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Bananas! How United Fruit Company Shaped the World

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Gjorgji Mangrski

Professor Chryssa Sharp

MBA 570 International Business Operations

July 19, 2011

Bananas! How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World

When you take a glimpse at the title of the book, the first thing that you notice is the high contrast in intensity that the title produces. At the start you have the word Banana, a simple, delicious and common fruit, and right after you have a rather ambitious and somewhat silly sentence of how a fruit company shaped the world. It is not until you get to the end of the book, where you realize that the title carries much meaning, and your doubtfulness was completely unnecessary. The book has everything that a modern fantasy novel has in its chapters; a ghost company, a highly desired commodity, dirty money, spies, government agencies, highly corrupted dictators, overthrowing of governments, and all of that is set in the mysterious landscapes of Central America at the turn of the last century. The only difference between those cheap fantasy novels and this one, is that this one is true, that all of the things we read in the book, actually took place, often times under the nose of the unsuspecting American people. The book successfully weaves a web full of deceit, greed and betrayal, which stretches right into the government offices in Washington.

The central "protagonist" in this book is The United Fruit Company, deceitfully naively named, with its headquarters in New Orleans. A company that takes a simple fruit, the banana, and turns it into a yellow monster that will swallow so many lives in its pursuit for the green dollar. The author paints a clear picture of how a fruit that had been largely unknown outside its native lands can be masterfully crafted into, what is today, "the fourth major food after rice, wheat, and milk" (Chapman 20). Although there have been companies that have used some of the techniques that The United Fruit Company used, to "get ahead" of the competition, to increase revenue, or just to save themselves from disasters, they cannot even begin to compare to the magnitude of the dealings that El Pulpo, or The Octopus, as it was known around Central America, did in its operating lifespan. Although always governed by the capitalist credo "maximum revenue", the tools that they used to master this, ranged from simple bribery, to modern slavery, neo-colonialism and dethroning of governments. The simplest way of explaining this is by using Chapman's own literary minimalism, "United Fruit was power" (8). They were the proud owners of the largest private health care system and the largest navy in the world, at the time. Even if you do not know anything else about this company, these two facts should be enough to convince you of their magnitude.

Even before we start explaining how The United Fruit Company rose to prominence, we have to take a quick look at their biggest asset, their "star" product, the banana. The banana is actually a plant that only grows near the jungles of tropical and wet climates, which makes its native lands, very limited. It has an unusual reproductive method; unlike most of the plants in this world, its fruit does not contain any seeds, thus its reproductive rate is unfit for the mass-market as it can only produce so much. That is why the Company found out that by cutting parts of a mature stem and by re-planting it elsewhere, they can farm this previously un-farmable plant, and make it what it is today, an everyday commodity, instead of what nature had intended, scarce, potassium - rich delicacy. This was the seed from which the power of the United Fruit Company grew for almost hundred years. Throughout the beginning, The United Fruit Compnay realized that not all bananas are created equal. Out of all of those varieties, the Company focused only to one, Gros Michel, or Big Mike; it was the variety that gave the biggest "bang for the buck". It was big, resistant to bruising during transport, and as they thought in the beginning, resistant to plant diseases. The only reason that I mention the nature of the banana is to try and explain how business savvy The United Fruit Company was. As Chapman said it:

United Fruit was a pioneer of mass production. With its one-size-fits-all banana, the company beat Henry Ford, the man often credited as the pioneer of industrial standardization, by a number of years. (...) Their product, Big Mike, also suited the most general of tastes. It was not too big or too small, too yellow, or too sweet. (...) United Fruit bananas were the forerunners of those products we know today: the cup of cross-cultural coffee foam; the multinational hamburger. For Big Mike read Big Mac" (19, 20)

The happenings in this book perfectly intertwine with several aspects of our textbook; it is international business in its dirtiest form. When The United Fruit Company got its product modified to "perfection", it got started in the mission of maximizing their profits by any means. When you take a cold look at their practices,



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