There Will Be Bananas
The brand new news are so ubiquitous in our lives that we can't imagine life for those but I don't think there was anything magical about the banana in and of itself that made it such an entrepreneurial success. I think it was a lot of luck. Changing culture brutality people willing to practice that an all these little pieces come together to create this market. That probably probably never should have existed for task. I'm repeating at Bluey and on this episode. How One entrepreneur made bananas big business and changed the world for better and for worse on most days I spent at least part of the morning preparing my four year? Old Son's favorite breakfast a banana and there are few things more fun than cutting it up putting on a plate and watching enjoy every bite so a few months ago when I heard about a disease that's been tearing banana plantations in Asia Africa and now South America obviously got concerned. I thought is. Is it game over. No more bananas my son No more chances for me to watch him eat them but then run deny started asking some questions like. Why do we even eat bananas? And when did this become such a big part of our diet in America and around the world so to answer those questions run decided to travel to the place where it all began. This is the birthplace of the banana empire the port city of Leeann which sits on the eastern coast of Costa Rica. My Name is Sergio. Will I news actually Sergio. Oh has been giving walking tours of Leeann for the past five years. I went on this tour with Sergio early in the morning and we started the tour athletic. Give us but the main attraction was across the street from this park. Now this is the palace I like to call it a bothers by the way it's It's like the head of the United Fruit company outside of the United States headquarters of the minnow like the biggest take. The building is harnessed. It takes up nearly the entire block and whereas one is filled with Victorian style buildings usually made of wood or concrete on Crete. This building is very boxy minimalist and made of steel American steel. It's two stories but seems bigger because the ceilings are really really high a row of big red windows with green framing lines. Each floor story different looks like a train station right okay. So what exactly is. Is this United Fruit company. That he's talking about okay. United Fruit is the company responsible for making bananas and international commodity. And that distinct stink te kind of bold industrialist vibe of its headquarters is a perfect reflection of the company's practices and Sergio says the mastermind behind the company. A guy named Minor Cooper Keith. Had A corner office from there. He had a perfect view of the ocean. The poor there used to be the at train station over there and at one point the actual train station. Actually the train was the project started everything for the moment no train Noli Ma When when we come back how minor keith manage to bring a city to life and in the process built an empire This is hundred river from Rochester. New York. And you're listening to to run around. This message comes from. NPR sponsor. Better help the online counselling service dedicated needed to connecting you with a licensed counselor to help you overcome whatever stands in the way of your happiness. Fill out a questionnaire and get mashed with a professional tailored to your your needs. And if you aren't satisfied with your counselor you can request a new one at any time free of charge visit better. HEALTH DOT COM slash through line to get ten percent off for your first month. Get the help you deserve with better help. NPR's life wants to help you make changes that actually stick this New Year from how to do dry. I January two how to start a creature of habit. We've got new episodes all month to help you start the year off. right new episodes every Tuesday and Thursday. Listen and subscribe. Subscribe to lip kit part one. Welcome to the jungle. There's there's a story I heard over and over. When I was in Lima? On a kind of local legend it takes place in fifteen to the year. Christopher Columbus set sail on his fourth fourth voyage across the Atlantic as Columbus was sailing down the Caribbean coast the winds blew him towards Costa Rica and he happened upon upon a small island just off the coast of Layman. Today it's called you Vita island or little grape island. Legend has it. Columbus was so taken taken with the beauty of this place and the seeming hospitality of the indigenous people who had appeared on the shore that he anchored at Uva Island. Columbus was suffering from Gal and couldn't get off the ship so his son got off instead. He traveled into the jungle and spent several days with the indigenous people. There when he returned to the ship to reported that he'd seen advanced cities in the most unlikely place a place seemingly impossible to conquer and that he was treated with the utmost respect. Columba's asked what this place was called and maybe it was the way his ears process the indigenous name or maybe he just thought the please least deserve to be called the rich coast whatever it was his son replied Costa Rica and Columbus and