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Banana Wars
Occupation of Haiti.jpg
United States Marines and a Haitian guide patrolling the jungle in 1915 during the Battle of Fort Dipitie
ObjectiveProtect United States interests in Central America and Caribbean
Executed byUnited States

The Banana Wars were the occupations, police actions, and interventions on the part of the United States in Central America and the Caribbean between the end of the Spanish–American War in 1898 and the inception of the Good Neighbor Policy in 1934.[1] These military interventions were most often carried out by the United States Marine Corps, which developed a manual, The Strategy and Tactics of Small Wars (1921) based on its experiences. On occasion, the Navy provided gunfire support and Army troops were also used.

With the Treaty of Paris, Spain ceded control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States. Thereafter, the United States conducted military interventions in Cuba, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. The series of conflicts ended with the withdrawal of troops from Haiti in 1934 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The term was popularized in 1983[2] by writer Lester D. Langley. Langley wrote several books on Latin American history and American interactions including The United States and the Caribbean, 1900–1970 and The Banana Wars: An Inner History of American Empire, 1900-1934. His book on the Banana Wars encompasses the United States tropical empire that overtook the western hemisphere spanning both of the Roosevelt presidencies. The term was popularized through this writing which portrayed the United States as a police force that was sent to reconcile warring tropical countries, lawless societies and corrupt politicians, establishing a reign over tropical trade.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Banana Wars Explained
  • ✪ 1954, Guatemala - CIA & the United Fruit Company, Jacobo Arbenz




The Banana Wars began with injustices, corruption, lawless societies and labor abuse in Latin America. Banana workers began what was comparable to a civil rights movement in the tropical fruit trade. Warring tropical countries stemmed from maltreatment[clarification needed] and abusive working conditions gave rise to one of the earliest and most militant labor movements in early Latin America. When high import duties on bananas were announced in 1913, consumer representatives together with the banana industry protested successfully. They claimed it was the most widely consumed fruit among the urban poor, thus contrasting it with the aristocratic traditions associated with the consumption of other tropical commodities such as tea, coffee, and chocolate. The discourse and corruption facing Latin American people and governments is what prompted the United States influence.[clarification needed]

United States Marines with the captured flag of Augusto César Sandino of Nicaragua in 1926
United States Marines with the captured flag of Augusto César Sandino of Nicaragua in 1926

U.S. motivations for these conflicts were largely economic and military. The term "Banana Wars" was coined much later to cast the motivations for these interventions[citation needed] as almost exclusively the preservation of petty U.S. commercial interests in the region.

Most prominently, the US was advancing its economic, political, and military interests to maintain its sphere of influence and securing the Panama Canal (opened in 1914) which it had recently built to promote global trade and to project its own naval power. US companies such as the United Fruit Company also had financial stakes in the production of bananas, tobacco, sugar cane, and other commodities throughout the Caribbean, Central America and northern South America.


American warships off Veracruz in 1914
American warships off Veracruz in 1914
  • Panama: U.S. interventions in the isthmus go back to the 1846 Mallarino–Bidlack Treaty and intensified after the so-called Watermelon War of 1856. In 1885 US military intervention gained a mandate with the construction of the Panama Canal. The building process collapsed in bankruptcy, mismanagement, and disease in 1889, but resumed in the 20th century.[2] In 1903, Panama seceded from the Republic of Colombia, backed by the U.S. government,[a] during the Thousand Days' War. The Panama Canal was under construction by then, and the Panama Canal Zone, under United States sovereignty, was created. The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty was to negotiate the Nicaragua canal with the United Kingdom and Ireland. The treaty was to make sure no one would have control over the canal but to protect the canal. But with the death of Clayton-Bulwer Treaty in 1899 it allowed the US government to continue to construct and to regulate isthmian waterway. The new treaty was called Hay–Pauncefote Treaty. It also allowed the US full control and managing the canal.[2]
  • Spanish–American War: U.S. forces seize Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898. The end of the Spanish–American War led to the start of Banana Wars.
  • Cuba: In December 1899 US president William McKinley deemed Leonard Wood to have supreme power in Cuba.[4] The U.S. liberated Cubans from the Spanish Empire. Occupied by the U.S. from 1898 to 1902 under military governor Leonard Wood, and again from 1906 to 1909, 1912, and 1917 to 1922; subject to the terms of the Cuban–American Treaty of Relations (1903) until 1934. In 1903 took a permanent lease on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
  • Dominican Republic: Action in 1903, 1904 (the Santo Domingo Affair), and 1914 (Naval forces engage in battles in the city of Santo Domingo[5]); occupied by the U.S. from 1916 to 1924.
  • Nicaragua: Occupied by the U.S. almost continuously from 1912 to 1933, after intermittent landings and naval bombardments in the decades beforehand. The U.S. had their troops in Nicaragua to prevent their leaders from creating conflict within their country. The bluejackets and marines were there to create peace and was able to for about 15 years.[2] The U.S. wanted to teach Nicaragua to elect "good men".[2]
  • Mexico: The U.S. military involvements with Mexico in this period are related to the same general commercial and political causes, but stand as a special case. The Americans conducted the Border War with Mexico from 1910-1919 for additional reasons: to control the flow of immigrants and refugees from revolutionary Mexico (pacificos), and to counter rebel raids into U.S. territory. The 1914 U.S. occupation of Veracruz, however, was an exercise of armed influence, not an issue of border integrity; it was aimed at cutting off the supplies of German munitions to the government of Mexican leader Victoriano Huerta,[6] which U.S. President Woodrow Wilson refused to recognize.[6] In the years prior to World War I, the U.S. was also alert to the regional balance of power against Germany. The Germans were actively arming and advising the Mexicans, as shown by the 1914 SS Ypiranga arms-shipping incident, German saboteur Lothar Witzke's base in Mexico City, the 1917 Zimmermann Telegram and German advisors present during the 1918 Battle of Ambos Nogales. Only twice during the Mexican Revolution did the U.S. military occupy Mexico: during the temporary occupation of Veracruz in 1914 and between 1916 and 1917, when U.S. General John Pershing led U.S. Army forces on a nationwide search for Pancho Villa.
  • Haiti, occupied by the U.S. from 1915–1934, which led to the creation of a new Haitian constitution in 1917 that instituted changes that included an end to the prior ban on land ownership by non-Haitians. This period included the First and Second Caco Wars.[7]
  • Honduras, where the United Fruit Company and Standard Fruit Company dominated the country's key banana export sector and associated land holdings and railways, saw insertion of American troops in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925. The writer O. Henry coined the term "Banana republic" in 1904 to describe Honduras.[8]

