The banana conflicts (Part-3) : Regime-change mania

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After the Second World War, the colonies that had stood behind the Allies began to see themselves as equal partners. Reasonable, considering that without their support, victory for the Allies might not have been possible. The west has never really acknowledged this debt.

For example, had it not been for the unimpeded flow of oil from Iran’s oilfields, there was simply no way that the Allied push east into German-held territories after Normandy would have been possible so swiftly. The same Iran is today being cornered and pilloried mercilessly by a cabal of five western nations in the name of nuclear proliferation, five wealthy nations who might even have ceased to exist had the Germans won the war.

Likewise, Indian soldiers died alongside British soldiers in North Africa. Libyans and Ethiopians fought their Italian colonial masters and thus ‘drew fire’ so that the Italians would not have enough troops left, to withstand the 1943 Allied landings in the Italian mainland. Be that as it may, now that the war was over and their masters were reeling from the burden of reconstruction, the colonies wanted their pound of flesh – full freedom and evacuation of their lands.

The Americans were craftier. Unlike their European cousins, they never colonized anyone. When you have 800 military bases, spread over 63 countries worldwide, manned by 350000 military personnel, 17000 of whom are permanently afloat on 11 Aircraft Carrier Strike Groups that cover every ocean and sea, bringing every inch of  the world within strike range, why colonize? Heck, the whole goddamn world is your colony.

The Americans have always had a different playbook, called the ‘stranglehold’ – install a tin-pot dictator as a puppet, pay him well, train him to crush dissent and then go in and plunder, while your spin doctors paint a picture to the world of you as a cute and cuddly Santa helping in the ‘development’ of the little nation, and saving it from evil (communism then and Islamic fundamentalism now). It is indeed a nice partnership – the dictator crushes dissent, prevents any kind of reforms from happening and you do what you do best, you plunder. The US zealously builds and maintains many similar partnerships even today.

After the Second World War, there was a nationalistic fervor that was palpable among most of those tiny nations that had been colonized. Reform became the mantra. In the two decades that followed, there was a wave of reform movements leading to independence in virtually every continent, including Central America and the Caribbean.

Guatemala installed it’s first democratically elected head of state, Juan Jose Arevalo, overthrowing by popular vote, a goon called Jorge Ubico, under whose stewardship, United Fruit Company came to directly own 50% of Guatemala’s prime agricultural land where it grew bananas for export. President Arévalo brought in reforms that allowed the trade unions to confront United Fruit with a list of demands for better wages and working conditions for the workers.

Arévalo’s successor, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, proved to be even more zealous. Looking to confiscate and redistribute United Fruit’s lands to the real owners, the Guatemalan farmers, Arbenz proposed to the company that he intended to take back the 234000 acres that the company owned and offered the company $595000 in compensation.

The figure ($595000) was easy to establish. It was what regularly showed up on United Fruit’s tax returns as being the value of the land it owned in Guatemala, grossly under-valued in order to shaft the American tax-payers. Nice, no? Shafting the only two folk who provide you with your livelihood – the Guatemalan people and the American people.

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Guatemalan President, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, with a peasant, 1952(Photo courtesy: Wikimedia)

Pissed off because Jacobo Arbenz had it over a barrel and it stood to lose prime land that was actually worth in the excess of $25,000,000 (1954 dollars), United Fruit decided to run to mama (the ever-ready US Government), for help in engineering a coup d’etat and regime-change.

That proved to be easy. And why not? Every major US Government official had a family or business connection to United Fruit Company.

The then US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles and his law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, had been legal counsel for United Fruit for decades and hey, he was also a major shareholder in UFC. Dulles’s bro, Allen W Dulles, was also a major shareholder of the company and Allen just happened to be the Director of the CIA right then.

Conflict of interest? Wait, we haven’t even started yet.  General Robert Carter, head of the National Security Council was a former Chairman of the Board of United Fruit. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., America’s ambassador to the UN where he spun the spin, was also a shareholder. Ann Whitman, the wife of Edmund Whitman, United Fruit Company’s publicity director just happened to be President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personal secretary. John Moor Cabot, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, was also a major shareholder in United Fruit. And his brother, Thomas Dudley Cabot, was a Director of International Security in the State Department and had also been President of United Fruit. John McCoy, the President of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development was a former member of the Board of Directors. Walter Bedell Smith, the Director of the CIA until 1953 and Robert Hill, an Undersecretary of State, were members of the Board of Directors of United Fruit.

United Fruit Company owned America.

When an august group like the above leaders of the civilized world get together, there are no limits to what can be made to happen. The US Government moved in with it’s fearless marines, against a formidable and dastardly foe – a nation that was smaller than the US state of New York and had a GDP that was 950 times smaller.

While the spin masters like Edward Bernays (See Part-2) prepared the basis for the military invasion, through a web of lies that started with the non-existent commie threat, the CIA sat down and wrote a document named ‘Operation PBSUCCESS’ which was essentially a blueprint for a detailed plan for subversion, destabilization and assassinations against Guatemala, a sovereign country.

