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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
ObjectiveTo enforce United States interests in Central America and Caribbean
DateApril 21, 1898[a] – August 1, 1934
(36 years, 3 months, 1 week and 4 days)
Executed byUnited States

The Banana Wars were 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 "banana wars" 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.


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 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

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 3 armed conflicts occurred between independence and the rise to power of the Carias government.[10] This instability was due in part to the American involvement in the country.[10]

The first company that concluded an agreement with the Honduras government was the Vaccaro Brothers Company (Standard Fruit Company).[10] The Cuyamel Fruit Company then followed their lead. United Fruit Company also contracted with the government through its subsidiaries, Tela Railroad Company and Truxillo Rail Road Company.[10]

Contract between the Honduran government and the American companies most often involved exclusive rights to a piece of land in exchange for building railroads in Honduras.[10]

However, banana producers in Central America (including Honduras) "were scourged by Panama disease, a soil-borne fungus (…) that decimated production over large regions".[11] Typically, companies would abandon the decimated plantations and destroy the railroads and other utilities that they had used along with the plantation,[11] so the exchange of services between the government and the companies was not always respected.

The ultimate goal of the contracts for the companies was control of the banana trade from production to distribution. The companies would finance guerrilla fighters, presidential campaigns and governments.[10] According to Rivera and Carranza, the indirect participation of American companies in the country's armed conflicts worsened the situation.[10] The presence of more dangerous and modern weapons allowed more dangerous warfare among the factions.[10]

In British Honduras (modern-day Belize) the situation was significantly different. Despite the fact that the United Fruit Company was the sole exporter of bananas there and the company was also attempting to manipulate the local government, the country did not suffer the instability and armed conflicts its neighbors experienced.[11]

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. After his forced retirement for making reckless statements, Smedley made a career of speaking to left-wing groups denouncing capitalism. His standard speech after 1933 was titled War is a Racket, where 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".[12]

See also


  1. ^ The US declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898, but dated the beginning of the war retroactively to April 21
  2. ^ 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. ^ Gilderhurst, Mark (1999). The Second Century: U.S.-Latin American Relations Since 1889.
  2. ^ a b c d Langley, Lester D. (1983). The Banana Wars: United States Intervention in the Caribbean, 1898–1934. University Press of Kentucky. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-8420-5047-0.
  3. ^ Roosevelt, Theodore (December 7, 1903). Theodore Roosevelt's Third State of the Union Address  – via Wikisource.
  4. ^ McCallum, Jack (2006). Leonard Wood: Rough Rider, Surgeon, Architect of American Imperialism. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-5699-7 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ 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. ISBN 978-0-02-588210-2.
  6. ^ "US Military and Clandestine Operations in Foreign Countries – 1798–Present". Global Policy Forum. 2005. Archived from the original on November 12, 2020.
  7. ^ a b Hickman, Kennedy (August 4, 2015). "Mexican Revolution: Battle of Veracruz". ThoughtCo. Dotdash. Archived from the original on November 14, 2020. Retrieved March 17, 2016.
  8. ^ Hubert, Giles A. (January 1947). "War and the Trade Orientation of Haiti". Southern Economic Journal. 13 (3): 276–84. doi:10.2307/1053341. JSTOR 1053341 – via JSTOR.
  9. ^ "Where did banana republics get their name?". The Economist. Economist Group. November 21, 2013. Archived from the original on November 14, 2020. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Rivera, Miguel Cáceres; Carranza, Sucelinda Zelaya (2005). "Honduras. Productive security and economic growth: the economic function of the cariato". Yearbook of Central American Studies. 31: 49–91. ISSN 0377-7316.
  11. ^ a b c Moberg, Mark (1996). "Crown Colony as Banana Republic: The United Fruit Company in British Honduras, 1900-1920". Journal of Latin American Studies. Cambridge University Press. 28 (2): 357–381. doi:10.1017/S0022216X00013043. JSTOR 157625 – via JSTOR.
  12. ^ Butler, Smedley (1933). War is a Racket (Speech). US.

Further reading

  • Anthony, Constance G. "American democratic interventionism: Romancing the iconic Woodrow Wilson." International Studies Perspectives 9.3 (2008): 239-253 [ abstract.
  • Gilderhusrt, Mark T. The Second Century: U.S.-Latin American Relations Since 1889 (1999) excerpt
  • Langley, Lester D. The Banana Wars: United States Intervention in the Caribbean, 1898–1934 (UP of Kentucky, 1983).
  • Weeks, Gregory B. U.S. and Latin American relations (John Wiley & Sons, 2015).

External links

This page was last edited on 8 June 2021, at 16:17
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