The Banana Massacre

You are probably aware that the term “banana republic” came from the practices of the United Fruit Company, a U.S. firm that bought up large portions of several South American countries and wielded inordinate political power in the region, in order to supply the U.S. with bananas. The company’s power was such that government troops were made available to put down workers’ strikes. In Colombia, this led to a massacre.

In November 1928, grumbling among the more than 25,000 workers on the banana plantations of the United Fruit Company turned into a united effort with a well-organized strike against the massive American corporation.

The workers’ demands from United Fruit were far from unreasonable — a direct contract with the company, six-day work weeks, eight-hour days, medical care and the elimination of scripts (only good at company stores) that were paid to the workers instead of cash. Ten years earlier, the company’s workers had gone on strike with similar demands, but had failed to achieve their goals.

The Colombian government was afraid of a worker’s revolution, and also afraid the U.S. military would step in. Tensions led to a standoff between 1,400 workers and family members and 300 troops with machine guns on December 6. When the troops opened fire, the death toll was somewhere between 47 and 2,000 people. We will probably never know the exact number. Read about the massacre at Modern Farmer. 


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