The New York Times (May 31, 1997) revealed the existence of an ‘Assassination Manual and Short-List’ outlining methods to be used and listing officials, including Arbenz himself, to be ‘neutralized’ through ‘Executive Action.’

The Nazis used to love calling the mass murder of Jews ‘The Final Solution of the Jewish Question’. They never once used the words ‘kill’, ‘murder’ or ‘assassinate’. Similarly, the Americans liked to be ‘civilized’ about the business of murder. They called assassinations ‘Executive Decisions’.

Arbenz was able to flee into exile but thousands of Guatemalans were rounded up and slaughtered. United Fruit got it’s lands back. Guatemala got itself a brand new dictator who promptly reversed all the social initiatives that Arbenz and his predecessor had set in motion.

Since then, the US has interfered in the internal politics of nations, attempting regime-change in many of them. Some have been a success and some total failures, some were short-lived and some stretched over decades, some were covert and some overt and some that are still ongoing, openly, in the name of democracy and gaining ‘hearts and minds’, a term that should make my heart and mind warm and fuzzy but sends shivers through it, instead.

Syria-1949, Iran-1953, Tibet 1955-70, Indonesia-1958, Cuba-1959, Iraq 1960-63, Dominican Republic-1961, South Vietnam-1963, Brazil-1964, Chile 1970-73, Afghanistan 1979-89, Turkey-1980, Poland 1980-89, Nicaragua 1981-90, Iraq 1992-96, Venezuela-2002, Iran 2005-Present, Syria 2012-present, Pakistan 1948-Present, to name just a few. If one ventures to seek the opinion of the man on the street in any one of the above nations how they feel about America, it will be overwhelmingly negative.

The most damning indictment of America’s battering ram foreign policy did not have to come from outside. Instead, it came from none other than one of America’s most decorated soldiers, if not the most decorated – Maj. General Smedley Darlington Butler (1881-1940), United States Marine Corps.

During his 34-year military career, Butler saw action in many theaters, including Central America and the Caribbean, where he led the troops in the infamous ‘Banana Wars’. He was decorated 16 times, twice with the Medal of Honor, and was the only soldier ever to have won the Marine Corps Brevet Medal and two Medals of Honor.

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In 1933, Genl Butler appeared before a Congressional committee where he charged that a group of wealthy businessmen, lead by the J.P.Morgan Bank, had approached him to help them in planning a military coup to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt and establish a Fascist, business friendly regime. He was not taken seriously and literally laughed out of the chamber.

Thoroughly disillusioned, Butler spent the rest of his years speaking and writing on the profit motive that America always attaches to war. I will leave you with this little pearl that he published in a magazine in 1935…..

“I spent 33 years and 4 months in active military service and during that time, I spent most days as a high-class muscle man for America’s Big Business, for Wall Street and it’s bankers. In short, I was a racketeer and an enforcer for capitalism. 

I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests. I helped make Haiti and Cuba safe for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of the banana companies. I helped purify Nicaragua for the Brown Brothers. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests. I helped make Honduras right for United Fruit Company. In China, I helped to see that Standard Oil went about its business, unmolested. 

Looking back, I might have been able to give Al Capone a few tips. The best he was able to do was to operate his rackets in three Chicago districts. I operated in three continents”.

Maj. Genl. Smedley Butler died early, at 59. The official cause was ‘incurable condition of the gastro-intestinal tract’. Slow and deliberate poisoning by mercury or arsenic is known to cause similar terminal illnesses. Genl. Butler would agree. He had been an enforcer himself.

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Epilogue

United Fruit Company lives on, as Chiquita Brands International. It’s main product still is bananas, none of which are grown inside the US. 9 out of 10 bananas consumed in the US are from it’s plantations. 2012 net revenues were $3.10 billion.

Chiquita’s connections with pro-US paramilitary groups in Colombia that maintain order inside the banana plantations through raw terror, are well documented. Some of these groups are on international watch-lists for terrorist organisations

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4 thoughts on “The banana conflicts (Part-3) : Regime-change mania”

  1. Gary Robinson said:

    I had come across that quote by Butler before. Your article is really good, Achyut. I read books years ago about the involvement of the CIA in South American. It is a dark stain on that country’s history, for sure.

    Like

    • spunkybong said:

      I am glad you found it interesting, Gary. I had a Chilean colleague who escaped Auguste Pinochet and his goons, by the skin of his teeth.

      Like

  2. Gary Robinson said:

    I have always had a fondness for Chilean poets and the whole Chilean nightmare that happened in 1973 has never failed to leave my imagination. Perhaps you could write an article on your friend’s narrow escape, Achyut?

    Like

    • spunkybong said:

      He has just retired and I don’t have his contact details. But surely some his buddies who are still around will know. I’ll get on to it. Thanks for pointing me in that direction. That was indeed a very very dark history, one of the few times that evil came out and stood in the open.

      Like

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