Conservative Historian

Banana Republic

August 18, 2022 Bel Aves
Conservative Historian
Banana Republic
Show Notes Transcript

Has the United States gone Bananas? (sorry) We explore the history of the term Banana Republic and decide whether the US is becoming one.  Next week we will look Old Navy(s) and close historical Gaps. (SORRY again). 

Banana Republic 

August 2022


“Witnessing Panama's overnight transition from banana republic to middle-class retirement haven is like watching the Univision version of Extreme Makeover: it feels so tacky, but you can't change channels because you just have to find out what happens next.

Andrew Evans – the Travel King


“All we cared about was dividends. Well, we can't do business that way today. We have learned that what's best for the countries we operate in is best for the company. Maybe we can't make the people love us, but we will make ourselves so useful to them that they will want us to stay.”

Samuel Zemurray – the Banana King 


There's nobody more opposite from John Shaft than a kid who worships a banana as his god. 

Richard Roundtree – the Badass King


In the Conversation blog, Matthew Wilson, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of South Carolina, explains, “When someone mentions a “banana republic,” they’re referring to a small, poor, politically unstable country that is weak because of excessive reliance on one crop and foreign funding.


The term originated as a way to describe the experiences of many countries in Central America, whose economies and U.S.-based banana exporters dominated politics at the turn of the 20th century.  In the 1880s, the Boston Fruit Company, which later became the United Fruit Company and then Chiquita, began importing bananas from Jamaica and launched a successful campaign to popularize them in the US.


As demand for bananas grew, large companies made deals with governments across Central America to fund infrastructure projects in exchange for land and policies that would allow them to expand production.


The growers often depended on an authoritarian rule to protect land concessions and quell labor unrest that might shrink their profits. Sometimes, they would actively subvert democracy to reassert their influence. The Cuyamel Fruit Company, for example, supported a coup in Honduras in 1911 that replaced its president with someone more aligned with US interests.”


Wilson notes all kinds of terrible things ascribed to various fruit companies and lays the entire, sad, 200-year history of underdevelopment of everything south of the Rio Grande at the feet of American capitalism. He is in the academy, after all, so fish gotta swim.  


So here is a more formal sounding descriptor minus all of the quasi-socialist academician type angst. In political science, the term banana republic describes a politically unstable country with an economy dependent upon exporting natural resources. In 1904, the American author O. Henry coined the term to describe Honduras and neighboring countries under economic exploitation by US corporations, such as the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Brands International). Typically, a banana republic has a society of highly stratified social classes, usually a large impoverished working class and a ruling class plutocracy composed of the business, political, and military elites. The ruling class controls the primary sector of the economy by way of the exploitation of labor. Thus, the term banana republic is a pejorative descriptor for a servile oligarchy that abets and supports, for kickbacks, the exploitation of large-scale plantation agriculture, especially banana cultivation.


A banana republic is a country with an economy of state capitalism, whereby the country is operated as a private commercial enterprise for the exclusive profit of the ruling class. Such exploitation is enabled by collusion between the state and favored economic monopolies, in which the gain derived from the private exploitation of public lands is private property. At the same time, the debts incurred thereby are the financial responsibility of the public treasury. 


Holy crap, WE may be a banana republic! Just switch out “fruit” and substitute in CHIPS, as in the $50 billion (of money we do not have) chip bill, green energy, or heck, farmers, and this thing called ethanol. I always love it when writers or academicians complain about using public monies to benefit private enterprises while pushing the debt onto the public, voting for such bills. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Nancy Pelosi all voted for the Chips bill and the recent climate change bill in which public funds will be handed to private green companies. Who incurs the debt? Who cares? Though we know it is the people. Of course, to Sanders, the answer is alarmingly easy. Create public green companies and government agencies and give the money to them. Socialist's paradise. Sanders knows that will not happen, so Mr. Anti-Corporation goes along so that those struggling little guy companies like, GM and Ford get tax breaks for electric vehicles. 


