Author’s note: This post is part of my series on my recent trip to Honduras. To read past posts on Honduras, click here.
In order to get a clear understanding of where Honduras is today, it is important to take a brief look at the history. Below is a brief historical summary that I have paraphrased from Lonely Planet’s Honduras and The Bay Islands, Written by Greg Benchwick, 2010):
Like many countries in Central America, Honduras has a difficult history of her share of coups, rebellions, power seizures, foreign invasion and darn right meddling in her internal affairs. Christopher Columbus landed on the shores of Honduras (which means “depths” and was named by Columbus in reference to the deep water) on August 14, 1502. It was the first time a European had set foot on the American mainland, a historic landing that ended up being basically ignored for the next two decades until the discovery of gold and silver in 1530.
The discovery of such wealth lead to greed and the obvious need of labor to extract it. Spaniards arrived leading to the enslavement of the indigenous people of Honduras. By 1540, African slaves were introduced to fill the gaps of the growing shortage of forced labor. The Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras had a completely different history however and were conquered by the British not the Spanish. Today, you can find a distinct difference between mainland Honduras among the ethnicity, culture and language of the people compared with the Bay Islands whose primary language is English and also have a Garifuna population of people who arrived from other Caribbean islands as slaves.
In 1821, Honduras joined her neighbors Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Nicaragua in declaring independence from Spain. Yet the years ahead remained rough and full of instability.
Where politics failed, US free enterprise succeeded and nothing would become more important and more intertwined in Honduras’ economy, politics and way of life than the banana. The beginnings of the Banana Republic were formed in 1899 by the merger of two fruit companies to create one large US company called the United Fruit Company. Another competing fruit company, Standard Fruit Company, also planted roots inside Honduras acquiring many banana operations inside Honduras and exporting the bananas to the United States. These two companies became today’s Chiquita and Dole fruit companies and “have been battling for control of the Honduran (and world) banana market ever since”.
The spectacular economic success of the banana industry made the banana companies extremely powerful within Honduras. Bananas are big business, And it would be hard to underestimate the impact this little yellow fruit has had on Honduras, and Central America as a whole, in the last century. IN virtually every arena – political, economic, military, social, environment, health – American fruit companies have left their mark. ” (Lonely Planet, Honduras and The Bay Islands, 2010).
I love history yet sometimes it is hard to not get too fed up or angry with how it has impacted a country in a negative way and our country’s involvement in the Banana wars. I tried to keep it in mind while I was in Honduras and use its history to gain a better understanding of why Honduras it the way it is today: Rich in resources, beauty and culture yet poor in government, economic opportunities, and individual livelihoods. Thinking back about the Banana wars, it all seemed to make sense.
Our first morning in La Ceiba, our Spanish school gave us a tour of the city center. We walked up and down the main drag, Avenida San Isidro, admired the color of the local markets and finally took a walk through the town’s pride and joy: The Dole Food Company’s old headquarters and lovely park.
The park is perhaps one of the loveliest sites in all of La Ceiba and is awash in beautiful tropical flora and fauna, and is well maintained. I asked our guide a little about the history of the Dole Fruit Company and it was one of greed. In the early part of the century, big American banana companies hoarded land up in Honduras as fast as their greedy hands could get it. Some of the deals were really not fair and these powerful companies used tricky political foul play (such as helping in coups) whenever they needed to get what they wanted. As their banana empires grew, they took even more land to build railroads which would transport the bananas. Yet thousands of Honduran farmers lost their land and was left with nothing. The story drags on and on and can also been seen in a lot of other countries in Central America. It makes it hard sometimes to buy a banana today. But there aren’t many other brands out there besides Dole and Chiquita (what ever strategy they did obviously succeeded).
We walked around the empty park and I snapped pictures of some of the leftover remnants of the banana operations out of La Ceiba. A couple old trains were left standing in the park alongside some of the old railroad tiles that were never removed.
After we left the park I felt a little depressed knowing that once again our government along with big American businesses were responsible in part to where Honduras is today. Although Honduras was one of the only of her Central American neighbors to be revolution free in an era of immense political upheaval and uprising (a lot caused by our friendly government), a lot of political meddling has been done that hasn’t helped Honduras climb out of poverty (think back to the Reagan administration’s covert support of the anti-Sardinista Contras operating inside of Honduras). Today, Honduras continues to grow poorer and poorer and remains strife with corruption and greed. What a pity.