For a period of 40 days, close to 50 participants and 6 congregations participated in the Banana Challenge. Participants of the Banana Challenge fasted from eating bananas for 40 days and formed book discussions groups to learn more about how transnational banana corporations helped shape Latin America.
Why bananas? This year, we decided to tackle one of the many examples of the many export and commodities that we get to enjoy from Latin America. We believe these extractive economies are a root cause of migration. This year we decided to focus on bananas. Next year, for example, we will focus on palm oil.
These extractive economies, driven by transnational corporations and international agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, have been the cause of much political instability in Central America. There is a connection between the coup of the democratically elected president in Honduras in 2009 with transnational corporations that has left the country in much peril. Activists, like Berta Cáceres, have been targeted and assassinated since the coup in alarming numbers for wanting to protect their lands from these extractive forces of the local economy.
This is why we decided to focus on bananas, and other extractive economies, as a study in root causes.
What we learned during the Banana Challenge was both disturbing and transformative. We learned how the United Fruit Company had unquestionable control over many so called “Banana Republics” and how their benefits shaped the politics of these countries. Learning the history of the United Fruit Company “makes me never to want to eat bananas again” a Banana Challenge participant told us.
Transnational corporations like the United Fruit Company built a monopoly in Latin America by buying or trading massive portions of lands and putting small growers out of business. They grew to such proportion that, with the help of the CIA, they successfully arranged a coup of the democratically elected Guatemalan president in 1954, after he planned to take back the company’s lands and give it to poor peasants.
United Fruit, as part of their monopolizing strategy, undervalued their land to have less tax liability. By the 1930s they were successful in obtaining tax exemptions, duty free imports of needed goods, and guaranteed low wages. United Fruit also owned the major ports, railroads, and telegraphs services. They could charge whatever they wanted.
After reading and discussing the somber history of these transnational corporations, some participants expressed a desire to only buy local bananas as a way to protest an extractive economy, and also to reduce the heavy carbon footprint from transporting them from the tropics.
Some have decided to buy only fair trade bananas, and others to even grow their own bananas in their backyards!
The Banana Challenge was a poignant and transformative experience. Many of us can’t look at a banana the same way anymore. For many of us, it has become a symbol of colonization and exploitation of our brothers and sisters in Latin America.
If you want to learn more about this, I invite you to read these articles:
NY Times article on the 1954 coup in Guatemala.