his crew set sail once more continuing their journey towards the indies and for centuries after the eastern shores Costa Rica remained mostly untouched by western powers. Then came minor Cooper Keith. This was a time when rugged men went out to make the name in the world a time when the American entrepreneur was king. Teddy Roosevelt era is the era of McKee's Mo of doing things. Women were excluded people of color excluded but man like minor keith. The world belong to them It was theirs for the taking minor Keith had grown up in Brooklyn New York and he had become a cattle rancher in Texas. You know it's a very common motif in America for for sort of patrician or types to sort of become cowboys this is writer. Dan Kabul I sometimes pretentiously like to call myself a thing biographer for a right by the histories of objects I'm best known for writing. A book called Banana the fate of the fruit and the change the world. Dan says the shift shift towards aggressive. Entrepreneurship started around the time of the civil war. When communication and transportation networks rapidly expanded thanks to advances in mining an agriculture which entice people develop new lands railroads began moving people? West in the world seemed right for the taking their gold rush. People basically all these American business people were trying to find some form of gold so any business. That could make them a lot of money. Right and minor Keith. The city kid kid from a wealthy family who had tried his hand at running a cattle ranch at being a cowboy was at heart a budding entrepreneur. He wanted to make it really big to be among the Carnegie's Rockefellers of the world and he thought railroads might be that business for him. In the United States there's a railroad roadbuilding boom but it's controlled by by moguls by conglomerates by by people who are already rich is not a lot of room for entrepreneurship is not a lot of room for a Brooklyn Brooklyn born Texas cattle rancher to sort of become a big wheel so keith decided to look beyond the US for opportunities. His his uncle was working on railroads in Chile Peru and Costa Rica and invited him to come there at at the time there was very little infrastructure in Central America these villages with dirt roads but people were determined to find a way to the Pacific through Central America. We'll Columbus had wanted to do. Why Central America because of the unimaginable or imagines let's say riches? That might happen mirror. Things like coffee minerals may be actual gold and even though Keith new pretty much nothing about Costa Rica. He figured hell why not I can do this. This is my chance to make it. Big whatever challenges may come but on the flip side he probably thought if I built this railroad. Then I'll have access to all those riches. I think what minor Keith understood. was that if view build infrastructure in these places where there is no infrastructure and you make the right financial deals by Hook or by crook honestly or dishonestly. You're we're going to get very rich and you're GONNA get very very powerful and Keith. Had another more lofty goal though says it was looked at as almost bringing civilization bringing progress to these poor souls who who otherwise would be living naked in the jungle. That was the way it was seen. So there was this element of mission and manifest destiny Depth that we really don't understand today or that we understand better whereas as being quite an you know not very good thing if you're wondering why a government would open their arms to a fairly inexperienced agreeance foreign businessmen. It's pretty simple. They needed the help. They wanted to find a way to export their coffee crops. The country's main export to Europe and and to do that they needed to tap into their eastern coast and it was the jungle the jungle so up until the eighteen seventies most of Costa Rica east of the capital San Jose. It was completely undeveloped. Just miles and miles of nearly impenetrable rainforest. The Spanish had made few inroads. There they'd killed and resettled some indigenous communities but they didn't actually manage to build much now minor kief would attempt it and I have to say when you're actually there you realize how far fetched this must've seemed I imagine it's just like endless trees animal's brain. Yeah it's very it's beautiful but it's very rugged terrain and every square inch is basically green. I mean dense beyond belief. You look up. And it's just webs of winding finding branches and leaves so many different ecosystems forest mountains wetlands beaches huge volcanoes drive three hours in any direction and you'll probably experience all of them. They're monkeys everywhere plus all sorts of other animals some deadly. I actually saw tarantula and a snake while well I was there I mean no. I don't play that affirmative this no. I don't do scary actually. Wasn't that far off off that Keith Keith. Wanted to build a railroad through all of that stretching one hundred miles from San Jose to Leon wasn't it wasn't a cheap desk. We'll have to say that. This is Victor Kunia Ortega. He's a professor emeritus at the University of Costa Rica. He faced allergic challenges. I'm