Reframing History: Bananas
Hey everyone we're doing something a little different for the next few weeks we've been thinking a lot about what history is taught in school and how it's time school yet it's one of the reasons this show even exists, but we wanted to do is fill in the gaps and reframe the things we learned in history class. So a few months ago we started asking teachers for some of their favorite through line besides that do just that and that they liked their students to hear before returning to school our hope was that through line was of use to teachers and we heard from many of them who said it was this week this is. A message for three line hi, this is alleged Schumacher. My Name's Jeremy. Kellerman is a world history teacher in I'm wro Wisconsin Professor at Oregon Tech and falls Oregon I'm just calling to say that your episode there will be bananas has been used in my class to teach colonialism I recently used you have to in my course on sustainable human ecology looking at history of the fruit and banana is a great place to start when you go into the store why are they still cheap and that's of course, the legacy of everything talked about and I find it extremely useful as a tool to teach the unintended or the unrecognized consequences of colonialism. For, everything you do. Bananas are so ubiquitous suitor livestock. 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. And all these little pieces come together to create this market that probably never should have existed. Fast And on this episode, How one Entrepreneur Made Bananas Big Business and Change The world for better. And for worse. Feel. On, most days I spend 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 them enjoy every bite. So when I heard about disease that's been tearing banana plantations in Asia Africa and now South America obviously I got concerned. I thought this is it game over no more bananas from my son Not Chances for me to watch him eat them. But then run I started asking some questions like why do we even eat bananas in? When did this fruit become such a big part of our diet in America in around the world So to answer those questions. Run. decided to travel to the place where it all began. You've? This is the birthplace of the banana empire, the port city of Lemon which sits on the eastern coast of Costa Rica. You. Will I news Sergio has been giving walking tours of lawn for the past five years. I went on this tour with Sergio early in the morning. And we started the tour applaud gave Gus. 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 like the headquarters. Of the United. Fruit company outside of the United. States. Headquarters of the, you know the biggest company ever. The building is hard to miss. It takes up nearly the entire block and whereas. On filled with Victorian style buildings usually made of wood or concrete. This building is very boxy minimalist and made of steel American steel. It's two stories but seems bigger because the ceilings are 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 this United Fruit company that he's talking about? Okay. United Fruit is the company responsible for making bananas and International Commodity. And distinct 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 a train station and at one point. The actual train station, actually the train was. The project started everything. No train newly mom. When we come back how minor keith managed to bring a city to life and in the process. Built an empire. This is Hundred River from Austin New York you're listening to tree. Line? This message comes from NPR sponsor capital one welcome to banking reimagined capital one checking and savings. Accounts have no fees or minimums and a top rated banking up that lets you manage your money anytime anywhere check on the account balance deposit checks, pay bills, and transfer money on the go. This is banking reimagined. What's in your Wallet Capital One NA member FDIC. With civil unrest, the pandemic and the economic crisis you want to know what's happening right when you wake up and that's why there is up I the news you need in about ten minutes from NPR news listen every day. Part One. Welcome to the jungle. There's a story I heard over and over when I was in Lebron a kind of local legend, it takes place in fifteen o two, the year Christopher Columbus set sail on his fourth voyage across the Atlantic As Columbus was sailing down the Caribbean coast the winds blew him towards Costa Rica and he happened upon a small island just off the coast of layman today, it's called you to island or little grape island legend has it columbus was so 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 ubt island. Columbus was suffering from gout 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 seen advanced cities in the most unlikely place, a place seemingly impossible to conquer and that he was treated with the utmost respect. Columbus asked what this place was called, and maybe it was the way his ears process the indigenous name or maybe just thought the police deserve to be called the rich coast. Whatever it was his son replied Costa Rica. Columbus and his crew set sail once more continuing their journey towards the indies and for centuries after the eastern shores of 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. Time when the American. Entrepreneur. Kim. 