Tuesday, May 29, 2012

IT NEVER HAPPENED. The United Fruit Company is probably best known for its major role in making banana republics out of Guatemala and Honduras. In fact, UFC's predations figure prominently in the Wikipedia entry on Banana Republics:
In the late 19th century, the United Fruit Company, the Standard Fruit Company, and Sam Zemurray's Cuyamel Fruit Company dominated the Honduran economy's key banana-export sector and the national infrastructure (e.g. railroads and ports). Moreover, El Pulpo (The Octopus). was the nickname of the United Fruit Company, because it freely interfered — sometimes violently — with Honduran national politics. In 1910, the businessman Sam Zemurray hired mercenaries, led by “General” Lee Christmas, an American mercenary soldier from New Orleans, to effect a coup d’état in Honduras, and install a government more amenable to the business interests of the Cuyamel Fruit Company. Yet, twenty-three years later, by means of a hostile takeover, Sam Zemurray assumed control of the rival United Fruit Company, in 1933.

In the mid 20th century, during the 1950s, the United Fruit Company convinced the administrations of U.S. presidents Harry Truman (1945–53) and Dwight Eisenhower (1953–61) that the popular government of Colonel Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán in Guatemala was secretly pro-Soviet, for having expropriated unused “fruit company lands” to landless peasants. In the Cold War (1945–91) context of the pro-active anti-Communism of the Senator McCarthy era of U.S. national politics (1947–57), said geopolitical consideration facilitated President Eisenhower's ordering the CIA's Guatemalan coup d’état (1954), which deposed the elected government of President–Colonel Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, and installed the pro-business government of Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas (1954–57)...
Etc. There are plenty of other tellings of the story.

But that's not how New York Sun editor Ira Stoll sees it. His "Lessons From the United Fruit Company" at Reason magazine begins:
Americans puzzling over the role of today’s powerful corporations—Bain Capital, Goldman Sachs, Google—may profit from considering the example of the United Fruit Company.
And in what follows there's not a thing about UFC's military and political predations in Central America -- not even a defense of them. Instead it's all about "the wonderful things about capitalism" the company's success can teach us. There's "upward mobility," "technological innovation," "bias-free marketing creativity," etc. The only discouraging word is about "when capitalism becomes cronyism" -- that is, in Stoll's telling, when UFC got too hooked up with Washington lobbyists. "A business that lives by Washington is finally at its mercy," sighs Stoll, "as United Fruit learned when the antitrust cops came after it." Alas, their faith in the free market faltered, and the expected evil of regulation resulted.

This is rather like telling the story of King Leopold and the Congo, but leaving out the torture and murder of his subjects/slaves, cooing over the great efficiency he brought to the rubber trade, and bemoaning the guilt-tripping muckrakers and the failures of European imperial nerve that put an end to that Ruritanian idyll.

You know, I expect them to try that next.

As such as Stoll tell it, history is a fairy tale in which the lovely maiden Capitalism skips merrily through the woods sprinkling fairy dust; occasionally labor unions, suffragists, civil rights workers and so forth come around and plague her, but there can be no reason for this except the influence of the devil, because she is so good. Eventually a knight, in the form of U.S. troops or hired assassins, comes along and rescues her, and everyone lives happily ever after, until the devil stirs some other wretches to trouble her.

Sometimes the facts are so glaringly obvious that they can't put this over, in which case they repair to think tanks and cook up fresh versions with novel twists (liberals are the real fascists! FDR was the villain of the Depression!). And if they can't get anybody besides the true believers to swallow those, then they just pretend the things they couldn't talk away never happened, and resolve not to mention them again.

Their busy minds may still stir with new stories, and vanity may tempt them to put them out. (Some of my best material comes from rightbloggers who just can't resist that temptation.) But longtime operatives such as Stoll have learned to be patient. In the real world, the work is done by brute force and baser kinds of fraud, and sometimes it's better to just keep quiet while the goons take care of business.

Don't think so? Look at all the erstwhile worshippers of George W. Bush who can no longer even say his name, but still glibly insist that something just like his policies will fix everything up. Never mind history -- they count on you forgetting yesterday.

UPDATE. Gorgeous comments here. "Any time that history puts the lie to American exceptionalism, it then becomes fair game for the ideological revisionists," says  montag. "One only need look at the way Chile's been portrayed by the right, let alone the rest of Latin America. "  Chile's a classic example of what I'm talking about. I remember how, when  Pinochet croaked, they got right on the rehab effort. But they've since become quieter about it, at least in places where normal people can hear them. Though sometimes the dead-enders like their Pinochetism straight-up, you're more likely to get more devious approaches, like Megan McArdle's insistence that no one she knows goes for Pinochet anymore while in the secluded meth labs of the Right they continue to praise his holy name.

Also, Mercurino says of my Leopold rehabilitation fable, "I think that's the abstract of Dr. Newt Gingrich's dissertation." And mortimer leads us to a magnificent story about the hunt for justice after a massacre in Guatemala in 1982, when Central American commie-hunters were our best friends, but I warn you -- it's long and it will make you mad.

No comments:

Post a Comment