Arguably, Honduras represents the quintessential banana republic. In the early 20th century, the American businessman Sam Zemurray (founder of the Cuyamel Fruit Company) was instrumental in establishing the "banana republic" stereotype when he entered the banana-export business by buying overripe bananas from the United Fruit Company to sell in New Orleans. In 1910, Zemurray bought 15,000 acres on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, Then in 1911, Zemurray conspired with Manuel Bonilla, an ex-president of Honduras and the American mercenary Gen. Lee Christmas to overthrow the civil government of Honduras and install a military government friendly to foreign business people.


Yes, Zemurray brought in his private general to do the wet work. Christmas hired about 100 mercenaries in New Orleans, including famed Jewish soldier Sam Dreben. Zemurray supplied the weapons and transportation. Their first attempt at revolution in 1910 was a failure. 


The group attempted revolution a second time the following year, with a reorganized force using US Army surplus Colt Model 1895 machine guns transported on a former United States Navy vessel. Gaining soldiers from the local population, Bonilla's rebels captured Trujillo and Irina and cemented their victory at the Battle of La Ceiba on January 25, 1911. Again, Christmas used his machine guns for fire support of the infantry with interlocking fields of fire, inflicting some six hundred casualties on the government forces.


This is believed to be the first time automatic weapons were used, and La Ceiba was studied by military professionals in Europe and the Americas. This tactical use of machine guns would become standard practice in the First World War. Obviously, the brilliant generals of Europe studying La Ceiba did not learn enough. As late as 1917, they were still sending masses of troops, hundreds of thousands, straight into machine gun fire, causing untold, horrific slaughter.  Bonilla resumed the presidency of Honduras with Christmas as his military commander.


What did the US think of a private company affecting governmental change in a sovereign nation? The US ignored it misrepresenting President Dávila as too politically liberal and a poor businessman. His management had indebted Honduras to Great Britain, a geopolitically unacceptable circumstance in light of the Monroe Doctrine. The coup d'état resulted from the Dávila government's slighting the Cuyamel Fruit Company by colluding with the rival United Fruit Company to award them a monopoly contract for the Honduran banana in exchange for the UFC's brokering of US government loans to Honduras. So some of the leftist academicians condemning the coup should note that in some regards, this was a civil war abetted by rival banana companies.  If people had not died and the economy then stalled, that sentence might look funny.  


The political instability consequent from the coup d'état stalled the Honduran economy, and the Republic of Honduras's unpayable external debt was excluded from access to international investment capital. That financial deficit perpetuated Honduran economic stagnation and perpetuated the image of Honduras as a banana republic. Such a historical, inherited foreign debt functionally undermined the Honduran government, which allowed foreign corporations to manage the country and become sole employers of the Honduran people because the American fruit companies controlled the economic infrastructure (road, rail, port, telegraph, and telephone) they had built.


Nonetheless, 23 years later, after much corporate intrigue among the American business people, using a hostile takeover of agricultural business interests, Sam Zemurray assumed control of the rival United Fruit Company in 1933.


So with that background let’s move onto to the Mar A Lago raid perpetuated this month by the FBI run by Christopher Wray, a division of the Department of Justice run by Merrick Garland, which is part of the executive branch of government run by one Joseph Biden of Delaware and the Ukraine when his son’s business interests lead him there.  I provide some details on the raid itself below but my instinct is that if you are listening to this podcast you would be the type to be up on news of this sort.  


In the American Conservative Magazine, writer Frank Devito asks, “Has our nation really devolved into a banana republic in which the regime uses the police to attack its political enemies? Does the Department of Justice know something we the people do not yet know that would legitimize a raid on the former president’s home?” 


Tim Constantine in the Washington Times pens an article entitled “Welcome to the Banana Republic of America, “Unstable governments are not in short supply around the globe. Sudan, Algeria, Libya, Eswatini, and Somalia immediately come to mind, and a long list follows. Latin America has a long history of dictators. In any of these places, cruel leaders, angry mobs, corrupt law enforcement, or some combination of all three are typical. Any semblance of structure and stability crumbles, and ultimately, the common citizens suffer. America’s immediate neighbor to the south, Mexico, is so steeped in corruption that for many there, seeking out law enforcement for assistance has become the action of last resort.


Photos of the US Capitol building from January 6, 2021, garnered many comparisons to such banana republics. Two days after the ugly riots, President-elect Joe Biden said, “This reminded me more of states I’ve visited in the over hundred countries I’ve gone to in third-world tinhorn dictatorships.”