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 in. Brooklyn New York. And he had become a cattle rancher in Texas. It's a very common motif in America, for sort of patrician or Herbin types to sort of become cowboys. This is writer Dan Kabul. I sometimes pretentiously like to call myself a thing biographer I right by the histories of objects in tone writing a book called banana the fate of the fruit and change the world. Dan says the shift towards aggressive entrepreneurship started time of the civil war when communication and transportation networks rapidly expanded thanks to advances in mining and agriculture, which entice people to 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 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 and Rockefeller of the world and he thought railroads might be that business for him. In the United States, there's a railroad building boom, but it's controlled by by moguls by conglomerates spy by people who are already rich is not a lot of room for entrepreneurship is not a lot of room for a Brooklyn born Texas cattle rancher to sort of. Become a big wheel. So Keith decided to look beyond the US for opportunities. His uncle was working on railroads in Chile Peru and Costa Rica and invited him to come there. 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 will Columbus had wanted to do y Central America because of the unimaginable or imagines let's say riches that might happen there 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 have access to all those riches. I think what mine are Keith understood. that. If you build infrastructure in these places where there is no infrastructure and you make the right financial deals by Hook or by Crook. Or dishonestly, you are going to get very rich and you're GONNA get very very powerful and Keith had another more lofty goal. Those says it was looked at as almost bringing civilization bringing progress to these poor souls who otherwise would be living naked in the jungle that was the way it was seem. So there was this element of mission and manifest destiny depth that we really don't understand today that we understand better as as as being quite an unusual not very good thing. If you're wondering why a government would open their arms to a fairly. 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 to do that, they needed to tap into their eastern coast and it was a jungle. The jungle. Up until the eighteen seventies, most of Costa Rica East of the capital San Jose was completely undeveloped just miles and miles of nearly impenetrable rainforests. 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 Keith would attempt it. And I have to say when you're actually there you realize how far fetched this must have seemed. I imagine it's just like endless trees animals, green yeah. It's very it's it's beautiful but it's very rugged terrain and and every square inch is basically green. I mean dense beyond belief you look up and it's just webs of winding 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. There are monkeys everywhere plus all sorts of other animals some deadly. I actually saw a tarantula and a snake while I was there. I know I wouldn't. Know. Don't play that for this. No, I don't do. That far off from the trail. Keith Keith wanted to build a railroad through all of that stretching one hundred miles from San Jose to Lamont wasn't uneasy Basque. At, this Victor Kunia or Tak-, he's a professor emeritus at the University of Costa Rica. He faced thing the logic challenges I'm the challenged and financial. I mean, this was really really crazy. In Eighteen, seventy, two, he began construction in Lamont. 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 hand tools there working conditions were very, very hard. Because the claiming. Because they took about. Yellow fever malaria. dysentery. You know. Everything. You could die out there the guy of wounds. Trees sometimes fall on them. It rained a lot of the time. So they were often working in mud if he got any sort of cut or wound, it could easily become infected. And mosquitoes were everywhere some carrying diseases. So after a little while. Costa Ricans lay down their tools. We're not GONNA do this because no job is where dying for. Construction. Stalled and Keith was back at square one. He had to find workers somewhere else would luckily or unluckily there's this huge immigrant population in the United States and so Keith returns to the US and. hires a couple of thousand Italian immigrants and he tempts them 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 they hear hear what's happening and they see what's happening and they. They see. How dangerous it is, they begin going Awol. About. Disaster I mean 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 was just really grueling. Among the workers who died on this project where Keith's 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. Keith remained determined and desperate for workers he decided. To recruit prisoners hopeless prisoners people in jail in New Orleans. And he basically? Calls for volunteers and he says anybody who volunteers housing built my railroad to completion. Is going to get a pardon. Seven hundred. Prisoners. Volunteer. But only twenty five prisoners survive to get their pardons. Twenty five out of seven hundred. I mean, the absolute persistence in scrapping is on Keith Part Blake bringing in group after group even prisoners 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 