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Banana Republics and Public Relations

Chiquita Banana Spokesbanana So I came upon this image of a Chiquita Banana spokesbanana, and I was thoroughly disturbed. Here's a YouTube video of a commercial she starred in! I ended up copying that picture as my daily doodle.

One of my Latin American friends commented that he wishes I had chosen another subject. I assume he was referring to Chiquita's history as United Fruit Company, and its history of starting wars and molding governments in Central America to maximize its bottom line, thus leading to the term "banana republic". I had in fact earlier today been reading about banana republics because of this drawing, and I replied with a comment so long I'm going to make it part of this blog post:

Actually, drawing this led me to read up on the United Fruit Company and its role in inducing the CIA to topple the democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in Guatemala (Operation PBSUCCESS), based on faulty intelligence that Arbenz was in league with the Soviets, when he wasn't, and thus leading to 52 years of civil strife in which hundreds of thousands would die, and millions would be displaced.

It was really interesting and sad, especially how the CIA at the time saw Guatemala as the gold standard of how to stage a coup, but it's now clear that it was a total disaster.

And actually, one of the most fascinating parts of it all was how the coup was staged in part with the propaganda services of Edward Bernays, self-styled "father of public relations" (though that title was in itself a bit of PR). The coup was a military failure until large portions of the Guatemalan army defected, so Bernays' work may well have been instrumental. He was a big fan of influencing "third party authorities", who would then convince the public of the good of the product. (One example is how he got doctors to tell patients to eat bacon and eggs because a heavy breakfast was important.. in order to sell bacon.)

The concept of PR is fundamentally disturbing to me because it's all about hacking our brains.. and the public has the short end of the stick in the arms race. (Then again, the public has the short end of the stick in any arms race, but brain-hacking seems especially unfair. :\ )

* * *

[Diego Rivera's Glorious Victory]

This is Diego Rivera's sarcastically titled, "Glorious Victory", depicting nominal coup leader Castillo Armas shaking hands with CIA Director Allen Dulles in the center, while Dulles holds a bomb with President Eisenhower's face on it. (Allen Dulles was on the Board of Directors of United Fruit Company at the time of the coup.) Next to him is US Ambassador to Guatemala John Peurifoy, handing money to various military men. Meanwhile, people are being butchered and tied up while others load bananas onto a ship.

* * *

Oh so this stuff isn't just history. From 1997 through 2004, Chiquita paid protection money [official DOJ release] to the Colombian terrorist organization AUC. The AUC was designed as a terrorist organization by the US government in 2001, and Chiquita kept making payments even though some of their lawyers advised them not to. Their board of directors eventually self-disclosed to the DOJ, but they kept on making payments until they finally plead guilty and paid a $25 million fine. (They have since sold off their Colombian division to a local company.)

Comments (2)

They have since sold off their Colombian division to a local company.

What are the odds that they have an exclusive contract to buy all the fruit from that local company and the local company continues to pay off the AUC?

The saddest part of all is that Chiquita gets away with murder by paying $25 million. I guess everything has it price in this life. I wonder how much do I have to pay to live in a just and peaceful world?

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 14, 2009.

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