Gangster Capitalism: The Banana Wars

Posted: April 7, 2015 in Debt, Geo Politics, Poverty
Tags: , , ,

One of the most decorated US military officers, Smedley Butler famously wrote in his book ‘War is a Racket’;

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

His comments were in part reference to the ‘Banana Wars’ – a perfect example of how the gun, and not the market, dictates so-called free-trade.

My recent posts have centred on exploring the link between European imperialism and the establishment of global trade and capitalism. However, the Banana Wars illustrate a poignant example of US imperialism – although of course, this nation is of European origin itself.

In place of British concerns regarding the Suez Canal and its lucrative connections of trade routes, we find US concerns of the Panama Canal and the ‘neighbourhood’ of the Americas which needed to be dominated and controlled. In place of the East India Corporation and its exploits, we find the United Fruit Company, and its overriding financial interests in the various plantations and crops of the Latin Americas. The motives are similar, however these wars took a slightly unusual turn in 1990’s when the slave masters took on each other for almost complete control of a key market

The former US colonies in South America which yielded Bananas had some competition from former European colonies in the Caribbean and Africa which were large exporters to the Euro area. I say some competition, because the large US corporations already dominated the European market, holding approximately three-quarters of the export market. Despite the relatively tiny share the Caribbean and African markets had, their sales were given preferential treatment due to various tariffs and quotas given to them by their European masters. This of course, was unfair.

Unfair Trade. It needed to be stamped out, so thought the large US corporates, and they began an unprecedented legal battle with the EU over the Banana trade. After 20 years, one of the longest running trade wars to date,  the WTO ruled in favour of US interests, which has resulted in cheaper prices for the consumer, greater profits for the US multinationals, and further misery for the plantation nations of the Caribbean and Africa that depend so heavily on these trade revenues.

In a nutshell, here you have another insight into imperialism, its link to modern trade, to modern poverty and the under development and neo-enslavement of the third world across recent centuries, all in the name of freedom….

Some argue that the dispute threatens the whole future of free trade. “Free trade” has always been a delicate state of affairs negotiated between nations. It has often been an exercise in trading concessions – one nation opens up this market in return for another opening up that market.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s