Bush and Obama and the United Fruit Company in the Honduran Coup

From the Belly of the Beast


Ray O Light

On June 28, 2009, the Honduran Military, led by men trained at the Infamous "School of Americas" in the USA, seized the elected President, Manuel Zelaya, and forcibly removed him, still in his pajamas, to Costa Rica. This was not at all a departure from the long and tragic history of Central America, and, indeed, all of Latin America, since U.S. imperialism became the dominant force in the Western hemisphere more than one hundred years ago. What was new and different at the time of the coup was the growing political and economic independence of much of Latin America from U.S. imperialism.

It was in this context that the other new and different ingredient was introduced into the crisis of Honduran sovereignty. In a radical departure from the conduct of previous heads of the U.S. state, the still new President of the USA, Barack Obama, condemned the coup!

Five months later, on November 29, 2009, with Zelaya still not returned to office, a new President of Honduras was "elected." And the Obama Regime rallied all the reactionary forces of Latin America to sanction the new Coup President.

In the five months since the coup, the Obama-Clinton Regime has skillfully played their unfavorable hand into a winning one! Using both the carrot and the stick, shifting ever so slowly and deceptively all the way from Obama's "condemnation" of the coup to blessing its illegitimate offspring, Porfirio Lobo, U.S. imperialism has managed to back one more successful coup in its Song, criminal history in Central and South America.

Central to the whole history of U.S. imperialist oppression of Latin America, and Honduras, in particular, is the history of the infamous United Fruit Company. Largely because of its infamy, the company changed its name to United Brands and later to Chiquita Banana.

!t got into the banana business around the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. By 1904, the famous writer, O. Henry coined the term "banana republic" to refer to the uncontrolled murders of workers and other criminal actions of the United Fruit Company in Honduras. The head of United Fruit once famously remarked, "In Honduras, a mule costs more than a member of parliament."

By the 1920's, United Fruit controlled 650,000 acres of the best land, almost one quarter of all the arable land in Honduras. In Colombia, in 1928, the United Fruit Company dealt with three thousand banana workers who had gone on strike for better wages and working conditions by getting the Colombian military to fire on the workers, killing many.

In 1954, in Guatemala, progressive President Jacobo Arbenz carried out land reform and planned to redistribute unused land owned by United Fruit to the Guatemalan peasants. United Fruit backed the CIA-engineered military coup that overthrew Arbenz. In 1961, United Fruit lent its ships to the CIA-backed Cuban exiles who sought to overthrow the Fidel Castro-led revolutionary government at the Bay of Pigs.

After this defeat, United Fruit became United Brands, and in 1972 promoted General Oswaldo Lopez Arellano to power in Honduras. He was ultimately forced to step down in a "bananagate" scandal involving a huge United Brands' bribe of Arellano in exchange for his agreement to reduce fruit export taxes.

In the late 1990's, the company, whose name had been changed to Chiquita, subsidized right-wing paramilitary groups in Colombia. Chiquita became the first corporation in U.S. history to be convicted in the USA of financial dealings with a designated terrorist organization and paid a $25 million dollar fine to settle the Justice Department investigation. Meanwhile, in the same cause, Chiquita's CEO, Charles Lindner, a big GOP donor, began to provide a lot of loot to U.S. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. Clinton, the U.S. Commander in Chief, now became a powerful promoter of Colombian President Andres Pastrana who presided over the proliferation of right-wing death squads in Colombia. A lawyer for the victims of the paramilitary violence said, in a lawsuit, that Chiquita's relationship with the paramilitaries "was about acquiring every aspect of banana distribution and sale through a reign of terror." (This quote is cited in the excellent July 17-19, 2009 Counterpunch article by Nikolas Kozloff, entitled, "From Arbenz to Zelaya - Chiquita (United Fruit) in Latin America." – ROL)

The bipartisan support of Chiquita for Democratic as well as Republican Party administrations over the past decade has continued unabated — from George W. Bush to Barack Obama! In this process, the powerful Washington, DC law firm of Covington and Burling has played a central role. Recently, as George W. Bush's United Nations Ambassador, John Bolton has been an implacable foe of Latin American leftists, including Hugo Chavez. From 1974 until 1981 John Bolton had served as an associate at Covington.