Now Biden appears to be presiding over one himself. This past week the FBI raided former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. The Associated Press reported it was part of an investigation into whether he is in possession of classified records from the White House, citing people familiar with the matter. Retired FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Tabman was quoted in the Daily Mail as defending the raid. ‘You know, everything could disappear. So you got evidence you need to get before it disappears or moves and you can’t see it anymore.’ 


If Trump or any of his staff do indeed have classified material in their possession, it is a very serious matter. For example, you may recall that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kept classified information on her private email servers at her home in New York. According to then-FBI Director James Comey, her servers had one hundred and ten messages containing classified information, including “seven email chains (concerning) matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level” — the highest level of classification.


Yet, you don’t recall the Clinton’s Chappaqua, New York home being raided by more than two dozen FBI agents. On the contrary, Hillary’s lawyer, David Kendall, was allowed to keep a thumb drive containing the classified information inside his office. Apparently, at that time, the FBI wasn’t concerned about information disappearing so that they couldn’t see it anymore. They were so unconcerned that they didn’t flinch when the former Secretary of State used a process called bleach-bit to delete 30,000 emails permanently. No raid. No worries.”


There is also the timing.  Assuming that Trump had a Mission Impossible esque CIA NOC list with every agent’s true identity sitting next to Melania’s hat collection, the nuclear code set including the location of Norad’s toilets, Defense Department readiness report or a photo of Jill Biden striking a student on the wrist with a ruler, why wait nearly 18 months to get the information?


The Global Times states that Partisan infighting drama shows the US has degraded into a 'banana republic.’ The US is presenting the world a partisan infighting drama. After the FBI searched former US president Donald Trump's home at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, Trump on Wednesday invoked his Fifth Amendment right in refusing to answer questions under oath in New York over alleged fraud at his family business. 


I know this will come as a shock appreciated listener but Trump is contraversial. However, the timing of the FBI and the US Department of Justice's (DOJ) actions indeed cause suspicion. The midterm elections are less than three months away, which makes external observers of US affairs easily speculate that the investigation into Trump and the raid of his home are aimed at influencing the outcome of the midterm elections, discrediting Trump, and hindering him from running in the 2024 presidential election, Chinese analysts noted.”


I love that the Global Times stuck in that last bit.  Chinese analysts.  Part of me says who gives a twang what the Chinese think.  Then I sober up and realize that the Chinese are, bar none, our single greatest global threat as much as corporate America, Anthony Fauci and Lebron James want to pay footsy with them for cheap labor and a bag full of golden Yen. 


The Times goes onto to say, “The FBI search led to fierce bickering between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats defended it as a long-overdue step toward justice and proof that no one - even a former president - is above the law (keep that statement in mind. It will come up again, and again, and again). At the same time, Republicans and Trump supporters accused the Democrats of weaponizing federal agencies against political opponents and vowed to probe what they alleged was political interference at the DOJ if they win the majority in Congress in November.”


And the Spectator avers that “Biden does his best banana republic impression.” 


Because every action requires an opposite reaction, the liberal Boston Globe states, “Republicans’ ‘banana republic’ charge is bananas with the statement that former presidents are not exempt from the laws that bind the rest of us. 


Not shockingly, the Atlantic concurs with this spin, er line of thinking: “The Mar-a-Lago Raid Proves the US Isn't the Banana Republic. A bedrock principle is that no one—not even the president, much less the former president—is above the law, and if they commit crimes, they must answer for them. “


Of which I give a resounding “I agree!” But to note Constantine’s point above, neither are Secretaries of State. I would also add that false accusation should have repercussions as well. Still waiting on the “goes around” aspect of the farcical Russian Collusion mess but all the principle players, from Clinton to Comey to Nadler and Pelosi, are still around; no housing raids for that crowd. 


And to further the point, this particular former president, unlike Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton, can, under the 22nd Amendment, run for president again. In fact, 74 million people wanted him to BE president in 2020, more than in 2016.  Biden, head of the executive branch of which the DOJ and FBI are a part, oversaw the agency that raided the home of his potential political rival. One of my favorite life lessons, highly applicable to politicians, is that just because you can, does not mean you should. I can eat a daily tub of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. I have the money, and it is within my rights and availability, after all. But since I do not wish to put my cardiologists’ kids through college, I will be circumspect about the Caramel Chunk Crunch. And so should have Biden about raiding the home of the man who got 47% of the popular vote and 242 electors.  


