The Tentacles of 'El Pulpo'
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The United Fruit Company was an American enterprise producing and exporting bananas from Central America to the United States and Europe. Soon after it came into existence in 1899, it was known throughout Central America as ‘el Pulpo’, or the octopus. This was not without reason, since the company was virtually an empire unto itself, with its far reaching tentacles. In the early decades of the twentieth century, the corporation was the largest agricultural enterprise in the world and the dominant economic force in the Caribbean Basin. The way it operated and its methods of production were quite similar to those in the former slave societies. Within this framework then, “colonialism” does not necessarily require the existence of a colonial state, but rather direct foreign control over production and labour in a host society, which leads inevitably to engagement with local hierarchies and political and social structures. In my thesis I want to take a closer look at the methods of production of the United Fruit Company and how much influence it had on the countries in which it cultivated bananas. Since the whole of Central America is too large and too ambitious to cover in this paper, I want to zoom in on Costa Rica and Guatemala. This is mostly because Costa Rica was perceived as a relatively stable country in terms of political and societal structures, and Guatemala was not. This thesis is guided by the following research question: To what extent has the United Fruit Company influenced and altered political and social structures in Costa Rica and Guatemala in the first half of the twentieth century?