The Banana Republic of Guatemala
From Banana Republics to Democratic Elections
A nation plundered through capitalist greed, becoming the victim to several foreign influenced coup d'états over the 20th Century.
A Brief Introduction
The Republic of Guatemala is a country located in Central America.
The most populous nation in the region, Guatemala has a rather intriguing history that has been a source of inspiration for fiction writers such as O. Henry and a paragon of the political science term Banana Republic.
Guatemala was home to the ancient Maya civilisation in historical times, got captured by the Spanish in the middle of the 16th century, and remained under its control till 1823 when it gained independence.
Rafael Carrera, the man who led the uprising against the Spanish invaders, established himself as the state's military arbiter in 1838. Under his leadership, Guatemala fought and gained independence from the federation rule. In 1871 a revolution overthrew Carrera's ruling successor and inaugurated a period of a liberal ascendancy that extended almost unbroken to 1944.
Becoming a Banana Republic
Now, around the 1920s, bananas extremely famous in the United States as they were affordable, easy to ship and endorsed by medical doctors. As their popularity increased, U.S. fruit companies thought to grow their bananas.
They bribed government officials in Central America in order to get access to cheap land. By the 1930s, one company dominated the region: United Fruit, which owned over 40% of Guatemala's arable land and cleared its rainforests to build plantations, along with railroads, and towns to house workers. Lured by high-paying jobs, people migrated to banana zones.
The Great Depression of 1930 damaged the Guatemalan economy, causing unrest among the working classes. Fearing a revolution, the country elites backed Jorge Ubico against Manuel Estrada Cabrera. The elected Ubico quickly turned authoritarian, converted Guatemala into a police state, and continued letting the UFC have free reign in Guatemala.
At this point, Guatemalan politics was far too influenced by the gambits of the United Fruit Company, and its governmental system resembled an oligarchic plutocracy. Guatemala had become a poster example of the phrase banana republic, which is used to denote a country with extremely stratified socio-economic classes, significant for the almost complete control over that nation's resources by private corporations, who in turn wield significant power over the government of said country and results in the exploitation of the entire nation due to the state actively allowing monopolies.
The U.S. Invasion
Facing significant losses and dilemmas, The United Fruit company sought to paint the capitalist Guatemalan government as communist, make it fall out of favour with the U.S. government, with the purpose of returning to UFC's old draconian business practices. In 1960, a civil war, fuelled by the U.S., took place and continued until 1966, when civilian rule was finally restored. Cesar Mendez was elected as president.
Coups continued throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. In 1994, successful peace talks between the government and rebels of the Guatemalan Revolutionary National Unity began. Both sides conceded on prominent positions and signed an acceptable accord. Since then, Guatemala has conducted several free and fair elections and has witnessed massive economic growth and consistent living standards and other essential metrics.
Guatemala's story serves as an essential lesson on how an untenable government system controlled by corporations can plunge nations into disastrous civil wars and decades of instability.
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