ENGLISH

This website was created on occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Banana Massacre in Colombia

December 6, 1928


The

BANANA MASSACRE

1928

90 Years Ago

1928 - 2018

 

 

1928 - 2018

 

Killing in the name of business.

On Dec. 6, 1928, Colombian soldiers shot to death banana workers on strike at the United Fruit Company.

 

Image of the worker strike of the Banana plantation in Santa Marta, Colombia.

From left to right:

Pedro M. del Río, Bernardino Guerrero, Raúl Eduardo Mahecha, Nicanor Serrano and Erasmo Coronell. Guerrero and Coronell died in the Banana Massacre Nov 12, 1928 in Santa Marta, Colombia.

 

 

Matanza de las bananeras

 

Banana Massacre

Matanza de las bananeras or Spanish: Masacre de las bananeras[1]) was a massacre of as many as 3000 United Fruit Company workers that occurred between December 5 and 6, 1928 in the town of Ciénaga near Santa Marta, Colombia.

The strike began on November 12, 1928, when the workers ceased to work until the company would reach an agreement with them to grant them dignified working conditions.[2]

After several weeks with no agreement and no work, costing the company severe financial losses, the conservative government of Miguel Abadía Méndez sent the army in against the strikers, resulting in the massacre.

After U.S. officials in Colombia and United Fruit representatives portrayed the workers' strike as "communist" with a "subversive tendency" in telegrams to the U.S. Secretary of State,[3] the United States government threatened to invade with the U.S. Marine Corps if the Colombian government did not act to protect United Fruit’s interests. The Colombian government was also compelled to work for the interests of the company, considering they could cut off trade of Colombian bananas with significant markets such as the United States and Great Britain.[4]

Gabriel García Márquez depicted a fictional version of the massacre in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, as did Álvaro Cepeda Samudio in his La Casa Grande. Although García Márquez references the number of dead as around three thousand, the actual number of dead workers is unknown.

 

Strike

The workers of the banana plantations in Colombia went on strike in November 12, 1928. The workers made nine different demands from the United Fruit Company:

  1. Stop their hiring practices through sub-contractors

  2. Mandatory collective insurance

  3. Compensation for work accidents

  4. Hygienic dormitories and 6 day work weeks

  5. Increase in daily pay for workers who earned less than 100 pesos per month

  6. Weekly wage

  7. Abolition of office stores

  8. Abolition of payment through coupons rather than money

  9. Improvement of hospital services [2]

The strike turned into the largest labor movement ever witnessed in the country until then. Radical members of the Liberal Party, as well as members of the Socialist and Communist Parties, participated.[5]

These were not socialist demands. The workers wanted to be recognized as employees, and demanded the implementation of the Colombian legal framework of the 1920s.[6]

 

Massacre

An army regiment from Bogotá was dispatched by the government to deal with the strikers, which it deemed to be subversive. Whether these troops were sent in at the behest of the United Fruit Company did not clearly emerge.

Three hundred soldiers were sent from Antioquia to Magdalena. There were no soldiers from Magdalena involved because General Cortes Vargas, the army-appointed military chief of the banana zone in charge of controlling the situation, did not believe they would be able to take effective actions, as they might be related to the plantation workers.[2]

The troops set up their machine guns on the roofs of the low buildings at the corners of the main square, closed off the access streets,[7] and after a five-minute warning[1] opened fire into a dense Sunday crowd of workers and their families including children who had gathered, after Sunday Mass,[7] to wait for an anticipated address from the governor.[8]

Number of dead

General Cortés Vargas, who commanded the troops during the massacre, took responsibility for 47 casualties. In reality, the exact number of casualties has never been confirmed. Herrera Soto, co-author of a comprehensive and detailed study of the 1928 strike, has put together various estimates given by contemporaries and historians, ranging from 47 to as high as 2,000. Survivors, popular oral histories and written documents give figures 800-3000 killed, adding that the killers threw them into the sea.[1] Other sources claim that the bodies were buried in mass graves.[2]

Among the survivors was Luis Vicente Gámez, later a famous local figure, who survived by hiding under a bridge for three days. Every year after the massacre he delivered a memorial service over the radio.