yeah. Like like absolutely hell bent on just like getting this done. It's like that scene in there will be blood where his they discover oil causes huge like fire and his son gets hurt and like goes death but all big about is like the money that basically discovered. It's exactly what this is. I mean this Guy Minor Keith, he he ruthless right like, yeah, it was it was just the process of trial and error for him. People would die he'd find more they died more came he was relentless. Eventually minor keith figured out that if he brought makings over from the Caribbean, they would have an easier time working on his railroad since they spoke English and were used to the climate. Thing is by this point minor Keith 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 distinct partially also goes broke. I mean, at this point, most people 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 which 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 crazy deal he says, I'll build the railroad for free. In return, you give me ninety nine years concessional on the route I have eight hundred, thousand acres of land tax free alongside the tracks and I have full control of the Portland. 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? Prompted the president to accept it but but I'm GONNA guess. That You know these guys also wanted to modernize the country's they saw railroads as as as needed an and people are building monuments 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. Regular trip. Ere, he wants to very able to negotiate. He was able to put himself. Somebody. Indispensable for the Costa Rican government. was. Capable of. Finishing. Also helped that Keith was tight with the political league in Costa Rica. So. Close that he was able to marry the daughter who? was. Reunited. Century the immediate gusto maladies. Jose Maria Castro Madras had served two terms as president of Costa Rica. He sconces himself in in Costa Rican society by marrying the president's daughter, he was able to became a part of the ruling. INCA. He knew how to win people over those elites loved minor Keith and he was their patron. Really. So work on the railroad continued, and at this point, Keith had like really managed to dig 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 of Leeann and eight hundred, thousand acres of Free Land and what he did with that landed I was he grew bananas. And he didn't grow them to make money. He grew them to feed his workers the ones who are dying by the by the dozen or two dozen. As an American Keith had little experience with bananas. They weren't really available in the US since they only grow in tropical climates. But around this time, some people were beginning to experiment with ways to bring Bananas Rare. Tropical. Fruit, to the United States. And after planting a few banana trees alongside the Railroad Minor Keith realized why? It's really easy to grow. You know you get a few banana trees and from those few. You can grow a farm from those farms. You can create a plantation with rose after row of Banana? Trees. And from that plantation used to create a nation of banana trees. 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 poor all to himself. So Minor Cooper Keith, set his sights on another potentially much bigger business opportunity. Bananas. Hi, this is pretty wines from Denver Colorado and you're listening to a through line on NPR. Just want to say I absolutely love your show I can't wait to see what comes next me. Support for NPR comes 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. A better place more information is available at Newman's own foundation dot org. Good question that's a really good question. Crank questions is free therapy. Thank you for asking me that God. That's such. A good question. That's an interesting question. But what fresh air interviews are really about the interesting answers listen and subscribe to fresh air from whyy and NPR. Part to. Everyone goes bananas. For Bananas. In the mid eighteen, eighty s a sizable banana market was beginning to appear in the US thinks to a company called Boston fruit. Before them, the banana was known in the United States, but it was considered a rare weird. I would even want to call it delicacy because it wasn't. You know if you look at some books in the eighteen hundreds, for example, one of the things that's interesting about the bananas it was taboo because shape. When a banana is mentioned in early accounts, pre banana industry, a lot of attention is paid to how to properly disguise the shape. So a banana has to be served in a Crystal Ball With with foil around it and sliced into certain ways, and you know anything to avoid that very suggestive shape. I mean like. I get it like it. It looks weird I mean yeah and especially like the eighteen hundreds there like probably just traumatize. On your. And this company Boston fruit they had to find a way to market and immoral fruit breaking that Tabu is critical to mass acceptance of the banana imagine having to be the person to market I. Know this is a phallic food you eat. Well the guy at Boston company who was responsible for just that. His name was Andrew Preston and he began chipping away at that taboo. He starts issuing these postcards. And these postcards show these Victorian ladies sitting under trees picnics. And they're holding bananas and putting bananas in their mouths. To break the taboo that a lady could not hold her touch a banana. He. Knew that Americans would only buy bananas if they saw them as good 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 enough to rent it. 