Linda Challenges. I'm finance I mean this was really really crazy Eighteen seventy two. He began construction action in the Mont.. At first he recruited Costa Rica's population to build the railroad which at the time was very small but as the project got underway many began to realize just how difficult and dangerous it was. They're tearing the jungle down with with with hand tools. They were very very hard because the claim because they talk about yellow fever malaria you of dysentery. You know everything you could die of al deadly wounds trees would sometimes fall on them. It rained a lot of the time so they were often working in mud if they got any sort of cut or wound could easily become infected and mosquitoes were everywhere. Some I'm carrying diseases. So after a little while Costa Ricans laid down their tools. We're not GONNA do this because no job is worth dying for construction. Stalled and Keith was back at square one. He had to find workers somewhere else you know luckily or unluckily there's this huge immigrant population in the United States so keith returns to the US and and hires a couple of thousand. Italian immigrants is anti tempts them. You know he says we're GONNA pay a lot of money We're going to give you a lot of work. He also brought workers from China and parts of Europe and once they get down there and what's happening and they see what's happening and they they see how dangerous they begin going awol adult faster. They were dying at levels equivalent to deaths on the beaches of Normandy Hundreds died then thousands in part because these men had never been to the tropics so they weren't used to the climate or it's diseases and the work. It was just really grueling among the workers who died on this project were accused two brothers. You know so so this was deadly not just for the poor souls who were sort of suckered into coming in working on it but the guys at the very top as well progress was slow and money was tight a few years into the project. They were thirty miles from their end. Goal San Jose but kief remained determined and desperate for workers. He decided to recruit prisoners hopeless prisoners people in jail in New Orleans people who have no way out and he basically costs for volunteers and he says anybody who volunteers housing built my railroad to completion. It's going to get a pardon. Seven hundred prisoners volunteer but only twenty five prisoners survive to get their pardons hardens twenty five out of seven hundred. I mean absolute persistence and scrapping on Keith. Part like bringing in group after group even prisoners his nurse so many deaths including his own brothers is like both horrifying but also like Daniel play view from there will be blood inspiring. You know what I mean like like absolutely hell bent on dislike getting this done. It's like that scene in. There will be blood where his they discover oil and it causes huge huge fire and his son gets hurt and like goes death. But all you can think about is like the money that basically discovered. It's exactly what this is. I mean this guy minor he he was ruthless right like it was. It was just the process of trial and error for him. People would die heat find more they died more came. He was relentless eventually minor. Keith figured out that if he brought Jamaicans over from the Caribbean they would have an easier time working on his railroad since they spoke English. And and were you said. The climate thing is by this point minor. KIEF had another problem. He'd burned through millions of dollars and was nearly out of money. And the Costa Rican government which is sort of funding. This thing partially also goes broke. I mean at this point most people I would just throw in the towel and go home. That's the logical thing to do. Probably but instead Keith goes to England and he borrows one point two million pounds switches. I think about the equivalent of maybe one hundred fifty two hundred million dollars today Then he goes back to Costa Rica and proposes a new deal to the government. This sort of a crazy deal. He says bill the railroad for free in return. You give me at ninety nine years Concessional on the route. I have eight hundred thousand acres because of land tax free alongside the tracks and I have full control of the port of Lamont not a great deal for the Costa Rican government. But they were in a pretty bad position at this point and just needed to finish the railroad. I don't know I don't know what popped the president to accept it but but I'm going to guess that you know these guys also wanted to modernize the country. They saw railroads as as as needed and and and people are building monuments to themselves. What greater monument than a railroad in a place that was all jungle Keith probably understood that he seemed to know which cards to play when and he knew how desperately the Costa Rican government wanted to build that railroad to export coffee when it gives he was a richardneer and he wants to very able to negotiate he was able to put himself. Somebody indispensable for the Costa Gobert was capable of finishing it. Also so help. That Keith was tight with the political leak in Costa Rica so close that