John Negroponte, the former chief over all of U.S. Intelligence under Republican President George W. Bush, became Vice Chairman of Covington in the Spring of 2009 in the same period in which he played a pivotal role in the preparation for the June 28, 2009 coup against President Zelaya. Negroponte had been Ronald Reagan's Ambassador to Honduras during the early 1980's, the period when the Reagan Regime carried on an unconstitutional war to overthrow the Sandinista Regime in Nicaragua. As we pointed out in 1982, "The cover story in Newsweek Magazine's November 8, 1982 issue exposed 'America's Secret War' against the Nicaraguan nation. ... The Newsweek story revealed that Reagan's ambassador to Honduras, John Negroponte, is actually ruling Honduras." ("U.S. Imperialism and its Drive Toward Reaction, Violence and War," Ray 0' Light Newsletter #14, November 1982)

Today Negroponte serves as an unofficial but key adviser to Obama's Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the wife of the previous Democratic President with whom Chiquita had a close relationship. Immediately after the overthrow of Zelaya, while Obama "condemned" the event in words, Secretary of State Clinton made it very clear that the U.S. government would take no action that would place pressure on the Micheletti Coup Regime, to compel them to bring Zelaya back.

Obama's Attorney General, Eric Holder, was himself, until recently, a partner at Covington and Burling! In that capacity, Holder was the lead counsel in defense of Chiquita against the U.S. Justice Department investigation into Chiquita's financial dealings with the right-wing terrorist organizations in Colombia cited above. Despite the fact that the company had to pay a $25 million dollar fine and was the first corporation convicted in the USA of financial dealings with a terrorist organization in U.S. history, Holder was able to broker a sweetheart deal in which none of the six company officials who approved payments to the terrorists received any jail time! Does anyone really believe that Holder has stopped defending Chiquita now that he is the head of the U.S. Department of Justice?!

Earlier in 2009, Chiquita Banana had complained that, if President Zelaya's government raised the Honduran minimum wage by 60%,

as proposed, Chiquita would lose millions of dollars in profits. When the minimum wage law was passed, Chiquita joined with Dole and with the most important business group in Honduras, the Honduran National Business Council (COHEP) that encompasses 60 trade associations and chambers of commerce, to try to reverse the wage increase.

Hence, Chiquita had the bipartisan political clout in the USA and internationally to defend its economic interests in Honduras. It had a strong motive for the coup. It had the long history of taking comparable measures. What "democratic process" in the USA and in the world today could have been brought to bear to stop Chiquita and U.S. imperialism from carrying out one more Central American coup d'etat, one more violent act to suppress the democratic will of the Honduran people?

Only the international working class, including the Honduran working class, has the concrete experience in the class struggle between labor and capital to understand the overwhelming motivation that international capital possesses to defend its profits by any means necessary] The revolutionary proletariat understands that the monopoly capitalist and imperialist system, the modern capitalist system based on the exploitation of man by man, must be smashed and replaced by socialism, the economic-political system based on cooperation among all toiling humanity. Only the international working class has the relationship to production that gives it the strategic strength to organize the movement of the masses of humanity to overthrow the old and dying, parasitic and violent system of monopoly capitalism and imperialism, through the national democratic stage and onto the socialist stage of the revolution.

Che Guevara understood forty years ago that we are all Vietnamese; we are all South Africans; we are all Bolivians. Today, we are all Iraqis; we are all Afghanis; we are all Hondurans! This proletarian internationalist outlook flows dialectically from the strategic vision of Karl Marx that the working class has no nationality!

The Honduran coup and its newly "elected" government, underscores the fact that a new Communist International needs to be built that is capable of bringing to life once again the slogan of the Third International:

WORKERS OF THE WORLD AND OPPRESSED PEOPLES UNITE!

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