Now if Biden made one mistake, are the right wing commentariat making another? Jay Nordlinger notes, “Third World!” Republicans are saying. “Banana republics!” Here, for example, is Florida governor Ron DeSantis: The raid of MAL is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the regime’s political opponents, while people like Hunter Biden get treated with kid gloves. So now the regime is getting another 87k IRS agents to wield against its adversaries? Banana Republic.”


Nordlinger goes on to say, “I recall a highly controversial symposium in First Things magazine. This was during the Clinton ’90s. The magazine spoke of the “regime” — which rubbed a lot of writers the wrong way. I am seeing “regime” a lot these days — and not in some neutral PoliSci way. Before DeSantis, however, I had not seen it capitalized. Is it true, by the way, that only Third World countries or banana republics investigate, prosecute, and imprison former leaders? It is manifestly not true, correct? Again, I think of Israel: and the trial of ex-PM Ehud Olmert, who went to jail. This happened not because Israel is a banana republic; it happened because Israel observes a rule of law.”


I would add that I am not a fan of calling the Biden Administration the regime any more than I would a leftist using the term for the Abbott administration in Texas, or in reference to the legitimate Trump Administration of 2016-2020. Here is the definition of regime, “a system or planned way of doing things, especially one imposed from above.” The probability is that every American citizen lives under a regime. 


When Trump was President, was it a regime then? Sort of. I want to buy timber for my housing business from the Canadians but Trump said that they had to pay a tariff (read foreign tax) on that timber.  That is called a planned way of doing things imposed by above. Is it a regime when DeSantis punishes Disney by removing special tax status? (my question was not around the issue, but rather why it took 50 years to take this away from a corporation that makes billions in profit)? And here in the US, do we have regime change every 4 to 8 years with a new president? 


Writing of Banana Republics, Jonah Goldberg of the Dispatch notes, “Here’s an easy thought experiment. Imagine a Third World banana republic. A populist leader recently ousted in an allegedly “rigged” election is waiting in the wings, plotting a return to power. So the current ruler sends armed agents of the state to search the ousted ruler’s home in the hope of discrediting his once and possibly future opponent, presumably to prevent him from ever threatening his rule.


What happens next? The ousted ruler and his representatives claim that this affront to his dignity is really an insult to all of his supporters. Like followers of Hugo Chavez or Manuel Ortega, they insist that only by returning their leader in internal exile to power can they avenge this travesty and purge the government of these enemies of the people.


That’s the argument raging like a religious awakening across much of the right this week. Once Trump announces he’s running for president, Mike Huckabee insists, “We need to rally around him and simply say, ‘He is the candidate.’ He will be re-elected. That’s because he’s the only candidate who’ll have the guts to take on this incredibly corrupt machine. We must put him back in and let him do this. I’m convinced at this point that this is the only hope for our nation, to get it back to the point where people can believe in it.” This isn’t an argument against banana republic politics, it is banana republic politics. Let’s put aside any consideration of primaries or policy debates and simply anoint a strong man to redeem our nation, purge corruption, and punish our enemies.”  


Goldberg goes on to echo a sentiment I share. No president, at least in our system, has the power to clean up the swamp or even to bend back our culture all alone. That is a good thing. Imagine a progressive with that kind of power. A president could lead, but it would be a pretty extraordinary confluence of things. As conservatives, we will need to start with Congress to pass the right laws, like how about putting a muzzle on all those new IRS agents. We already have the Supreme Court, so there is no freelance lawmaking. 


We will need the right governors, mayors, and state bodies. We will need to recast once important institutions ranging from Heritage to CPAC, which lately seems more a Trump love fest than a true Conservative progenitor of great ideas. And in all of this, I cannot see Donald Trump, with his grievances, pettiness, ego, the way he treats his subordinates, or the discipline to lead such an effort. I do however, see such mental sinew and concentrated discipline in DeSantis, Scott, Thune, Cotton, or a half dozen others. But Trump is not the answer.  