he was able to marry. The daughter will put a business. Visiting will to Reunite Century the Americas Jose Maria Castro mattress had served two terms as president of Costa Rica. He himself in in Costa Rican society. By marrying the president's daughter he was able to became apart of the ruling class INCA CERIGA. Ah He knew how to win people over those elites loved minor Keith. And he was their patron really so work on the railroad continued at this point Keith. Had like really managed take himself out of a whole absolutely. I mean now. He had the support of the country's elite a workforce that could handle the climate total control of the port of Lemon and eight hundred thousand acres of tax free land. And what he did with that landed I was. He grew bananas and he didn't grow them to make money them to feed his workers The ones who are dying by the dozen two dozen as an American Keith had little experience with bananas they weren't really available available in the US since they only grow in tropical climates. But around this time some people were beginning to experiment with ways as to bring bananas rare tropical fruit to the United States and after planting a few banana trees alongside the railroad minor. Keith realized Y it's real easy to grow you get a few banana trees and from those few you can grow a farm in from those farms. I you can create a plantation with rose after row of banana trees and from that plantation you could create a nation of banana trees. And and that's when the light bulb went off. He had a lot of land at his disposal and soon he would have a railroad and a port all all to himself so minor cooper. Keith set his sights on another potentially much bigger business. Opportunity Bananas Hi this is pretty wine from Denver Colorado and you're listening through line on NPR. I just WanNa say I absolutely love. I love here so I can't wait to see what comes next week support for. NPR comes Thomas from Newman's own foundation working to nourish the common good by donating all profits from Newman's own food products to charitable organizations that seek to make the world world a better place. More information is available at Newman's own foundation dot org. If you start your weekdays with I now can start your weekends with us too two. I'm Scott Simon and I'm Lulu Garcia. Navarro stay caught up with. NPR news six days a week up first. NPR's morning news podcast weekdays at six eastern eastern and now with weekend hours two Saturdays at eight eastern part to everyone goes bananas or bananas in the mid. Eighteen eighteen. Eighty S. A sizable banana market was beginning to appear in the US. Thanks to a company called Boston. Fruit the for them. The banana was known known in the United States but it was considered a rare weird outing. One call a delicacy because it wasn't you know if you look at some books from the eighteen hundreds for example one of the things. That's interesting about the bananas was taboo because of its shape when a banana is mentioned in early. Early accounts pre banana industry. A lot of attention is paid to how to properly disguise the banana shape so a banana has to be served in a crystal so ball with with foil around it and sliced into certain ways you know anything to avoid that beck very suggestive shape I mean like I get it. It looks weird I media and especially like the eighteen hundreds. They're like probably just traumatized you can. This company bought the fruit. They had to find a way to market and immoral fruit breaking that Tabu is is critical to mass acceptance of the banana. Imagine having to be the person to market. I know this is really a phallic fruit. You eat well. I I at Boston Fruit company. Who was responsible for just that His name was Andrew Preston and he began. Chipping away at that taboo he. He starts issuing these postcards and these postcards. Show these Victorian ladies. I'm sitting under trees at picnics. And they're holding bananas and putting bananas in in their mouths to break the taboo. That lady could not hold or touch a banana. He knew that Americans would only buy bananas if they saw them as good healthy healthy and cheap cheaper than any other fruit and that last part is where minor keith had the upper hand he had cheap land and lots of the rent ended. He doesn't have to pay for it. Plus a cheap workforce and cheap transportation. He owns the railroad. So there's no middleman and he had control of the port so minor kief could could build a business in which he'd control every step of the production process at very little cost to him and low cost to consumers while still making a lot of money the pieces of the business model have fallen into place and make this emerging business models possible so the railroad that was intended to expert expert. Coffee for the Costa Rican government was now mainly exporting bananas for minor Keith and the ships docking at the port of Limon. We're being filled with bananas. Descend to the US. By the time the railroad was completed in eighteen. Ninety Minor Keith. Life was officially in the banana. Business A few years later minor keith was in financial trouble. He lost a big chunk of money when one of his investors when broke