Banana Wars

Power, Production, and History in the Americas

Banana Wars

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 8 illustrations, 16 tables, 11 figures Published: November 2003

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, History > U.S. History, Latin American Studies

Over the past century, the banana industry has radically transformed Latin America and the Caribbean and become a major site of United States–Latin American interaction. Banana Wars is a history of the Americas told through the cultural, political, economic, and agricultural processes that brought bananas from the forests of Latin America and the Caribbean to the breakfast tables of the United States and Europe. The first book to examine these processes in all the western hemisphere regions where bananas are grown for sale abroad, Banana Wars advances the growing body of scholarship focusing on export commodities from historical and social scientific perspectives.

Bringing together the work of anthropologists, sociologists, economists, historians, and geographers, this collection reveals how the banana industry marshaled workers of differing nationalities, ethnicities, and languages and, in so doing, created unprecedented potential for conflict throughout Latin American and the Caribbean. The frequently abusive conditions that banana workers experienced, the contributors point out, gave rise to one of Latin America’s earliest and most militant labor movements. Responding to both the demands of workers’ organizations and the power of U.S. capital, Latin American governments were inevitably affected by banana production. Banana Wars explores how these governments sometimes asserted their sovereignty over foreign fruit companies, but more often became their willing accomplices. With several essays focusing on the operations of the extraordinarily powerful United Fruit Company, the collection also examines the strategies and reactions of the American and European corporations seeking to profit from the sale of bananas grown by people of different cultures working in varied agricultural and economic environments.

Philippe Bourgois
Marcelo Bucheli
Dario Euraque
Cindy Forster
Lawrence Grossman
Mark Moberg
Laura T. Raynolds
Karla Slocum
John Soluri
Steve Striffler
Allen Wells


"Banana Wars provides us with a detailed account of its historical and current importance. . . . In describing the history, sociology, and current state of the banana export trade in the Americas, this book illuminates a sector of agricultural development that has important lessons to teach agricultural scientist and historians. . . . Agricultural historians will find it a rich lode of information on the origin and current state of the banana trade." — Hans Christian Wien A, Agricultural History

"[A] superb set of insights. . . . Collectively, the contributors illuminate the specific national or regional intersections of ecology, economics, and politics in the banana business." — Lisa Markowitz , Gastronomica

"[F]ine and remarkably coherent. . . . [T]aken together the essays provide a provocative perspective on the otherwise faddish and often vacuous notion of 'globalization.'" — James Herron, Journal of Latin American Anthropology

"[T]he book can be recommended for its success in highlighting the diverse nature of the banana trade in the Americas, and the complex and fluid set of relationships that have underpinned the industry over the last century." — Peter Clegg, Bulletin of Latin American Research

"[T]he essays construct a rich and challenging whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, and I have to confess I was riveted. The collection works . . . both for those already familiar with Latin American and Caribbean history and for those entirely new to the banana." — Dana Frank , Labor

"This book will appeal to a wide range of readers beyond historians. Those who are interested in the changing role of labor groups, the dubious actions of powerful banana corporations, and the involvement of government agencies in mediating commodity production and the terms of its sale also will find the book of value. . . . A notable addition to the literature on United Fruit Company and provides further theoretical understanding for the commodity-chain framework." — Ian Read , Enterprise & Society

"This collection offers a fascinating and valuable panorama of the history of and current challenges facing the different actors involved in the production of bananas. It makes a welcome addition to the growing interdisciplinary area of commodity-system studies." — Aviva Chomsky , Hispanic American Historical Review

"[The book's] message and analyses are important for assessing how banana production has transformed the political, social, cultural, economic, and environmental landscape of several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. . . . The authors . . . have shown that truth often lies in the details. . . . An impressive collection." — Lester D. Langley , International History Review

"The editors have assembled an excellent collection covering a variety of topics across a broad expanse of time and space. . . . The range of perspectives and methodologies provides something for every taste, ranging from a standard business history to a study of discourse and counter-discourse on globalization. The result is entirely satisfactory, a great addition to the scholarship on the banana industry that is much more than a study of the United Fruit Company." — Paul Dosal , The Americas

"The new anthology Banana Wars sheds light on the complexities of the industry's social and economic history, deconstructing the already familiar images of the muscular United Fruit Company and its 'banana republics' and moving beyond them." — David Glenn , Chronicle of Higher Education

"This book is one of the most substantive academic pieces of work on the banana industry in Latin America and the Caribbean to appear in recent years." — Frank Ellis , Journal of Latin American Studies

"With this fine volume, the banana joins sugar and coffee as starring actors in the international drama of world trade, domestic social formations, and the creation of power. . . . Banana wars still simmer in various guises. At a time when globalization is greatly affecting our lives and our politics, this book is particularly compelling." — Steven Topik, American Historical Review

“As the first tropical fruit to fit into both a middle-class U.S. breakfast and a workingman’s lunchbox, bananas—yellow, soft, and innocent—were a slightly comical, faintly suspect, always welcome by-product of the Yankee imperial reach. These essays illuminate some of the geopolitical, environmental, and human costs of the banana’s enormous everyday popularity.”
  — Sidney Mintz, author of Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions into Eating, Culture, and the Past

“This innovative, stimulating collection brings together the best of the new work on the social, political, and cultural impact of banana exports in the Caribbean and Central and South America. The essays provide insight into the evolution of trade regimes, popular forms of contention, and the banana in the American imagination from the early twentieth century to the present. They signal new paths for comparative work on tropical commodities, corporate strategies, the interaction of multinational companies with local governments, labor movements, contract farming, growers associations, race, immigration, nationalism, dependency, globalization, and economic development.” — Catherine LeGrand, McGill University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Steve Striffler is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Latin American Studies at the University of Arkansas and the author of In the Shadows of State and Capital: The United Fruit Company, Popular Struggle, and Agrarian Restructuring in Ecuador, 1900–1995 (Duke University Press), winner of the Labor Section of the Latin American Studies Association’s 2003 award for Best Book.

Mark Moberg is Professor of Anthropology at the University of South Alabama. He is the author of Myths of Ethnicity and Nation: Immigration, Work, and Identity in the Belize Banana Industry and Citrus, Strategy, and Class: The Politics of Development in Southern Belize.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction / Mark Moberg and Steve Striffler 1

1. A Global Fruit

The Global Banana Trade / Laura T. Raynolds 23

Banana Cultures: Linking the Production and Consumption of Export Bananas, 1800–1980 / John Soluri 48

United Fruit Company in Latin America / Marcelo Bucheli 80

2. Central and South America

One Hundred Years of United Fruit Company Letters / Philippe Bourgois 103

Responsible Men and Sharp Yankees: The United Fruit Company, Resident Elites, and Colonial State in British Honduras / Mark Moberg 145

The Logic of the Enclave: United Fruit, Popular Struggle, and Capitalist Transformation in Ecuador / Steve Striffler 171

"The Macondo of Guatemala": Banana Workers and National Revolutions in Tiquisate, 1944–1954 / Cindy Forster 191

The Threat of Blackness to the Mestizo Nation: Race and Ethnicity in the Honduran Banana Economy, 1920s and 1930s / Darío A. Euraque 229

3. The Caribbean

Discourses and Counterdiscourses on Globalization and the St. Lucian Banana Industry / Karla Slocum 253

The St. Vincent Banana Growers' Association, Contract Farming, and the Peasantry / Lawrence S. Grossman 286

Conclusions: Dialectical Bananas / Allen Wells 316

Bibliography 335

Contributors 361

Index 363
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3196-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3159-9
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