is more than double the amount found in a banana.

Other fruits and vegetables that are high in potassium include tomatoes, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, and oranges. Eating a variety of these foods can help ensure that you are getting enough potassium to support proper muscle and nerve function.

With their dark past and overstated health benefits, is it really worth it to continue eating Chiquita bananas in the United States? I’ll let you decide.

Interested in exploring Latin America for yourself in 2024 or 2025? Check out our Guatemala retreat at Lake Atitlán.