Another version by official Jose Gregorio Guerrero gave the number of dead as nine: eight civilians and one soldier. Guerrero added that Jorge Eliécer Gaitán had exaggerated the number of deaths.[9]

The press has reported different numbers of deaths and different opinions about the events that took place that night. The conclusion is that there is no agreed-on story, but rather diverse variations depending on the source they come from. The American press provided biased information on the strike.[2] The Colombian press was also biased depending on the political alignment of the publication. For example, the Bogotá-based newspaper El Tiempo stated that the workers were within their rights in wanting to improve their conditions. However, since the newspaper was politically conservative, they also noted that they did not agree with the strike.[2]

Official U.S. telegrams

Telegram from Bogotá Embassy to the U.S. Secretary of State, Frank B. Kellogg, dated December 5, 1928, stated:

I have been following Santa Marta fruit strike through United Fruit Company representative here; also through Minister of Foreign Affairs who on Saturday told me government would send additional troops and would arrest all strike leaders and transport them to a prison in Cartagena; that government would give adequate protection to American interests involved.[3]

Telegram from Santa Marta Consulate to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 6, 1928, stated:

Feeling against the Government by the proletariat which is shared by some of the soldiers is high and it is doubtful if we can depend upon the Colombian Government for protection. May I respectfully suggest that my request for the presence within calling distance of an American warship be granted and that it stand off subject to my call ... It is admitted that the character of the strike has changed and that the disturbance is a manifestation with a subversive tendency.[3]

Telegram from Bogotá Embassy to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 7, 1928, stated:

Situation outside Santa Marta City unquestionably very serious: outside zone is in revolt; military who have orders "not to spare ammunition" have already killed and wounded about fifty strikers. Government now talks of general offensive against strikers as soon as all troopships now on the way arrive early next week.[3]

Telegram from the U.S. Department of State to Santa Marta Consulate, dated December 8, 1928, stated:

The Legation at Bogota reports that categorical orders have been given the authorities at Santa Marta to protect all American interests. The Department does not (repeat not) desire to send a warship to Santa Marta. Keep the Department informed of all developments by telegraph.[3]

Telegram from Santa Marta Consulate to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 9, 1928, stated:

Troop train from banana zone just arrived in Santa Marta with all American citizens. No Americans killed or wounded. Guerrilla warfare now continuing in the zone but military forces are actively engaged in clearing the district of the Communists.[3]

Dispatch from Santa Marta Consulate to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 11, 1928, stated:

Looting and killing was carried on from the moment the announcement of a state of Martial Law was made and the fact that the American residents in the Zone came out of it alive is due to the defense they put up for six hours when they held off the mob that was bent upon killing them. I was justified in calling for help and I shall welcome the opportunity to defend the position that I took on the morning of the sixth and until the afternoon of the eighth.[3]

Dispatch from Bogotá Embassy to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 11, 1928, stated:

The opposition press, that is, the press of the Liberal Party, is conducting a violent campaign against the Government for the methods used in breaking up the strike, and is bandying ugly words about, especially referring to the Minister of War and the military forces, words such as murderer and assassin being used. Although the thinking people of the country realize that it was only the Government's prompt action that diverted a disaster, this insidious campaign of the Liberal press will undoubtedly work up a great deal of feeling against the Government and will tend to inculcate in the popular mind a belief that the Government was unduly hasty in protecting the interests of the United Fruit Company. The Conservative journals are defending the Government's course but I doubt that their counter-fire will suffice to do away with the damage the Liberal journals are causing.[3]

Dispatch from U.S. Bogotá Embassy to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated December 29, 1928, stated:

I have the honor to report that the legal advisor of the United Fruit Company here in Bogotá stated yesterday that the total number of strikers killed by the Colombian military authorities during the recent disturbance reached between five and six hundred; while the number of soldiers killed was one.[3]

Dispatch from U.S. Bogotá Embassy to the US Secretary of State, dated January 16, 1929, stated:

I have the honor to report that the Bogotá representative of the United Fruit Company told me yesterday that the total number of strikers killed by the Colombian military exceeded 1000.[3]

 

Consequences

Guerrilla movements in Colombia such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) argued that the growth of Communism in Colombia was triggered by atrocities like these, and called it state terrorism. The Banana Massacre was one of the principal causes of the Bogotazo, and the subsequent era of violence known as La Violencia.

