Thursday, June 28, 2007

Yes, I'll Have No Bananas!

Several years ago, I came across this upbeat, clever little use of film that suggests we are all One. Certainly a lofty concept, huh? And one that calls up visions of people standing in a circle holding hands around a campfire or swaying back and forth, singing Kum-ba-ya. But I keep revisiting the spot and finding new ways to use it because this lofty concept is, in fact, the Truth.

"The Truth?" you wince.

Yes, the Truth. But what does that mean -- especially in a world where we're haggling incessantly and with good reason over the politics related to issues as basic and inescapable as our skin tone, the make up of our genitals, or the nation of our birth? For the past eighteen months, I've been blogging on the socially-constructed, political notion of "race," but lately, I've been sliding over the line, as it were, increasingly including issues that may not for some of my faithful readers appear on the surface to be about "race." The fact is that Africa and immigration and other topics I've visited of late are not only related to the concept of "race," but are deeply couched in the ideology that produced the concept of race (and gender and nationalism, etc.) in the first place.

Case in point: this post by Sokari at Black Looks. When I first read it, I could feel the gloom of disappointed sorrow descending over my memory of Nelson Mandela being released from prison and my hope at that time for the future of the peoples of southern Africa. "Welcome to the world of the African-American," I thought to myself as I read. Oddly enough, I had just come across this video of Malcolm X in Africa in 1964 calling for the leaders of then newly independent African states to bring pressure to bear on the U.S. government and the power structure it represented to recognize and honor the citizenship of African-American people. He mentioned the U.N. He talked about the similarities between the struggle of Black people in the U.S. and the struggle of people of color around the world. I remember African-American men in prison in the 1970's talking about a petition to the U.N. for redress of their legitimate grievances -- as a people -- against the U.S. government.

Yet here we are, nearly fifty years later, and there have been changes, but seemingly only in the faces of those in power. And most people still do not seem to grasp the connection between the pain of the poor and the disenfranchised in one nation with that of those in another. Oppression against African-Americans in the United States is not more reasonable or less horrendous than oppression against people in Darfur or Mexico or Tibet -- in 1964 or now. In fact, I would argue that the oppressors are the same people, no matter what they look like.

Another crystal clear example of the global connectedness of issues related to race, ethnicity, money, and power is outlined by Kyle de Beausset in this post at Immigration Orange. Apparently, and this is pretty much all over the internet at this point, Chiquita Brands International pled guilty in a U.S. court in March to bestowing $1.7 million between 1996 and 2004 on United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia (UAC), a right-wing paramilitary fighting force famous for its attacks on indigenous people who fight against their own economic exploitation and political repression. Chiquita's version is that they were extorted for the funds to keep their workers safe, but UAC leader Carlos Castano has said flatly that “We kill trade unionists because they interfere with people working.” And for eight years, at least, they killed them on Chiquita's nickel. And ours, since we bought those bananas.

This is not new news concerning the corporation earlier identified in its history as the United Fruit Company. United Fruit lost its shirt in Cuba when Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, et al, threw Batista and his collection of corporate and mafioso thugs onto the first plane out. The level of exploitation in Cuba at the time was not remarkable. In fact, it was typical of most Latin American and Caribbean nations and many in other parts of the world, as well. The corporations and governmental elites made out like...well...bandits, if you will, and the people suffered, but then it isn't the fault of the rich that so many are born poor (right?). And United Fruit was just doing what corporations do, after all. But when the dust settled, United Fruit had taken a heavy hit where it hurt them most -- in the pocketbook -- and before it was over, Che, who was going for a repeat performance in Bolivia, lay dead, largely thanks to CIA intelligence and United Fruit funding.

You don't have to be a very rigorous student of the history or political economy of the region to know that the reason Latin American countries have been called "Banana Republics" is that the United Fruit Company/Chiquita Brands International and its other assorted buddies, including Dole and others, have maintained an on-going reign of terror throughout the southern hemisphere since the 1800's. It's hardly difficult -- especially with a modicum of elementary assistance from google -- to connect the dots between the corporations and other U.S. economic interests, the economic elites of the various countries in question, right-wing government repression, and the brutalization of men, women, and children pressed into serving those who have the power to force them to do so and the willingness to murder them if they don't.