Other Latin American nations were influenced or dominated by American economic policies and/or commercial interests to the point of coercion. Theodore Roosevelt declared the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine in 1904, asserting the right of the United States to intervene to stabilize the economic affairs of states in the Caribbean and Central America if they were unable to pay their international debts. From 1909-1913, President William Howard Taft and his Secretary of State Philander C. Knox asserted a more "peaceful and economic" Dollar Diplomacy foreign policy, although that too was backed by force, as in Nicaragua.

American fruit companies

The first decades of Honduras' history is marked by instability in terms of politics and economy. Indeed, the political context gave way to 210 armed conflicts between independence and the rise to power of the Carias government.[9] This instability was due in part to the American involvement in the country.[9]

The first company that concluded an agreement with the Honduras government was the Vaccaro Brothers Company (Standard Fruit Company).[9] The Cuyamel Fruit Company then followed the lead. Furthermore, the United Fruit Company also agreed to a contract with the government, which contract was attained through its Subsidiaries (Tela Rail Road Company and Truxillo Rail Road Company).[9]

There were different avenues that led to the signature of a contract between the Honduras government and the American companies. The most popular avenue would be to obtain exclusive rights to a piece of land in exchange of the completion of railroads in Honduras.[9] It is, thus, the reason why it is a railroad company that conducted the agreement between the United Fruit Company and Honduras.

However, according to Mark Moberg, most banana producers in Central America (including Honduras) "were scourged by Panama disease, a soil-borne fungus (…) that decimated production over large regions".[10] Typically, when a plantation would be decimated, the companies would abandon the plantation, and destroy the railroads (and other utilities) that they had been using along with the plantation.[10] Therefore, one might argue that the exchange of services between the government and the companies was not always respected.

The ultimate goal in the acquisition of a contract was to control the process from production to distribution of the bananas. Therefore, the companies would finance guerrilla fighters, presidential campaigns and governments.[9] According to Rivera and Carranza, the indirect participation of American companies in the country's armed conflicts worsened the situation.[9] They argued that the presence of more dangerous and modern weapons gave place to more dangerous warfare among the different factions.[9]

In British Honduras (modern-day Belize) the situation was slightly different. Despite the fact that the United Fruit Company was the sole exporter of bananas in British Honduras and the company was also manipulating the government, the country did not suffer the instability and armed conflicts its neighbors experienced.[10]

Notable veteran

Perhaps the single most active military officer in the Banana Wars was U.S. Marine Corps Major General, Smedley Butler, nicknamed "Maverick Marine", who saw action in Honduras in 1903, served in Nicaragua enforcing American policy from 1909 to 1912, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his role in Veracruz in 1914, and a second Medal of Honor for bravery in Haiti in 1915. In 1935, in his book War is a Racket, he denounced the role he had played, describing himself as "a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers...a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism".[11][page needed]


  1. ^ In December 1903, President Roosevelt put the number of "revolutions, rebellions, insurrections, riots, and other outbreaks" in Panama at 53 in the space of 57 years.[3]


  1. ^ Gilderhusrt, Mark T. (2000). The Second Century: U.S.--Latin American Relations Since 1889. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 49.
  2. ^ a b c d e Langley, Lester D. (1983). The Banana Wars: United States Intervention in the Caribbean, 1898–1934. University Press of Kentucky. p. 3. ISBN 0-8131-1496-9.
  3. ^ Roosevelt, Theodore (December 7, 1903). Theodore Roosevelt's Third State of the Union Address  – via Wikisource.
  4. ^ Musicant, Ivan (1991). The Banana Wars: A History of United States Military Intervention in Latin America from the Spanish–American War to the Invasion of Panama. New york: Macmillan.
  5. ^ "US Military and Clandestine Operations in Foreign Countries - 1798-Present".
  6. ^ a b "Mexican Revolution: Battle of Veracruz". August 4, 2015. Retrieved March 17, 2016.
  7. ^ Hubert, Giles A. (January 1947). "War and the Trade Orientation of Haiti". Southern Economic Journal. 13 (3): 276–84. JSTOR 1053341.
  8. ^ Economist explains (November 21, 2013). "Where did banana republics get their name?". Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Miguel Cáceres Rivera and Sucelinda Zelaya Carranza, "Honduras. Seguridad Productiva y Crecimiento Econoómico: La Función Económica Del Cariato," Anuario de Estudios Centroamericanos, Vol. 31 (2005), pp. 49–91.
  10. ^ a b c Mark Moberg, "Crown Colony as Banana Republic: The United Fruit Company in British Honduras, 1900-1920," Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 28, No. 2 (May 1996), pp. 357–381.
  11. ^ Butler, Smedley (1935). War Is a Racket. Round Table Press.

External links

This page was last edited on 22 March 2019, at 08:54
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