so he traveled to Boston to meet with Andrew Preston. It's interesting because in a way the kind of meet each other. Yeah I mean Keith. Controlled control cheap production line right on. The one hand and Preston was really good at marketing. So he could raise demand for bananas and if you combine the two it's sort of a match made had an entrepreneur heaven so it makes sense that in eighteen ninety nine they struck a deal. They formed a new joint company called united in the business model for united. Fru built on the one Keith. Had devised is if you control every step of the process and control the narrative you can control the market. This is like Amazon. A lot of ways this this idea that you can control all aspects of the chain from the import to the distribution to the marketing to the sales and centralize. A business is really really really radical especially because bananas are perishable. They don't have a long shelf life every time. The bananas pulled off a tree. There's a two week at the most this clock ticking and it's really a seven o'clock because you wanna have about seven days in the store from green to Brown you really have to move fast and the world which was not a fast moving place seven days seven days and this is how they might have done it. They won Keats. Workers and Costa Rica picked the bananas Nana's from his eight hundred thousand acres at the exact right time when they're still green day to the bananas. Get transported to the coast on the railroad heath built through are- transferred onto refrigerated ships. The first of their kind that united fruit owned at the port of on day four taken up the Atlantic to the port at New Orleans five live distributed to cities across America by the fruit dispatch company. A gigantic railroad network operated by United Fruit Monstrous Spider web of banana trains. That delivers banana quickly. All over the United States Day six the bananas are delivered and put on shelves. Seven customers can buy those bananas at a low cost in their local store. Okay there's so many moving parts to this whole process like this should have been really expensive and time consuming and they're still managing to make the cheapest produce in the supermarket right. It makes no sense on the surface and the only reason they could do that is because they managed to monopolize is every step of the process. Right going back to kice business model. They could bend the process to their will maximize how much money they were making because they owned every step step of the process so everything they did was designed to squeeze profit out land and transportation costs were more or less fixed right but labor was where they could really increase their margins. Ns Keith was focused. On streamlining the production process. Preston launched a a massive marketing campaign to generate more and more demand for bananas in particular one type of banana. That wasn't too big or small wasn't too sweet or a bidder. Select a goldilocks banana. Good nickname But but the variety of banana was called grow Michelle and so it's think name became same. Big Mike he put ads in magazines. Got Doctors endorsed the health. BENEFITS OF BANANAS FOR BABIES PUBLISHED COOKBOOKS WITH BANANA recipes. In this is a commercial united fruit made decades leader. You can put them in any way you are with them. You can still hear pressings influence since they are so good for baby. Point is his marketing strategies will really effective. I see and bananas went viral. People loved them. Demand for bananas is a weird miracle. Everything seemed to be falling into place for United Fruit. Soon the amount of money coming in is beyond remarkable markle. It was the oil industry of its day. And many people are getting really really rich and there is this assumingly inexhaustible demand on the part of the American consumer for bananas and Preston and realize and Keith realized. They've got to get more bananas all they really needed to meet. This demand was more land and more labor so Keith began traveling to other countries in Central and South America Guatemala Honduras Colombia making deals with their governments. He'd helped them build infrastructure like he'd done in Costa Rica Gaza if they gave him land and they agreed so the model of Costa Rica. It sorta starts to regionalize Keith. had his hands in everything. He ran the postal service in Guatemala. He set up a telegraph communications. That worked throughout Central America built rail lines between Mexico and Guatemala Guatemala and El Salvador connecting in cities across the region and he controlled ports all along the Caribbean coast of Central America. People in these countries gave United Fruit. The nickname L. Poobah the octopus and Keith sort of became known as the uncrowned King of Central America the United Fruit was wildly successful and minor. Keith had achieved his dream of greatness but there was a dark shadow looming over all this success we already on the land already on the means transportation what you have to own also the workers. There was a ton of pressure to work quickly because demand grew very mary fast. They can do you know what would be back breaking work for about