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 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 export coffee for the Costa Rican government was now mainly exporting bananas for minor. Keith and the ships docking at the port of one, we're being filled with bananas to send to the US. By the time, the railroad was completed in eighteen ninety. Minor Keith 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 broke. So he traveled to Boston to meet with Andrew Preston. It's interesting because in a way. The kind of need each other? Yeah. Keep control the 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 me an entrepreneur heaven. So it makes sense that in eighteen ninety nine, they struck a deal they formed a new joint company. Called United Fruit. The business model for united fruit built on the one Keith had devised. If you control every step of the process and control the narrative, you can control the market this Amazon in a Lotta ways this this idea that you can control all aspects of the chain. From the import to distribution to the marketing to the sales and centralize a business is 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 clock ticking, and it's really 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 was not a fast moving place seven days seven days. And this is how they have done it. They won Keith's workers and Costa. Rica. Pick The bananas from his Asia Thousand Acres at the exact right time when they're still green day to the bananas, get transported to the coast on the railroad keith built Dave three transferred onto refrigerated ships. The first of their kind that united fruit owned at the port of Limon Day four taken up the Atlantic to the Port New Orleans Day five distributed to cities. Across America, by the fruit dispatch company gigantic railroad network operated by United Fruit Monstrous, spider web of Banana Trains that delivers bananas. quickly. All over the united. States Day sex, the bananas are delivered. 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. It makes no sense on the surface and the only reason they could do that is because they managed to monopolize every step of the process right going back to Keith business model they could bend the process to their will maximize much money they were making because they owned every step of the process 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. Keith was focused on streamlining the production process Preston launched 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 bitter select goldilocks banana. Good nickname but but the variety of banana was called grow Michel and so it's sink name became big. Mike. He put ads in magazines got doctors endorsed health benefits of Bananas for babies, published cookbooks with banana recipes. This is a commercial united fruit made decades league. You can put them in. Any way you are there. You can still hear prestige entities. Are So good for baby point is his marketing strategies will really effective. And Bananas. Went Viral. People loved them. The 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. It was the oil industry of its day and many people are getting really really rich. And, there is this seemingly inexhaustible demand. On the part of the American consumer for. Bananas. And Preston realized and Keith realized they've gotTa 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. Columbia making deals with their governments. He'd help them build infrastructure like he done in Costa. Rica if they gave him land. And they agree 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 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 sorta became known as the uncrowned King of Central America. 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. You're already on the land or on the means of transportation what you have to own also. The workers. There was a ton of pressure to work quickly because demand grew very fast. They can do you know what would be back breaking work for about fourteen hours a day. And a rush people had to work sometimes twenty four hours a day to get some of this accomplished this Jaba. Viata, I am an associate professor of Tacona to financial betting all. I've been transnational studies at Pitzer College Claremont California. Beyond the long hours, a banana plantation was a really difficult place to work. It was then and it is now. But Unas 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 So workers had to work in the modern wet environments, 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 a mighty. And it's a very poisonous snake- that hides under all the falcons. Then many workers get bitten. The actual life expectancy of the average male in Central America starts going down because. So many people are 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 of money. In, the banana world the workers are slips. That's really the only way to put in. An era of sanctioned slavery with the support of the United. States, government. Workers lived in dorms. The company provided which were small dirty. They were paid in company currency, not actual money and could only use it to buy food clothes whatever else they needed at the United Fruit store. UNITED FRUIT CREATED A