The Banana Republic A Conspiracy Primer By Mike White. The United States is at war. However, no nightly body counts appear on the news nor do weekly updates with colorful graphs in Time Magazine...

The United States is at war. However, no nightly body counts appear on the news nor do weekly updates with colorful graphs in Time Magazine. This is a war of words and of economics. At the center of it all is a billion-dollar commodity rich in potassium, a bunch of bananas.

The Banana Battle has roots far into the 1950s. The United Fruit Company has been a major player in the underhanded deals of the century. They’ve kept their economical interests in mind while helping the CIA to topple threatening governments and even put their fingers in the pies of corporate conglomerates like RCA and NBC. Meanwhile, the current conflict originates in the fall of 1996.

At a World Trade Organization summit in Geneva, two delegates from the Caribbean were expelled on the grounds that they weren’t permanent government employees and, thus, represented a “security risk” to the other countries’ trade deals. In the eyes of the governments of St. Vincent and St. Lucia, however, the expulsion was a sign that they were being told they were unable to choose their own representatives to the WTO. In other words, they didn’t have the clout to play with the “big boys.”

The United States escalated its conflict with Europe in 1999 but nary an eyelash of the average US citizen was batted. In one of the most potentially pun-inspiring and unpublicized events of the decade, the United States declared that the European Union was engaging in an unlawful policy that directly violated international trade laws.

Under European import laws, banana growers in former European colonies (Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific Islands) have been given easier access to the European market than US-owned banana producers in Central and South America. When both the United States Senate and the puppet World Trade Organization cried, “favoritism,” sanctions were placed against the European Union of one hundred percent duties on a laundry list of imports amounting to over half a billion dollars.

Why all this mess over bananas?

One likely source for the banana bugaboo is that in 1997—after the Democratic National Committee repealed its one hundred thousand dollar per donor limit on soft money campaign contributions—Carl Linder, president of Chiquita Bananas, was one of the largest patrons of President Clinton’s re-election campaign. All told, the political powerhouse of Chiquita contributed over two million dollars to political candidates and parties in 1997 and 1998.

Denying that pressure from Chiquita has anything to do with this dispute, the President of Economic Strategy Institute in Washington, Clyde Prestowitz said that, “If we don’t win the banana case...other products could be affected down the road.”

Indeed, the US has had its feathers ruffled by another economic powerhouse, the Beef Industry. For not only are Europeans eating bananas grown by their ex-compatriots but they are not gorging themselves on US-grown beef! The gall! Was this another case of rampant favoritism? Perhaps, but the reason given by the European Union for passing on US beef was one of safety. The US has one of the highest concentrations of growth hormones in its food (especially beef) of any nation in the world. Sure, these hormones have been approved by the US Food & Drug Administration, but bear in mind that they’re the same group who once gave thalidomide a passing grade.

To counter the bullying moves made by the US, a spokesman for the European Trade Commissioner suggested that if the Caribbean were not put to work producing bananas that another cash crop might come into favor: “There is a risk of driving these countries into drug production and that is not in anybody’s interest, least of all the United States.” Coupled with this, the repeal of a 1997 trade and security agreement has been threatened; an act that would disallow American law enforcement agencies to pursue drug traffickers into their territorial waters and air space. In other words, the Caribbean could be a protected haven for drug cartels.

By early 2000, there are no signs of Europe backing down and obeying the World Trade Organization’s ruling in favor of the US. President Clinton commented late in 1999 that, “There is an international body which is supposed to resolve these disputes and you win, and then you win again, and then you win again, and nothing happens. It’s very frustrating and it undermines our ability to build support in the Congress and the country for a new trade round.”

As we enter a new millennium, the battle rages. Occasionally you might catch a glimpse of it buried deep in the financial section. Even when front pages raged for a brief instant when some of the aforementioned “frustration” was demonstrated by the riots in the streets of Seattle during the last WTO summit. Nevertheless, among the clouded reasons given for taking to the streets, the war over bananas stays far from the madding crowd.

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