Some sources claim there are connections between this massacre and the atrocities committed in more recent years by Chiquita Brands in Colombian territory.[10] Chiquita admitted paying 1.7 million dollars to the paramilitary group AUC (United Self Defense Forces of Colombia), who have killed hundreds of Colombian citizens.[11] This company has financed war machines by paying this terrorist group.[10] They claimed that they had been victims of extortion and said the payments were made as a way to protect their workers from the paramilitaries, but the people seem to object. In the documentary “Banana Land” Colombian plantain workers speak up about how they feel terrorized by multinational companies like Chiquita and their work with paramilitaries. They even say that people who speak up about the way they feel are at risk of being targeted by the AUC.[10]

 

Notes

  1. Posada-Carbó, Eduardo (May 1998). "Fiction as History: The bananeras and Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude". Journal of Latin American Studies. 30 (2): 395–414. doi:10.1017/S0022216X98005094. Archived from the original on 2006-05-31.

  2. Elias Caro, Jorge Enrique; Vidal Ortega, Antonio (2012). "The Worker's Massacre of 1928 in the Magdalena Zona Bananera - Colombia. An Unfinished Story". MEMORIAS Revista Digital De Historia y Arqueología Desde El Caribe Colombiano.

  3. Brungardt, Maurice (1997). "La United Fruit Company en Colombia". Innovar.

  4. "Chronology". The United Fruit Historical Society (on archive.org). Archived from the original on March 7, 2005. Retrieved March 6, 2006.

  5. Daniel, Bender; Lipman, Jana (2015). Making the Empire Work: Labor and United States Imperialism. New York University Press. pp. 104–133.

  6. Carrigan, Ana (1993). The Palace of Justice: A Colombian Tragedy. Four Walls Eight Windows. ISBN 0-941423-82-4. p. 16

  7. Bucheli, Marcelo. Bananas and business: The United Fruit Company in Colombia, 1899–2000. p. 132

  8. (in Spanish) El Pilon: Verdades sobre la Masacre en las Bananeras

  9. Glacer, Jason, director. Banana Land: Blood, Bullets and Poison. Banana Land: Blood, Bullets and Poison, 2 June 2015, bananalandmovie.org

  10. The Associated Press (2007). "Victims of Colombian Conflict Sue Chiquita Brands".

 

 

The Santa Marta Massacre



I have the honor to report that the "Diario Oficial" of July 27, 1925, contains Decree No. 1142 of 1925, expelling from the territory of Colombia Silvestre Savitsky for agitating the practise of doctrines subversive to the social order, which covers such doctrines as anarchy and communism. Explusion from Colombia of Russian agitator, Sept. 25, 1925

I have the honor to report that the newspapers of February 9 carried sensational accounts of the discovery of a large quantity of bombs and of a communist plot to blow up various public and private buildings. ... It appears that the leaders of the plot include one Tomás Uribe Márquez who visited Russia about 18 months ago and has long been known for his communistic ideas and activities, María Cano, whose revolutionary leanings and various propaganda tours throughout the country are familiar to the Department, and Torres Giraldo, who was arrested in Manizales in connection with a reported Labor Day conspiracy in 1928.