But here we have a public trial and guilty plea directly connecting these realities and practices to our daily lives in the United States. The buying and eating of bananas is not just a HUGE business. It's been growing so much every year that they're having to chop down more and more rain forests annually to provide the additional bananas for which we apparently lust.

Now, boycotts always seem a little unrealistic to many of us. I mean, the sense most of us have is: "Heck! What's the difference whether I buy Product X or not? Other people are still gonna buy it anyway and the company is going to go right on making millions. My little $2 isn't going to mean a hill of beans (or bananas)." Nevertheless, I was barely twenty when Cesar Chavez first called for a boycott of table grapes. It seemed like little enough to me to just forego a few grapes. So I did. Then, I lost track of the process and by the time the United Farm Workers had successfully formed and won their battle, I was caught up in the prison movement and missed the memo. So I just lived without grapes. I was into my thirties before it occurred to me that it would be all right now. Boy! Those grapes were tasty!

In any case, it's only by looking back at the historical accounts now that I can see how effective that helpless little effort by a very committed man turned out to be. And I had a part in that. A very tiny, but relevant part.

So I'm calling for a boycott of all Chiquita products across the board from now until hell freezes over. It's not like there aren't other options because there are. And it's not like those other options aren't just as wicked as Chiquita in their principles and their practices, I'm sure. But it's time to make a statement to the corporate world about how it's treating workers. And it's time to give up things, if necessary, not for Lent, but permanently -- in solidarity with those who suffer around the world to provide the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the coffee we drink, the chocolate we dip our hand-picked and pesticide-laden strawberries into.

How is this about "race"? Because there are FAR more people of color than so-called "White" people in this world and they are FAR more likely to be the ones exploited, oppressed and even murdered, to enrich the coffers of European and European-American corporations and individuals who are getting little, if any, indication that anyone not in their fields, not in their sweatshops, not under their guns (literally) either notices or cares. I care! Whatever anybody else does, whatever is or is not part of a mass effort, I for one am done with Chiquita bananas. And it's about damn time.
NOTE: The poster above is by Ricardo Levins Morales and is available from the Northland Poster Collective.


Charles said...

Change, thanks for the info and count me in on the Chiquita boycott. I will also be stealing the "Margaret Mead" logo which is one of my all time favorite quotes...

Changeseeker said...

Great, Charles! Welcome aboard! Do credit the poster, though, to Morales and Northland, if possible. They deserve it and we've got to take care of our own, while we're "stickin' it to the man," huh?

Professor Zero said...

I'm in the boycott. I also just planted bananas, hope to harvest, if I do then I can distribute to those who just have to have them. ;-) This means though that I can't order anything at a smoothie stand with bananas, either ... they'll be Chiquita for sure.

Strawberries are also a good fruit to dump. Stoop labor to grow, and covered with pesticides you can't get out. I think they are also easy to grow in small quantities, maybe in window boxes?

Cero said...

P.S. I did the same thing with grapes. I was in the single digits in terms of age when it all started, so I trained myself off of grapes entirely. Now I adore them but my stomach is still unused to them.

Professor Zero said...

The Chiquita Banana song:

Professor Zero said...

And - get Nezua to make boycott chiquita stickers?

Changeseeker said...

I left a comment on your blog about the song, PZ. Good gosh! So Chiquita has actually developed the banana market it's been killing workers to cover. Yuk! I'll never see another banana without smelling blood!

Could Nezua DO that? What an idea!!!

Anonymous said...

"I'll never see another banana without smelling blood"

- So are you a vegan?

Go with Dole and Del Monte

Go High-fruit, Raw-Vegan. It's Sweeet.

Changeseeker said...

Not a bad point, Anonymous. In the quote, I am referring, of course, to human blood. And I do eat meat. But I'm not nearly as carnivorous as many. And I do pay attention (and take action) when I hear about a company that routinely engages in practices I can't support. Unfortunately, I'm diabetic and can't eat as much fruit as I want. I used to live on it.