Get on de boat, de banana boat!

Ships headed for the Panama canal

Earlier this month the banana giant Chiquita filed a lawsuit attempting to block the release of documents pertaining to the various payments it made to paramilitary groups that the U.S. considers terrorist organizations. That sounds like a tale out of a different, era, yeah?

Unfortunately, it’s all too current. Chiquita paid a $25-million fine just six years ago after admitting that it had funneled money to multiple Colombian groups. That’s part of a larger phenomenon where multinationals essentially operate above the level of governments in many parts of the world — often engaging in illegal shenanigans — precisely because the corporations have so much economic clout.

A development professor on mine has labeled countries like Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica essentially a “dessert” economies. It’s a fitting moniker given the number of bananas and pineapples they produce. What large-scale industrial fruit-culture has done to the landscapes and social organization of these countries is hard to fully comprehend without visiting. And I note that Global North citizens — particularly Americans — are complicit, what with our year-round demand for exotic fruit of uniform shapes at cheap prices. That consumer demand leads precisely to Chiquita acting like, well, Chiquita.

Fruity boat

If you think capitalism’s rising tide lifts all boats, you’ve got the wrong metaphor. Capitalism’s tsunami wave overwhelms most anything that lacks the political or financial power to get out of the way. And to understand just how far back this goes, check this history of the United Fruit Company, Chiquita’s predecessor.

You can see today just how enmeshed corporate agriculture is in the economies of Costa Rica and Panama; these images are just from my bus/boat/taxi/plane rides there in 2012 but vast swaths of the land look just like this — plantations, pesticides and underpaid workers all in the name of foreign export. It’s the same in a number of other countries in Latin America. Certainly some things have changed, but control remains highly concentrated in the hands of a few.

Where your bananas come from

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Grey skies are gonna clear up…

Spring in Costa Rica

That’s a mighty fine blue. From March 2012, in Costa Rica.

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Fireworks as I buzz by…

Burst of color

A blurry, jarring Costa Rican bus ride from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca to San Jose. I was absolutely enamored by these white barked trees with bright orange blossoms that flew by my window.

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