[T]ranquility on the part of the public is in marked contrast to the excitement bordering on panic which reigned not only in Bogotá but throughout the country in connection with the statements given out by the Government of a pending revolution to be initiated on May 1, 1928. This calm may be due to the fact that the Government has "cried wolf" so often that the definite revelations of an actual plot have failed to excite the public imagination. It may also be due to a feeling of confidence, as a result of the efficient quelling of the Santa Marta strike, in the Government's ability to put down any disturbances. Despatch #126 from Bogotá Embassy to Secretary of State, Feb. 13, 1929

With reference to despatch No. 126 of February 13, reporting the sensational discovery of a quantity of bombs and a communistic plot, I have the honor to report that the press has continued to carry sensational news items emanating from all over the country reporting further discoveries, arrests, the release of some of those arrested, confessions of guilt and declarations of innocence. The whole question remains, however, one of great confusion in the public mind nor have the definite plans of the plotters been made public by the police authorities. Despatch #168 from Bogotá Embassy to Secretary of State, March 8, 1929

El complot comunista era en todo el pais, March 8, 1929

The Government Informs the Country of the Serious Uprisings Which Recently Occurred, August 1, 1929

Labor Strikes in Santa Marta District, August 8, 1929

I have been following Santa Marta fruit strike through United Fruit Company representative here; also through Minister of Foreign Affairs who on Saturday told me government would send additional troops and would arrest all strike leaders and transport them to prison at Cartagena; that government would give adequate protection to American interests involved. Telegram from Bogotá Embassy to Secretary of State, December 5, 1928

Feeling against the Government by the proletariat which is shared by some of the soldiers is high and it is doubtful if we can depend upon the Colombian Government for protection. May I respectfully suggest that my request for the presence within calling distance of an American war ship be granted and that it stand off subject to my call ... It is admitted that the character of the strike has changed and that the disturbance is a manifestation with a subversive tendency. Telegram from Santa Marta Consulate to Secretary of State, December 6, 1928

Situation outside Santa Marta City unquestionably very serious: outside zone is in revolt; military who have orders "not to spare ammunition" have already killed and wounded about fifty strikers.

Government now talks of general offensive against strikers as soon as all troopships now on the way arrive early next week. I am concerned about some 20 Americans still in outside zone and hope to learn they are in safety before any such offensive begins in view of danger otherwise of possible repercussions on them. Telegram from Bogotá Embassy to Secretary of State, December 7, 1928

The Legation at Bogota reports that categorical orders have been given the authorities at Santa Marta to protect all American interests. The Department does not (repeat not) desire to send a war ship to Santa Marta. Keep the Department informed of all developments by telegraph. Telegram from Department of State to Santa Marta Consulate, December 8, 1928

Troop train from banana zone just arrived in Santa Marta with all American citizens. No Americans killed or wounded. Guerrilla warfare now continuing in the zone but military forces are actively engaged in clearing the district of the Communists. Telegram from Santa Marta Consulate to Secretary of State, December 9, 1928

Looting and killing was carried on from the moment the announcement of a state of Martial Law was made and the fact that the American residents in the Zone came out of it alive is due to the defense they put up for six hours when they held off the mob that was bent upon killing them.

I was justified in calling for help and I shall welcome the opportunity to defend the position that I took on the morning of the sixth and until the afternoon of the eighth. Despatch from Santa Marta Consulate to Secretary of State, December 11, 1928

The opposition press, that is, the press of the Liberal Party, is conducting a violent campaign against the Government for the methods used in breaking up the strike, and is bandying ugly words about, especially referring to the Minister of War and the military forces, words such as murderer and assassin being used.

Although the thinking people of the country realize that it was only the Government's prompt action that diverted a disaster, this insidious campaign of the Liberal press will undoubtedly work up a great deal of feeling against the Government and will tend to inculcate in the popular mind a belief that the Government was unduly hasty in protecting the interests of the United Fruit Company.

The Conservative journals are defending the Government's course but I doubt that their counter-fire will suffice to do away with the damage the Liberal journals are causing. Despatch from Bogotá Embassy to Secretary of State, December 11, 1928

I have the honor to report that the legal advisor of the United Fruit Company here in Bogotá stated yesterday that the total number of strikers killed by the Colombian military authorities during the recent disturbance reached between five and six hundred; while the number of soldiers killed was one. Despatch from Bogotá Embassy to Secretary of State, December 29, 1928

I have the honor to report that the Bogotá representative of the United Fruit Company told me yesterday that the total number of strikers killed by the Colombian military exceeded one thousand. Despatch from Bogotá Embassy to Secretary of State, January 16, 1929

I have the honor to report that the manifestations against the Government of yesterday and the day before were conspicuous for the number of inscriptions carried by manifestants relating to the fruit workers' strike, denouncing the Government and especially General Cortés Vargas for the manner in which the strike was put down; also, skeletons and skulls adorned with bunches of bananas were freely displayed.

