Current Events: Banana Transnationals Lay Off Workers
  Many traditional Garífuna dishes are made of plaintain bananas, which were originally brought over from Africa. Here plaintains will be mashed to make a food known as machuca in Spanish and hudutu in Garífuna. Photo credit: Drew Irwin.  

Background:
Did you know that the first bananas that reached U.S. soil came from Honduras? They were shipped in 1860 from Utila, an island located off the North Coast of Honduras. Following the U.S. Civil War, the banana trade exploded in Honduras. Three economic powerhouses soon dominated the market: the United, Standard, and Cuyamel Fruit Companies. These foreign corporations received large grants of land from the Honduran government, and in exchange, constructed badly needed railroads, shipping, and port facilities.

But they forsake their promise to build a railroad that would join Honduras' capital with the Northern banana towns. This caused uneven growth because the North Coast was more closely linked to New Orleans than Tegucigalpa, the nation's capital. Also, small, domestic producers were forced to accept the arbitrary banana prices set by large corporations, which monopolized the market. By the 1920s, the Honduran economy was dependent on the world banana market, since bananas accounted for 80% of domestic exports. Thus, Honduras was dealt a shattering blow when banana prices collapsed due to epidemics and unrest in Europe prior to World War II.

The Garinagu, in particular, suffered the brunt of this economic crisis. Large numbers of Garífuna men had been hired as field hands to pick and load bananas for export. Garífuna communities were built overnight around the ports in La Ceiba, Tela, and Cortes. When banana companies suspended their operations and pulled their railroads, many Garífuna families were left with no alternative source of income. As a result, many Garífuna males enlisted in the U.S. and British merchant marines, who needed new recruits because many had left for war. This established a pattern of outward migration due to limited economic opportunities.

Current Event: Following the wake of devastation left by Hurricane Mitch, the Honduran government reported 8,058 officially dead or missing and 617, 831 evacuated or homeless (ECLAC Report 1999). To make matters worse, Standard Fruit Company, a subsidiary of Dole Foods, laid off 8,000 banana workers - 3,600 of whom were women and 40% single mothers. Tela Railroad Company, a subsidiary of Chiquita International, also dismissed 7,000 employees, including 2,000 women that worked in packing factories (Barraclough and Moss 15).

Many banana workers lost their homes and relatives in the storm. And without an income, many are turning to prostitution or odd jobs to meet their basic needs. A 31-year old Honduran women, Mereyda Reyes Fajardo from La Lima says, "I don't know what I'm going to do. I used to make $20 a week packing bananas. Now I get $5.50 a week to wash clothes and that's only if I do a lot of ironing" (Garvin 6). Even though operations will soon reopen, the banana companies are accused of delaying the rehiring process to weaken the Banana Union Central Council (COSIBAH). The Council has insisted on long-term solutions to problems of unemployment and environmental degradation (Barraclough and Moss 15, 17). Also, the banana companies have been criticized for installing modern irrigation and packing equipment to cut labor costs by 15% (Garvin 5).

Visit the below links for more information on this current event. Read about the allegations that Standard Fruit's nightly fumigations have caused Honduran children to be born with brain malformations.

Related Current Events Links:
Banana Action Net: worldwide campaign for the respect of labor rights on banana plantations; Mitch; current labor conflicts.
Banana Ecolabeling Program is World's Largest. Rainforest Action Alliance.
Bananas have strong impact on North Coast cuisines (scroll down). Wendy Griffin. Honduras This Week, 7/20/98.
Chiquita Homepage
Dole Food Company Homepage
Del Monte Homepage
During rebuilding, Chiquita strives for eco-friendly bananas (scroll down). Wendy Griffin. Honduras This Week, 7/99.
Pesticide Related Deaths Under. Juan Ramon Duran. Inter Press Service, 2/26/98.
The Banana Chain: The macro economics of the Banana Trade. Adelien van de Kasteele on behalf of IUF Amsterdam, International Banana Conference Document. February 1998.
The Better Banana Project. Rainforest Action Alliance.
The Environmental Impact of the Banana Industry: A Case Study of Costa Rica. Yamileth Astorga. International Banana Conference Document.

Click here for more links in Spanish.


Bibliography:
Barraclough, Solon and Daniel Moss. "Toward greater food security in Central America following Hurricane Mitch: Rethinking sustainable rural development priorities," pp. 1-33. Oxfam America: May 1999.
Berger, Kathy and Andrea Leland. The Garífuna Journey Study Guide, pp. 23-4. Leland/Berger Productions: Illinois, 1999.
Caballeros, Romulo. "Los efectos regionales del Mitch - necesidades de reconstrucción y mitigación." Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe, Mexico. (CEPRAL)
Garvin, Glenn. "After Mitch: a year after hurricane, devastated lives are healing - some more speedily than others," pp. 1-7. The Miami Herald: November 7, 1999.
Wendy Griffin. Bananas have strong impact on North Coast cuisines (scroll down). Honduras This Week, 7/20/98.