fourteen hours a day and end. If there was a rush people had to work sometimes twenty four hours a day to get some of his accomplished. This is sue portio Viera. I am an associate professor of Chicano touchdown on Latino Latina Transitional Studies at Pitzer College in Claremont California beyond the long hours. A banana plantation was a really difficult difficult place to work. It was then and it is now but Anna's have to grow where it rains so a lot of these regions It rains every day There's a monsoon season where it rains for days and days out Workers had to work in the modern of wet environments sounds very muddy environments. Banana bunches are heavy. That meant human labor. People would carry one hundred pounds or more of bananas on their backs. And it's dangerous. There's actually a type of snake that lives on these banana plantations known to workers spot about money. And it's a very poisonous snake hides under all the fall. Then many workers getting mm-hmm the actual life expectancy of the average male in Central America starts going down because so many people employed by the banana industry and are dying From what we can tell minor keith. And the people at United Fruit weren't all that bothered by this. It's probably too simple to say but it. It is pretty simple. The money was there and so the rationalizations came to keep that flow money. A A In the banana world. The workers workers are slips. I mean that's really the only way to put in a it's an era of sanctioned slavery with the support of the United unsuited government workers lived in dorms the company provided which were small dirty. They were paid in company currency currency not actual money and could only use it to buy food clothes. Whatever else they needed? AT THE UNITED FRUIT STORE MM-HMM UNITED FRUIT CREATED A universe and the universe began to develop its own culture for for the first few decades of the nineteen hundreds. It was mostly men with the exception of a brothel or to the life in Manila station. Awesome deal been like delighted with of we'll see to Sion mm-hmm they self medicate with alcohol. So as a there's this rise of alcohol the some in the regions and there were people from different countries working alongside with one another and they tended to divide themselves by ethnicity and race so there were all these racial tensions constantly and bitter fights you know the the chat they define them to find their masculinity their ability to survive so they all were very proud and carried their much with them everywhere. So if a fight ensued that would have these battles that were pretty bloody. This way to other said I was working in condition is Nobel by this means that unite. Many people mentioned this book to me while I was in the it's considered to be a landmark Costa Rican novel and the title. Mamata unify is how a lot of Costa Ricans refer to United Fruit mother. United them used Spanish. Mom meet that United Mother. Yeah so they might me like a mother boss. The boss fifteen. This is Danny sterling famous the famous because we made the carnival. Aaron Portland I. When does that happen over? I'll come back for that. Yeah I met Danny at the Domino House in downtown Lee Morton next to the old railroad yard. It said that the Domino House popped up. Real road stopped running in the one in in the Nineteen Ninety S. Almost everyone in here was of Afro Caribbean descent. Over the age of fifty male spoke English and was very serious about domino's us. So why did you talk to Danny. Danny's grandparents like a lot of the folks. There came to Costa Rica from Jamaica to work on minor keys. Railroad did Noah a lot. Was that note to read and write on the sign manner. Titcombe truck them to come from Jamaica and his dad worked for united fruit. You transporting the bananas to the docks and getting them onto the ships. He said his dad was grateful for the job because it was much better than working in the fields on the plantations. Shins where the US treat the mule but at and Work and then Danny broke out in song. Do do the coma. One Go. Chop recognizes the banana boat song. He called it the anthem of the banana. The plantations go mom me a- mine were checked say though when we come back the worker strike strike and united fruit strikes. Back out that my name is Katy. And I'm calling from Anchorage Alaska where I reside on the ATHABASCA man and you're listening to through line from NPR support for this podcast and the following message come from the Walton Family Foundation. We're opportunity takes root more information is available at Walton Family Foundation Dot org part three three the empire strikes back in the nineteen tends as minor Keith and united fruit continued to see enormous prophets pockets. The resistance began cropping up among workers throughout Central America. The banana workers were not dumb. Obviously and they know that they are the weakest piece of this business. They know that they're being exploited. And so do they begin asking for their rights. Basic rights in the workplace or eight hour days. A healthcare to have a hygienic backwardness or dormitories for men In on that waiting a month to be paid but being paid at the end of the