This is interesting, of course, as another indication of the attacks that will surely be made against the United Fruit Company during the approaching sessions of Congress. Despatch from Bogotá Embassy to Secretary of State, June 8, 1929

I have the honor to refer to my dispatch No. 429 of July 11 [ed. note: I have not been able to find this despatch] reporting that General Cortés Vargas, Military Commander of the Santa Marta district during the period of martial law, had terminated his report on the strike and events in the banana zone to be presented to Congress, and intimating that it was highly probable that the report would contain either open or veiled references to the possibility of American intervention.

The press of July 20 contained articles of the local news agency SIN giving a summary of, and excerpts from, the report in question. ... The pertinent part reads as follows in translation:

'A person worthy of entire confidence informed us that he knew from a sure source that there were two ships lying to in the waters of Santa Marta; it was supposed that they were warships of the American Navy.' He (Cortés Vargas) called Colonel Diaz, commanding the Córdoba regiment, to his office and said to him: 'Prepare your mind to face the crowds of rebels and to kill before foreign troops tread upon our soil.' ----- 'Now, reviewing matters calmly we still believe in the imminence of that peril when we read in the New York Times of December 7 which reads (in English): 'Secretary Kellogg said he understood the Colombian Government is fully capable of maintaining order and that he does not contemplate asking the Navy Department to LAND Marines to protect American lives and property ....' The Secretary of State did not speak of sending but of disembarking, that is to say that the marines were near, ready for such a maneuver upon receiving the proper order.

Fortunately from our point of view both EL TIEMPO and EL ESPECTADOR, the only two papers so far commenting on the Cortés Vargas report, have, for political reasons, been so bent on attacking the General and the Government's handling of the strike that they have ridiculed his assertions as to the presence of American warships or the possibility of landing marines.

The President made his report on the subject to Congress when it convened on July 20. ... "on one side," he says, "were seriously threatened foreign interests which requested action from the Government before applying to their Government (tutela) to protect their rights, from which the State would have suffered a kind of humiliation of its sovereignty with all its lamentable consequences." A little farther on he speaks of the Nation as being "exposed to a foreign intervention with impairment of sovereignty, if the Government should not duly apply the remedy which the circumstances required." Despatch from Bogotá Embassy to Secretary of State, July 22, 1929

Referring to my former reports concerning the recent communist uprisings, I have the honor to state the Colombian authorities have been demonstrating unusual zeal for the protection of our interests: additional troops were despatched at once to Santa Marta for the protection of the properties of the United Fruit Company as well as to Barrancabermeja for the protection of the properties of the Tropical Oil Company. Despatch from Bogotá Embassy to Secretary of State, August 5, 1929

Gaitán began a three day denouncement of the Government's handling of the strike on Wednesday, September 4 ... While the burden of his speech was directed primarily against the Government and especially against Cortés Vargas (to whom he refused to give the title of General), ex-Minister of War Rengifo and President Abadía, the United Fruit Company and even the United States come in for their share of publicity. In this connection there is enclosed a translation of the part of Gaitán's speech which referred to Cortés Vargas' reference, in defense of his actions, to the presence of American warships.

Mr Cortes Vargas needed to seek an excuse for the unspeakable tragedy of which he is one of the authors; he needed to touch on patriotism and he invented for us the American warships. This affirmation, which he thought vindicated him, however, of itself and even though it were so, condemns him. Because what can be thought of an army officer who from fear of a few warships which appear insolently to threaten the coast of the Republic, instead of turning his guns and machine guns in a solemn gesture of sacrifice against the foreign invader of Colombian waters, finds no other recourse open to him than that of turning his firearms to assassinate the sons of his own country. ... In other words, the foreign invader is defeated and the Republic is saved by murdering his own countrymen in order to satisfy the threatening warships. ... But this was not true.

