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Monday, July 25, 2011

Number 227: Pablo Neruda "United Fruit Company"

United Fruit Co.

When the trumpet sounded 

everything was prepared on earth, 

and Jehovah gave the world 

to Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda, 

Ford Motors, and other corporations.

The United Fruit Company

reserved for itself the most juicy
piece, the central coast of my world, 

the delicate waist of America.

It rebaptized these countries 

Banana Republics,

and over the sleeping dead, 

over the unquiet heroes 

who won greatness, 

liberty, and banners,

it established an opera buffa: 

it abolished free will, 

gave out imperial crowns, 

encouraged envy, attracted

the dictatorship of flies: 

Trujillo flies, Tachos flies

Carias flies, Martinez flies, 

Ubico flies, flies sticky with

submissive blood and marmalade, 

drunken flies that buzz over 

the tombs of the people,

circus flies, wise flies 

expert at tyranny.

With the bloodthirsty flies 

came the Fruit Company, 

amassed coffee and fruit

in ships which put to sea like

overloaded trays with the treasures

from our sunken lands.

Meanwhile the Indians fall 

into the sugared depths of the

harbors and are buried in the 

morning mists; 
a corpse rolls, a thing without

name, a discarded number, 

a bunch of rotten fruit 

thrown on the garbage heap.

-- Pablo Neruda

Hap Notes: I suppose it's pretty obvious that Neruda is talking about U.S. political involvement in Central and South America. Most particularly the involvement that involved the "protection" of the employees for the United Fruit Company and the U.S.'s constant involvement in Latin American politics. It's true some of the governments were corrupt but no more so than the ones we helped put in to replace them.

More to the point, Neruda is also talking about the U.S. (and yes, other countries do it, too – still doesn't make it right) assumption that a foreign culture with different habits or little to no technology is somehow "primitive" and "backward." Neruda knows that Latin American history is chock full of freedom fighters, brilliant art, architecture and music, tribal wisdom, ecological balances etc.etc. I don't know if you've ever been around a culture that did not like, trust or respect American culture but the feeling one has is shame at our excesses and mistakes and defensiveness about our culture and our "commitment to freedom and justice for all." The U.S. has been making indigenous/foreign cultures feel like this for 300 years.

The U.S. swept in to Central America on behalf of the United Fruit Company many times with troops to "protect" them. In the 60s the U.S. sent 250,000 troops to the Dominican Republic to safeguard a couple hundred employees of the United Fruit Company. Seems both suspicious and excessive, huh? You can read more about all of this online. But the dictators the U.S. supported (listed in the poem by Neruda) were mostly used as resources so that Americans could have fresh fruit. It's a bloody list of sadness, that. And yes, maybe people would have had worse governments without our intervention. I'll point out these are adult humans capable of carrying out their own destinies without us – the world was still here before the English got to America. History does not start with the U.S. Most of this so-called U.S. "freedom fighting" is often about money not freedom, anyway.

Opera Buffa is an Italian term for ""comic opera" (it's where we get the word "buffoon.)

Here is where we have talked about Neruda before:

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