week. And you've got to remember. This is also happening after the Russian revolution. So there's you Jio that the ideal of socialism back then is is coming into play of communism. There are workers movements beginning all over the world in America to see united workers began to strike. These are mostly workers who are not educated and so their attempts to gain their freedom really are very limited and are suppressed over and over again with bloodshed But the company had one weak spot. Remember how united fruit was only producing one kind of banana to big Mike. Mike like that left them really vulnerable. To one thing the thing that's hardest to plan for disease But none of diseases would kind of just a radical. Not just one banana tree but a whole think of them. If a banana plantation gets infected the soil becomes useless for thirty years. Yeah it's a really long time and so so if you have a plantation and it gets sick. You're done there. You will never grow bananas there again. And in around nineteen ten a disease cropped up in Panama destroying every banana tree in its path. They're rotting away and nobody really knows what this disease is. But it's rendering these plantations fallow very quickly. Nobody knows how it spread. Nobody knows what it is whether it's a fungus S. bacteria something else but what is for sure. Is that once. It appears it moves very quickly and it can wipe out entire district or even a country in a matter of months soon. This Panama disease began seeping into the soil throughout Central America. Killing banana tree after could banana tree after banana tree. The disease happens chases the bananas out of this one field out of this one district out of this one country and into another the disease comes again mm-hmm and every time it comes you've got to take more lamp. The story the banana guys. See it because your demand is growing and growing and growing and the places that you can grow. Bananas are shrinking and shrinking and shrinking united fruit. Had to spend a lot of money developing these new plantations but they needed to keep making a prophet and bananas had to remain the cheapest fruit and store so something had had to be squeezed. The workers the workers The disease is both a reflection of of the business model and it is what makes the business model so deadly. This disease is not just sort of a hindrance it is a driver for the ugliness that happens In Colombia the government started to grow frustrated with united fruit for how they were treating their workers so in Colombia the initial Columbia is actually maybe beginning to sort of like say you know maybe we should take care of our people. Maybe the banana companies are getting too rich united. Fruit workers in Colombia began to organize and demand basic rights. They are asking for a healthcare. A little bit of money The ability to live better lives so in October. Nineteen Twenty eight thirty thousand banana workers go on strike. It's a big strike and when the higher ups that United Fruit Corinna verse. They panicked because there seems to be some government support and and the united fruit prompts their their supporters in the government of Colombia to go and occupy Magdalena Meanwhile US officials. They're trying to figure out how to deal with the situation. US officials Columbia are communicating to the US State Department. These are communist he served so versus. So you know this was sort of these. Communists are are going after sort sort of the belly of the beast if you will and they must be stopped so there was a lot of thinking in premeditation that went on between the company the US State Department and and the Colombian government on how to bring the strike down based on Sunday December sixth nineteen twenty eight in the town of CNN. Banana workers assembled at the church in town square as these workers are in church with their families machine gun Nassar set up at four corners of the square. So these workers don't know what's going to happen because they're all inside the church I think for the worker was another day. You know another day striking not that. They didn't expect the military would come in and divide and conquer. I think they were mostly used to is seeing sort of divide and conquer strategies from both the state and the company I don't think anybody saw this coming machine gun positions Shinzo set up the people get out of church and they're told you must leave the square within five minutes or opened fire. Will you can't leave a town square with two thousand. Some people children in the square so they can't disburse more than three thousand people. Workers Women and children spilled out of the open space in front of the station. Repressing into the neighboring streets. Army had closed off with rose machines. Five minutes countdown. Captain gave the order to fire and they opened fire in in throwing about ms against the grid that little by little was being reduced which epicenter as the edges were systematically being cut off like an onion repeal insatiable methodical shares to the machine this was like a massacre. A A total massacre. Yeah Gabrielle Garcia Marquez. Would go on to describe this massacre in his novel. One