If there had been in this country that sense of dignity which exists in others, this army officer would have been demoted immediately because his words clearly indicate that his sword would have been readily surrendered against the attack of American warships in defense of foreign interests. "The Farce about American Boats," translation of speech by Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, September 4, 1929



Copyright Paul Wolf, 2002

 

 

 

Look up the Banana Massacre, thousands of Colombian union workers killed because they were protesting for better pay/conditions from Chiquita/United Fruits Company. Look up the way the United Fruit Company in general had control over countries throughout Latin America, including those with refugees now. The authority to shoot dead the protesters came from the US government. They okayed that officially. Then of course the US’s long term military involvement in Colombia in their “drug war.” They train the paramilitary and the paramilitary is responsible for something like 80% of the bloodshed. Not the drug lords, not the FARC, the government/US backed military responsible for the most civilian deaths.

 

Allen Dulles sat on the board of directors of United Fruit while he was the head of the CIA, and his brother John Foster Dulles's law firm represented United Fruit while he was the Secretary of State.

United Fruit had a very deep history with a lot of top brass in US government.

 

El asesinato de trabajadores de United Fruit (empresa americana) en Colombia llevó muchas protestas en contra de la compañia United Fruit, así como otras empresas americanas, en la capital Bogotá por parte de ciudadanos Colombianos.

 

 


List of massacres in Colombia

...

The following is a list of notable massacres in Colombia. According to the Grupo de Memoria Histórica, there were 2505 massacres in Colombia between 1973 and 2008.[1] The Colombian government defines "massacre" as the killing of 4 or more people in the same act.[2]

Name Date Location Deaths Notes
Bojayá massacre May 2, 2002 Bojayá, Chocó 119 98 injured[3]
Jamundí massacre February 21-22, 2005 Jamundí 11 unknown
Macayepo massacre October 14, 2000 Macayepo, Bolívar 15 unknown
Nariño massacres February 4 and February 11, 2009 Nariño Department 27 unknown
Villanueva Massacre December 8, 1998 Villanueva, La Guajira 11 unknown
Machuca Massacre October 18, 1998 Machuca, Antioquia 70 unknown
Villatina Massacre November 15, 1992 Medellín 9 none
La Rochela massacre January 18, 1989 La Rochela, Simacota 12 3
Banana massacre December 6, 1928[4] Ciénaga, Magdalena estimated 47 to 2,000 unknown
Uraba massacre March 4, 1988 Urabá Antioquia 20 unknown
Segovia massacre November 11, 1988 Segovia, Antioquia 43 unknown
Massacre of Trujillo 1988-1994 Trujillo, Valle del Cauca estimated 245 to 342 unknown
Riofrio massacre October 5, 1993 Riofrío, Valle del Cauca 13 0
La Gabarra massacre June 16, 1996[5] Tibú, Norte de Santander Department estimated 35-43 unknown
Bahía Portete massacre 2004
El Salado Massacre February 18, 2000
Santo Domingo massacre[6]
Chengue Massacre
Playón de Orozco massacre
Alto Naya massacre[7] April 12, 2001 Alto Naya, Cauca Department 40-130 estimated unknown
Villa Lucía, Apartadó massacre
Tibú massacre 2004
Putumayo massacres
El Aro Massacre October 22, 1997 Ituango, Antioquia Department 15 0
Mapiripán Massacre 1997
San José de Apartadó massacre February 21-22, 2005 Apartadó, Antioquia Department 8 0
La Mejor Esquina massacre
See also

Right-wing paramilitarism in Colombia

References
  1. Revista Semana: 2.505 masacres
  2. Department of State: Colombia report on Human Rights 2008
  3. witnessforpeace.org: Bojaya massacre
  4. (in Spanish) Luis Angel Arango Library: the banana massacre
  5. CNN: 34 killed in Colombia massacre
  6. (in Spanish) Colombian Air Force: Buscado la verdad sobre una Masacre en una aldea colombiana
  7. Agence France Presse: "The Chainsaw Massacre" Is Not a Movie in Colombia: Witness Archived 2008-10-11 at the Wayback Machine.