Leaders of the banana plantations workers' strike. From left to right: Pedro M. del Río, Bernardino Guerrero, Raúl Eduardo Mahecha, Nicanor Serrano and Erasmo Coronel. Guerrero and Coronel were killed by the Colombian army.
|Date||December 6, 1928|
|Target||Union workers of the United Fruit Company|
|Deaths||Unknown (estimated 47–2,000)|
The Banana massacre (Spanish: Matanza de las bananeras or Masacre de las bananeras) was a massacre of workers for the United Fruit Company that occurred on December 6, 1928 in the town of Ciénaga near Santa Marta, Colombia. An unknown number of workers died after the conservative government of Miguel Méndez sent the Colombian army to end a union strike for better working conditions. The government of the United States of America had threatened to invade with the U.S. Marine Corps if the Colombian government did not act to protect United Fruit’s interests.
The workers of the banana plantations in Colombia went on strike in December 1928. They demanded written contracts, eight-hour work days, six-day work weeks and the elimination of food coupons. The strike turned into the largest labor movement ever witnessed in the country until then. Radical members of the Liberal Party, as well as members of the Socialist and Communist Parties, participated.
An army regiment from Bogotá was dispatched by the government to deal with the strikers, which it deemed to be subversive. Whether these troops were sent in at the behest of the United Fruit Company did not clearly emerge.
The troops set up their machine guns on the roofs of the low buildings at the corners of the main square, closed off the access streets, and after a five-minute warning opened fire into a dense Sunday crowd of workers and their wives and children who had gathered, after Sunday Mass, to wait for an anticipated address from the governor.
General Cortés Vargas, who commanded the troops during the massacre, took responsibility for 47 casualties. In reality, the exact number of casualties has never been confirmed. Herrera Soto, co-author of a comprehensive and detailed study of the 1928 strike, has put together various estimates given by contemporaries and historians, ranging from 47 to as high as 2,000 . Survivors, popular oral histories and written documents give figures 800-3000 killed, adding that, the killers threw them into the sea.
Among the survivors was Luis Vicente Gámez, later a famous local figure, who survived by hiding under a bridge for three days. Every year after the massacre he delivered a memorial service over the radio.
Another version by official Jose Gregorio Guerrero said that the number of dead was nine: eight civilians and one soldier. Guerrero added that Jorge Eliécer Gaitán had exaggerated the number of deaths.
General Cortés Vargas, who issued the order to shoot, argued later that he had issued the order because he had information that U.S. boats were poised to land troops on Colombian coasts to defend American personnel and the interests of the United Fruit Company. This position was strongly criticized in the Senate, especially by Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, who argued that those same bullets should have been used to stop US troops.
Official U.S. telegrams
The Telegram from Bogotá Embassy to the U.S. Secretary of State, Frank B. Kellogg, dated December 5, 1928, stated:
|“||I have been following Santa Marta fruit strike through United Fruit Company representative here; also through Minister of Foreign Affairs who on Saturday told me government would send additional troops and would arrest all strike leaders and transport them to a prison in Cartagena; that government would give adequate protection to American interests involved.||”|
The Telegram from Santa Marta Consulate to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 6, 1928, stated:
|“||Feeling against the Government by the proletariat which is shared by some of the soldiers is high and it is doubtful if we can depend upon the Colombian Government for protection. May I respectfully suggest that my request for the presence within calling distance of an American warship be granted and that it stand off subject to my call ... It is admitted that the character of the strike has changed and that the disturbance is a manifestation with a subversive tendency.||”|
The Telegram from Bogotá Embassy to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 7, 1928, stated:
|“||Situation outside Santa Marta City unquestionably very serious: outside zone is in revolt; military who have orders "not to spare ammunition" have already killed and wounded about fifty strikers. Government now talks of general offensive against strikers as soon as all troopships now on the way arrive early next week.||”|
The Telegram from the U.S. Department of State to Santa Marta Consulate, dated December 8, 1928, stated:
|“||The Legation at Bogota reports that categorical orders have been given the authorities at Santa Marta to protect all American interests. The Department does not (repeat not) desire to send a warship to Santa Marta. Keep the Department informed of all developments by telegraph.||”|
The telegram from Santa Marta Consulate to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 9, 1928, stated:
|“||Troop train from banana zone just arrived in Santa Marta with all American citizens. No Americans killed or wounded. Guerrilla warfare now continuing in the zone but military forces are actively engaged in clearing the district of the Communists.||”|
The Dispatch from Santa Marta Consulate to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 11, 1928, stated:
|“||Looting and killing was carried on from the moment the announcement of a state of Martial Law was made and the fact that the American residents in the Zone came out of it alive is due to the defense they put up for six hours when they held off the mob that was bent upon killing them. I was justified in calling for help and I shall welcome the opportunity to defend the position that I took on the morning of the sixth and until the afternoon of the eighth.||”|
The Dispatch from Bogotá Embassy to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 11, 1928, stated:
|“||The opposition press, that is, the press of the Liberal Party, is conducting a violent campaign against the Government for the methods used in breaking up the strike, and is bandying ugly words about, especially referring to the Minister of War and the military forces, words such as murderer and assassin being used. Although the thinking people of the country realize that it was only the Government's prompt action that diverted a disaster, this insidious campaign of the Liberal press will undoubtedly work up a great deal of feeling against the Government and will tend to inculcate in the popular mind a belief that the Government was unduly hasty in protecting the interests of the United Fruit Company. The Conservative journals are defending the Government's course but I doubt that their counter-fire will suffice to do away with the damage the Liberal journals are causing.||”|
The Dispatch from U.S. Bogotá Embassy to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 29, 1928, stated:
|“||I have the honor to report that the legal advisor of the United Fruit Company here in Bogotá stated yesterday that the total number of strikers killed by the Colombian military authorities during the recent disturbance reached between five and six hundred; while the number of soldiers killed was one.||”|
The Dispatch from U.S. Bogotá Embassy to the US Secretary of State, dated January 16, 1929, stated:
|“||I have the honor to report that the Bogotá representative of the United Fruit Company told me yesterday that the total number of strikers killed by the Colombian military exceeded 1000.||”|
Guerrilla movements in Colombia such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) argued that the growth of Communism in Colombia was triggered by atrocities like these, and called it state terrorism. The Banana massacre was one of the principal causes of the Bogotazo, and the subsequent era of violence known as La Violencia.
- Posada-Carbó, Eduardo (May 1998). "Fiction as History: The bananeras and Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude". Journal of Latin American Studies 30 (2): 395–414. doi:10.1017/S0022216X98005094.
- See Talk:Santa Marta Massacre#The Death Toll
- "Chronology". The United Fruit Historical Society (on archive.org). Archived from the original on March 7, 2005. Retrieved March 6, 2006.
- Carrigan, Ana (1993). The Palace of Justice: A Colombian Tragedy. Four Walls Eight Windows. ISBN 0-941423-82-4. p. 16
- Bucheli, Marcelo. Bananas and business: The United Fruit Company in Colombia, 1899–2000. p. 132
- (Spanish) El Pilon: Verdades sobre la Masacre en las Bananeras
- The Santa Marta Massacre
- Gabriel García Márquez and His Approach to History in One Hundred Years of Solitude
- Chiquita brands and their actions in Colombia
- This Day In HISTORY: December 06, 1928 Banana Massacre The History Channel.