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Banana Republics and Hypocrisy

Words and phrases have a tendency to enter common usage and, over time, lose the nuance and context that comes with its definition. Take, for example, a phrase that Republicans repeated throughout the impeachment proceedings on January 13th: banana republic. A banana republic is generally defined as a small and politically-unstable country that is economically dependent on one export good, sometimes the definition includes the phrase “especially in Latin America or the tropics''. That definition is incorrect because it lacks historical context.

“Banana republic” was coined by William Sydney Porter, also known as O. Henry, in his book Cabbages and Kings to describe the fictional Republic of Anchuria, a country he based largely on his experiences in Honduras. At that time Honduras, and much of Latin America, was already being manipulated by American fruit companies - 8 years later Nicaragua would be occupied by the US Military at the behest of US companies whose interests were threatened by worker uprisings. This military action and others like it were later named the Banana Wars by historian Lester D. Langley.

From roughly 1846 to 1954, US companies insidiously exploited resources, workers, and lands in foreign countries within America’s sphere of influence. They purchased land from governments and private citizens at favorable rates under the pretense that their presence would enrich the economy and the lives of the people in that country. These companies would then use their money to influence politicians in their favor, they would use their outsized economic impact to influence the host country’s policies, they would exploit their workers to the point of death, and they would abuse the environment with only an eye towards their profit margins. Then, because the United States has always viewed corporations as people - a concept called corporate personhood - when the workers would rise up against their oppressive employers the United States government would respond as if the company was an American citizen being attacked by a foreign entity. They would invade, they would fund militias, they would “establish rule of law” and “democracy” even as they made money hand over fist at the expense of an allied nation that the US had sworn to defend from foreign influence with the Monroe Doctrine. I recommend reading Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World by Peter Chapman, Las Venas Abiertas De América Latina by Eduardo Galeano, and Bitter Fruit: the Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer for a more complete history of this time period.

Two-time Medal of Honor Recipient, Major General Smedley Butler said it best in his book War is a Racket, published in 1935: “War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

So, what is a banana republic? A banana republic is a country whose government has been dominated by a corporation, usually foreign, in order to exploit its most desirable natural resource(s) with no regard for the well-being of its citizens or environment.

Now that we have a better definition for banana republic, I would draw your attention to remarks made by Republicans during the House session debating Donald Trump’s second impeachment, specifically Representative Tom McClintock (R-CA 4th District). Politicians in the United States of America are, almost without exception, beholden to corporate donors and special interest groups. Companies and industries that pay millions of dollars every year to political campaigns in order to ensure that their interests are placed above those of the average American citizen. When politics are driven by corporate interests and when laws can be killed with a “donation” from a company that has a vested interest in its outcome, can anybody say that our country is not dominated by corporations? This kind of unsubtle irony is too stupid to be made up. It brings to mind a scene from the Sacha Baron Cohen movie, the Dictator, where the titular dictator, General Aladeen, says: “Why are you guys so anti-dictators? Imagine if America was a dictatorship. You could let 1% of the people have all the nation's wealth. You could help your rich friends get richer by cutting their taxes. And bailing them out when they gamble and lose. You could ignore the needs of the poor for health care and education. Your media would appear free, but would secretly be controlled by one person and his family. You could wiretap phones. You could torture foreign prisoners. You could have rigged elections. You could lie about why you go to war. You could fill your prisons with one particular racial group, and no one would complain. You could use the media to scare the people into supporting policies that are against their interests.

To say that impeaching the President for a second time risks making the US into a banana republic shows a lack of understanding; the US has been a banana republic for almost a century, we just call it something else.


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