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Latin America Kavitha Dispatch

The Branding of Puerto Barrios

A boatload of bananas headed for America
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Leaving behind the beautiful Caribbean town of Livingston to travel to the port town of Puerto Barrios was definitely a bummer to say the least. Gone were the beautiful palmed beaches and laid-back culture, only to be replaced by loud traffic, obnoxious truck exhaust and freight ships. Alas, I had to move on. I had to go to Puerto Barrios so that I could catch a bus back to the capital to meet the rest of the team before they left for Costa Rica.

The powerful American company, United Fruit, which you might have read about in a team dispatch a few weeks ago, built the town of Puerto Barrios earlier this century. United Fruit owned large plantations all over Guatemala. It built Puerto Barrios and a vast network of railways and roads that led to this port town so that it could easily ship its produce back to the U.S. United Fruit Company, which later became Chiquita, was soon joined by other companies like Dole and Del Monte. As a result, the town, as well as the hundreds of thousands of acres of land are owned and run by American companies.

My first view of Puerto Barrios was one of an enormous freight ship carrying over twenty flatbed truckloads of Dole products. I couldn't believe it! I'd never seen so many bananas in all my life! As our ferry docked at the port, we were greeted by the Shell service station waiting to refuel the motor boats. When I walked into town, I went directly to the Coca-Cola bus terminal located across the street from the Generation Next Pepsi Plaza. Just like the rest of the country, Puerto Barrios was full of American brand names and companies.

Shell gas station...for boats
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In 1951, the democratic President of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, saw that his people were poor and landless, while United Fruit owned thousands of acres on which they did not pay taxes and did not even use. He decided to take back the land and offer the company compensation based on what they had claimed in taxes. Check out the team's dispatch on U.S. Responsibility for Guatemalan Genocide to read about how the U.S. government stopped Arbenz from following through with his plan. Arbenz's intentions were to divide up the land and distribute it to the peasants, so they could grow their own food and live. Instead, the U.S. government spread propaganda that Arbenz was a communist and had him removed from the presidency. Then, United Fruit could maintain its landholdings and U.S. economic interests would be safe from harm.

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When I travel to places like Guatemala, I always wonder, what is it that keeps these countries "third world countries?" They are rich in natural resources and the people are far from lazy, often working twelve-hour days. But why then do so many of them lack sufficient food to eat, or even a home to sleep in? When foreign companies come in and buy up all the fertile land only to grow crops to export out of the country, it robs the people of the land they need to grow the food they need to survive. Instead of spending their days working their own fields and farming a variety of crops for their own families, people now have to leave their families and spend their days working on someone else's land growing bananas and pineapples to export out to the U.S. and Europe. They earn very low wages, and can barely afford to buy what they need to survive. Unfortunately, most of what they buy is sold by American companies and at high prices. In this way, it is easy to see how "first world countries" can remain first world, by using cheap land and cheap labor in the "third world and selling products at "first world" prices.

So as Dole, Chiquita, and Del Monte continue to ship out tons and tons of pineapples and bananas for our breakfasts back home, the landless here in Guatemala will continue to work, hoping that some day the land reforms Arbenz had planned will come about.

Kavitha
 

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Kavitha - Elections in El Salvador--A Hopeful Future from a Tragic Past?
Monica - Of Drugs and Dancing: Social Change in Quepos
Kevin and Shawn - Students on the Streets to PROTEST!
Help Protect Guatemala's Street Children!

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