Banana Massacre

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Banana Massacre
Workerbananamassacred.png
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.

The Banana Massacre (Spanish: Matanza de las bananeras or Spanish: Masacre de las bananeras[1]) was a massacre of as many as 3000 United Fruit Company workers that occurred between December 5 and 6, 1928 in the town of Ciénaga near Santa Marta, Colombia. The strike began on November 12, 1928, when the workers ceased to work until the company would reach an agreement with them to grant them dignified working conditions.[2] After several weeks with no agreement and no work, costing the company severe financial losses, the conservative government of Miguel Abadía Méndez sent the army in against the strikers, resulting in the massacre.

After U.S. officials in Colombia and United Fruit representatives portrayed the workers' strike as "communist" with a "subversive tendency" in telegrams to the U.S. Secretary of State,[3] the United States government threatened to invade with the U.S. Marine Corps if the Colombian government did not act to protect United Fruit’s interests. The Colombian government was also compelled to work for the interests of the company, considering they could cut off trade of Colombian bananas with significant markets such as the United States and Great Britain.[4]

Gabriel García Márquez depicted a fictional version of the massacre in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, as did Álvaro Cepeda Samudio in his La Casa Grande. Although García Márquez references the number of dead as around three thousand, the actual number of dead workers is unknown[citation needed].

Strike[edit]

The workers of the banana plantations in Colombia went on strike in November 12, 1928. The workers made nine different demands from the United Fruit Company:

  1. Stop their hiring practices through sub-contractors
  2. Mandatory collective insurance
  3. Compensation for work accidents
  4. Hygienic dormitories and 6 day work weeks
  5. Increase in daily pay for workers who earned less than 100 pesos per month
  6. Weekly wage
  7. Abolition of office stores
  8. Abolition of payment through coupons rather than money
  9. Improvement of hospital services [2]

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.[5]

However, these were not socialist demands. The workers just wanted to be recognized as employees, and demanded the implementation of the Colombian legal framework of the 1920s.[6]

Massacre[edit]

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.

Three hundred soldiers were sent from Antioquia to Magdalena. There were no soldiers from Magdalena involved because General Cortes Vargas, the army-appointed military chief of the banana zone in charge of controlling the situation, did not believe they would be able to take effective actions, as they might be related to the plantation workers.[2]

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,[7] and after a five-minute warning[1] opened fire into a dense Sunday crowd of workers and their families including children who had gathered, after Sunday Mass,[7] to wait for an anticipated address from the governor.[8]

Number of dead[edit]

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.[1] Other sources claim that the bodies were buried in mass graves.[2]

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 gave the number of dead as nine: eight civilians and one soldier. Guerrero added that Jorge Eliécer Gaitán had exaggerated the number of deaths.[9]

The press has reported different numbers of deaths and different opinions about the events that took place that night. The conclusion is that there is no agreed-on story, but rather diverse variations depending on the source they come from. The American press provided biased information on the strike.[2] The Colombian press was also biased depending on the political alignment of the publication. For example, the Bogotá-based newspaper El Tiempo stated that the workers were within their rights in wanting to improve their conditions. However, since the newspaper was politically conservative, they also noted that they did not agree with the strike.[2]

Official U.S. telegrams[edit]

Telegram from Bogotá Embassy to the U.S. Secretary of State, Frank B. Kellogg, dated December 5, 1928, stated:

Telegram from Santa Marta Consulate to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 6, 1928, stated:

Telegram from Bogotá Embassy to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 7, 1928, stated:

Telegram from the U.S. Department of State to Santa Marta Consulate, dated December 8, 1928, stated:

Telegram from Santa Marta Consulate to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 9, 1928, stated:

Dispatch from Santa Marta Consulate to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 11, 1928, stated:

Dispatch from Bogotá Embassy to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 11, 1928, stated:

Dispatch from U.S. Bogotá Embassy to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 29, 1928, stated:

Dispatch from U.S. Bogotá Embassy to the US Secretary of State, dated January 16, 1929, stated:

Consequences[edit]

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.[citation needed]

Some sources claim there are connections between this massacre and the atrocities committed in more recent years by Chiquita Brands in Colombian territory.[10] Chiquita admitted paying 1.7 million dollars to the paramilitary group AUC (United Self Defense Forces of Colombia), who have killed hundreds of Colombian citizens.[11] This company has financed war machines by paying this terrorist group.[10] They claimed that they had been victims of extortion and said the payments were made as a way to protect their workers from the paramilitaries, but the people seem to object. In the documentary “Banana Land” Colombian plantain workers speak up about how they feel terrorized by multinational companies like Chiquita and their work with paramilitaries. They even say that people who speak up about the way they feel are at risk of being targeted by the AUC.[10]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c 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. Archived from the original on 2006-05-31. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Elias Caro, Jorge Enrique; Vidal Ortega, Antonio (2012). "The Worker's Massacre of 1928 in the Magdalena Zona Bananera - Colombia. An Unfinished Story". MEMORIAS Revista Digital De Historia y Arqueología Desde El Caribe Colombiano. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j https://web.archive.org/web/20120717004708/http://www.icdc.com/~paulwolf/colombia/santamarta.htm
  4. ^ Brungardt, Maurice (1997). "La United Fruit Company en Colombia". Innovar. 
  5. ^ "Chronology". The United Fruit Historical Society (on archive.org). Archived from the original on March 7, 2005. Retrieved March 6, 2006. 
  6. ^ Daniel, Bender; Lipman, Jana (2015). Making the Empire Work: Labor and United States Imperialism. New York University Press. pp. 104–133. 
  7. ^ a b Carrigan, Ana (1993). The Palace of Justice: A Colombian Tragedy. Four Walls Eight Windows. ISBN 0-941423-82-4.  p. 16
  8. ^ Bucheli, Marcelo. Bananas and business: The United Fruit Company in Colombia, 1899–2000.  p. 132
  9. ^ (in Spanish) El Pilon: Verdades sobre la Masacre en las Bananeras[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ a b c Glacer, Jason, director. Banana Land: Blood, Bullets and Poison. Banana Land: Blood, Bullets and Poison, 2 June 2015, bananalandmovie.org
  11. ^ The Associated Press (2007). "Victims of Colombian Conflict Sue Chiquita Brands". 

External links[edit]