universe and that universe began to develop its own culture. For the first few decades of the nineteen hundreds, it was mostly men with the exception of a brothel or to. The live in Manila vision was Bit like deny to wire which. Violence of. Bush itution they self medicate with alcohol. So there's this rise of alcoholism in the regions and there were people from different countries working alongside one another and they tended to divide themselves by Mississippi and race. So there were all these racial. Tensions constantly and bitter fights. The chat, they would define them to find their masculinity, their ability to survive. So the all were very proud and carried their much head the with them everywhere. So if a fight ensued, would these battles that were pretty bloody? There is way to said. I was working. Condition. Is. By Kennedy's this. Let me tell you night. Wake. Many people mentioned this book to me while I was in the. It's considered to be a landmark Costa Rica novel. And the title Mamata unify is how a lot of Costa Ricans refer to united. Fruit. Also mother United Building Spanish. Meet that united. Is modeled. Me like a mother boss, the boss putting in. This is Danny Sterling famous. Yeah. Well, I'm famous because we make the carnival Aaron Portland Modern I. When does that happen over I'll come back for that. 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 when the railroad stopped running in the one thousand, nine, hundred, ninety s almost everyone in here was of Afro. Caribbean descent over the age of fifty male spoke English and was very serious about their domino's. 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 didn't know a lot. was people not to read and write. An assignment not tom trap them to come from Jamaica. And His dad worked for United Fruit, 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 where the user treat them you'll better. Worker. And then Danny break out in. Song. Do the coma. Go. By recognizes the Banana. Boats. Saying he called it the anthem I'm the banana plantations go. Mom. Taliban was the CHEKA. Say though. When we come back the worker strike and united fruit. Strikes. Back. My name is Katie and I'm calling from Anchorage Alaska. REIVER's I'd on the. ATHABASCA. And you're listening to three line from NPR. Thanks. Support for this podcast and the following message come from the Walton. Family. Foundation where opportunity takes root more information is available at Walton Family Foundation Dot Org. Part three, the empire strikes back. In the nineteen ten's as minor Keith and united fruit continued to see enormous profits pockets of 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 they begin asking for their rights basic rights in the workplace eight hour days a healthcare to have hygienic back on or dormitories for men. In on that, waiting a month to be paid by being at the end of the week and you got to remember this is also happening after the Russian revolution. So there's 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 Fruit workers began to strike. These are mostly workers who are not educated on 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 and Mike 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 radical. Not just you know 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 if you have a plantation. And it gets sick. You're done there. You'll 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 bacteria something else but what is for sure is that once it appears It moves very quickly and it can wipe out an entire district or even a country in a matter of monks. Soon. This Panama disease began seeping into the soil throughout central. America killing banana tree after banana tree after banana tree the disease happens chases the bananas out of this one field of this district of this one country and into another the disease comes again. And every time it comes you've gotta take more lamp the way the Banana Garcia. 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 in the store. So something had to squeezed. The workers. The workers. The. Disease. is both a reflection 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 happened. In Colombia the government started to grow frustrated with United Fruit for how they were treating their workers. So in Columbia The Nation Columbia is actually Maybe beginning to. Say, 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 for A. Healthcare. A little bit of money The ability to to live better lives. So in October nineteen, twenty eight. Thirty two thousand banana workers go on strike. It's a big strike. And when the higher ups that United Fruit we know this they panicked because there seems to be some government support and. The United Fruit prompts their their supporters in the government of Colombia to go and occupy Magdalena. Meanwhile, US officials there we're trying to figure out how to deal with the situation. US officials in Columbia are communicating to the US State Department, these are communisty serves overseas. So you know this was sort of these communist are are going after sort of the belly of the beast if you will right in and they must be stopped. So there was a lot of. Thinking premeditation that went on between the company, the US State Department and the Colombian government on how to bring this strike down. On Sunday December six, nineteen, twenty, eight in the town of China. Banana workers assembled