Fortunately, to bring actual sanity to the Banana Republic debate is the irreplaceable Babylon Bee as they “quote” New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez as stating, “It's dumb for Republicans to call the USA a Banana Republic since it's more like a Forever 21 "Have any of these Republicans even been to Banana Republic? Their clothing is upscale, far out of the price of most American citizens. Banana Republic is elitist — it represents the 1%," explained the congresswoman. "On the other hand, Forever 21 has trendy fashion at low prices. That's the American dream I believe in! Buy it now, or it's gone!"


Now to use dumb and AOC together, even in a fictitious article, is like saying Adam Schiff and dishonest. But in truth, AOC can be clever like a fox, whereas Schiff is wholly and simply mendacious, untruthful, and a stone-cold liar. But I digress. 


I noted earlier that Professor Wilson from South Carolina basically laid the entire lack of development in Latin America on the United States. However, it might be challenging to ascertain how the United Fruit company can be blamed today for the elections of such luminaries as Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. Here is a report about Ortega from CBS News from last year, “Over the next two months, Nicaragua's police force detained dozens of critics of the regime, journalists, and ultimately, seven of the leading candidates who planned to run for president against Ortega. Ortega's deliberate and flagrant crackdown against peaceful opposition leaders is something without any precedent in Latin America since the '70s and '80s when most of the region was under military dictatorship.”


I am not suggesting the United Fruit Company, or Chiquita of today, should be going in (along with the CIA) to get Ortega out of there, but I am inferring that might not be the worst thing for the Nicaraguan people. Citizens of Central and South America, not having been trained in the type of civics once standard in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, tend to elect populist leaders freely, only to wake up one day and realize that their freedoms have been abrogated. We saw this in Venezuela in the 2000s; sadly, we are seeing this in Mexico and Columbia today.  


Nicaragua is not, at least today, the archetypal banana republic, but a president sending in law enforcement, on a hidden pretext, to raid the home of a political rival does smell like the same type of stench. But in reality, Ortega’s opposition are rotting in prison.  Biden can send in the feds to Trump’s home but note that Trump is still free, still going to CPAC, still publishing on Truth Social, still roiling the primary system, and helping to nominate useful idiots like Dr. Oz and still giving away Senate seats to the opposition. In a true Banana Republic, none of those things are possible.  


The other day, well most days, I posted a few slings against Biden on Twitter. Again not possible in a real Banana Republic and not for the first time, maybe like the two thousandths; I am so glad to be living in this country, warts and all. But I also recognize that we are entering some new territory. We have never elected a non-general who had never held elective office before Trump.  And I have studies all 46 presidents.  Not even the crappiest ranging from Buchanan to Woodrow Wilson have we seen something akin to Trump’s temperament.  Also, we have never elected a man as old and frail as Joe Biden. We have not, to my knowledge had a Supreme Court Justice question the very legitimacy of the institution as did Sonia Sotomayor after the Dobbs decision.  We have not had our institutions, especially education, held in the hands of so many who denigrate the nation upon which they received the opportunity to take over such a once revered edifice of our Republic. 


It is not a coincidence that in last week’s podcast I noted the corruption, and hopeful redemption of an institution so necessary to our Republic, the United States Supreme Court. And in the immortal words of eminent political theorist Hans Gruber (prior to being dropped on his head) “I give you the FBI.”


In a piece about this imbroglio George Will notes “This nation is running low on an indispensable ingredient of a successful society: trust, in institutions and one another. This week was another subtraction. Garland has said about the Justice Department, “We will and we must speak through our work.” Actually, his political duty is to explain and justify his work more thoroughly than he did in his minimalist statement Thursday afternoon.”


I do not see abolishment of the FBI as an answer as once sober writers on the right spewed this week. It is a little hard for those who rightly condemn the defund the police movement to turn on a dime then and say defund the FBI. We will need some institution responsible for cross state, internal investigations.  Rather, I advocate a simple reform that is easy in concept and hard to execute. Clearly outline the mission of these institutions, align the staff to them, and fire any and all who move outside of these lines.  And someone please explain what the heck the FBI was supposed to find.