Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Behind the Songs: United Fruit

"Oh the companies keep a sharp eye
And pay their respects to the army
To watch for the hot-blooded leaders
And be prepared for the junta to
crush them like flies"
--Phil Ochs, "United Fruit" (1965)

Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World

"United Fruit was a phenomenon. In its day . . . it was not so much a company as an unrecognized state."
--The Times Literary Supplement

In 1975, Eli Black, the CEO of conglomerate United Brands and an ordained Rabbi, smashed a window on the forty-fourth floor of the Pan Am building in New York and leapt to his death. What he left behind was the bloody history of the United Fruit Company's corporate subterfuge and a Wall Street takeover gone horribly wrong.

In this dramatic exploration of one of the world's most controversial multinational corporations, Financial Times journalist Peter Chapman shows how the banana importer United Fruit created the blueprint for how global corporations wield influence and power at nearly any cost. Bananas is a sharp and lively history of the rise and fall of this infamous company, from the jungles of Costa Rica to the halls of power in Washington D.C. Along the way the company fostered covert links with U.S. power brokers such as Richard Nixon and CIA operative Howard Hunt, manipulated the press, stoked the revolutionary ire of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, and inspired the literary mind of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

From the groundbreaking national marketing of the banana as the first fast food, to the company's involvement in an invasion of Honduras, the Bay of Pigs crisis, and a deadly coup in Guatemala, Chapman weaves a gripping tale of big business and political deceit, as well as exploring the tenuous ecology of the banana itself. With institutionalized business-bullying practices and cozy relationships with governments throughout the Central American "banana republics," the United Fruit Company story continues to echo in today's world of rapid globalizationl, mutually dependent markets, and peaking natural resources.

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