at the church in the town square. Root. These workers are in church with their families. machine-gun Nassar Setup at four corners of squares and he's workers don't know what's going to happen because they're all inside the church. I think for the workers 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 what 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 because machine gun positions set up. The people get out of church and they're told. You must the square within five minutes or open fire. You can't leave a town square with you had a thousand people children in the square. So the cat disperse. More than three thousand people. Workers Women and children. Had spilled out of the open space in front of the station. Repressing to the neighboring streets. Army had closed off road machines. Five minutes countdown. Captain gave the order to fire. They open fire. They were panned in throwing about the gigantic whirlwind, but little by little was being reduced to accept the sensor. As the edges for systematically being cut off. Can Onion repeal insatiable besides shares through the machine? This was like a massacre. A Total massacre yeah. Gabriel 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's suspected that at least a thousand people or killed. The US ambassador reported these events to his superiors in Washington. I the honor to report that the Bogota. Representative of the United Fruit Company. Told me yesterday that the total number of strikers killed by the Colombian military exceeded one thousand. The honor to report. What can you say it's terrific. Minor Cooper Keith died a year after the Columbia massacre, but his business lived on. 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 it participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro, which led to the Cuban missile crisis. United Fruit continued to control much of central. America until the nineteen seventies when it became Chiquita and a merger. Those countries are known to this day. As Banana Republics. Okay, this is quite an amazing view. That's because. And then there's only one hill. And if I were minor cooper. Keith. That's where I put my house. No doubt. You can oversee the the port you can see you re Thailand. And you can see practically the whole town that's the way. That's I live in the distance where Columbus would win it. Yes. That's where his fourth trip to feed the night drove up to the house where Minor Cooper Keith USA live. From up there minor Keith would have been able to look down on the universe he created. Today a man named Don got on Castro lives there. Don and his two dogs came out of the House degreed us if the Greece. On Ninety. Tiki Oh picky wants to interview. And then he took us into the house to show US around. It's a one story house mostly made of wood on a huge plot of land that stretches for miles. Raith years of kids. Running horses, eighteen fruits that restricted had planted. Mangoes K. Meters and there were cal fire cacao plantations. Did you have any sense of minor keith was like heavier 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 is that Donner nuns father was a politician in Costa Rica for forty years from the nineteen thirties on just after keep died. Donner non then took US outside to shows the fruit trees that keeps it planted. A droid. Leaving picture. I mean you have a very very positive opinion nope 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 see positive things that he did. He had money he had he ward card for it. But he's criticized by people that. Thinker. Different. As a private enterprises exploiters. But for me, it's It wasn't a good man and. Maybe we could have more more people like him the country will be. Better. Not Worst, but it would be better. Rica minor kids. Is Fundamental fiew. There it's. Because the national like they your. Mina kid is kind of a mirror and got the mirror. Costa Rica Build. Letter Day. Against by not. But at the same time for the lead, a minute maze somebody very simpler I. I, don't think he's seemed as a hero or whereas villain I. Think he's probably seen as an historic figure. He's an outsider, but maybe one way to look at it is the way we might look at Thomas Jefferson held slaves yet was responsible for a lot of our democracy. There sort of seen in A. Way that that is probably nuanced. But the banana industry itself. Has a sort of invisible memory. There's still Great problems in the banana industry, the business model is still usually problematic. 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. That's it. For this week's show I'm Rob Louis I'm for attack 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 Olkhovsky Niger Eaten backtracking for this episode was done by Kevin Vogel. Thank you to J. D. V. Neck. Last year Hannah. Hagman and Isabella Gomez Manto for their voice over work and a special thanks to feed vodkas an Austin Horn also on your grandma. Our music was composed by Ron teen and his band drop electric and a special shadow to my tour guide lawn 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 or 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 to hear from you send us a voicemail, two, eight, seven, two, five, eight, eight, eight, eight, zero, five, and leave your name where you're from and save. Line you're listening to through line from NPR and tell us what you think of the show. 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