Hundred Years of solitude the estimated deaths that day range widely but it suspected that at least a thousand people were killed the. US Ambassador Masseter reported these events to superiors in Washington. I the honor to report that the Bogota representative of the United Fruit Company told me yesterday. Today's the total number of strikers killed by the Colombian military exceeded one thousand. The honor to report you know. What can you say? It's terrific war Minor Cooper Keith. died a year after the Columbia massacre but his business lived John. United Fruit remained ruthless in its mission in partnership with the US government. It would go on to overthrow the government of Guatemala in the nineteen fifties and in the nineteen sixties participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro which led to the Cuban missile crisis. mm-hmm united fruit continued to control much of Central America until the nineteen seventies when it became Chiquita and merger those countries. The trees are known to this day as Banana. Republics Okay Hey this is quite an amazing view. That's Because Monet Regan flat and then there's only one hill and if I we're minor cooper Keith. That's where I put my house. No doubt you can oversee the port. You can see retire land and you can see Practically the whole town. That's the way that's island in the distance where Columbus would've landed. Yes that's where his fourth trip to deny drove up to the house house. Were Minor Cooper Keith. Used to live from up there minor. Keith would have been able to look down on the universe. He created today. A man named I'm Don a non Castro lives their own done and his two dogs came out of the House to greet us at the TIKI. And then he took us into the house to the show around. It's a one story house mostly made of wood on a huge plot of land that stretches for miles four kids running horses certain eating fruits that ticket had planted commandos commit tools and there were ca-car for Cacao plantations. Did you have any sense of minor. Keith was like heavy Eddie. Your stories about him growing up well. He said the spirit of Keith filled the house and that he was told he was a great businessman. Who built the railroad? And what's interesting interesting. That donner nuns. Father was a politician in Costa Rica for forty years from the nineteen thirties. On just after keep died Taylor then took us outside to shows the fruit trees that keeps had planted slur droid inquiry and and picture. I mean you have a very Very positive opinion him and often these people are very complicated right and things always come at a cost and so I wonder. Do you see any negatives to that sort of Entrepreneurship that he demonstrated. I don't see negative only positive things that he did. He had money he had. He worked hard for it but he's decided by people that think different private enterprises exploiters but for me. It's it was a good man and maybe we could have more more people like him. The country would be better. You're not worst. Buddy would be better. Costa Rica minor kids is of fundamental fiew A. B. Because the national you're observing. Yeah my kid's mirror and they got the mirror. Cost Rica Build. It's better than against by looking at the same time for the read my negate rem as. He's somebody Berry Simpler I. I don't think he's seen as a hero or whereas a fill in. I think he's probably seen as an historic figure. Figure he's an outsider. But maybe one way to look at it is the way we might look Thomas. Jefferson held slaves yet was responsible for a lot of our democracy and they're sort of seen in a way that that is probably nuanced but the banana industry itself has a sort of invisible memory. They're still great problems in the banana industry. The business model is still hugely problematic. Black workers are still exposed to amounts of pesticides that are unhealthy and so minor. Keith may or may not be forgotten But the business model he created silhouettes And that's it for this week's show. I'm not Louis I'm Rhonda and you've been listening to live from NPR. This episode was produced by me and me and Jamie York Lawrence. Woo Lane Kaplan Levinson new sqi Niger. Eytan backtracking for this episode was done done by Kevin Vocal. Thank you to J. Davina Glassy. A- Hannah Hagman and Isabella Gomez Sarmiento for their voice over work and a special. Thanks Tevita Vodkas and Austin Horn also on your grandma. Our music was composed by Ron Teen in his ban. Drop Electric and a special shout out to my tour or guidance Sergio Bolanos and his band Cucolo for providing the song. You're listening to called the Sun United Companies. If you like something you heard heard you have an idea for an episode. Please write us at through line. NPR DOT ORG or hit us up on twitter at through line NPR. Also we'd love up to hear from you. Send us a voicemail. Two eight seven two five eight eight zero five and leave your name where you're from and save a line you're listening to through live from NPR and tell us what you think of the show. We might even feature voicemail on a future episode. That number again is eight. Seven two five five eight eight eight zero five. Thanks for listening breath.