|To enforce United States and private interests in Central America and the Caribbean
|April 21, 1898[a] – August 1, 1934
(36 years, 3 months, 1 week and 4 days)
The Banana Wars were a series of conflicts that consisted of military occupation, police action, and intervention by the United States in Central America and the Caribbean between the end of the Spanish–American War in 1898 and the inception of the Good Neighbor Policy in 1934. The military interventions were primarily carried out by the United States Marine Corps, which also developed a manual, the Small Wars Manual (1921) based on their experiences. On occasion, the United States Navy provided gunfire support and the United States Army also deployed troops.
With the Treaty of Paris signed in 1898, control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines fell to the United States (surrendered from Spain). The United States conducted military interventions in Cuba, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. These conflicts ended when the U.S. withdrew from Haiti in 1934 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The term "banana wars" was popularized in 1983 by writer Lester D. Langley. Langley wrote several books on Latin American history and American intervention, including: The United States and the Caribbean, 1900–1970 and The Banana Wars: An Inner History of American Empire, 1900–1934. His work regarding the Banana Wars encompasses the entire United States tropical empire, which overtook the western hemisphere, spanning both Roosevelt presidencies. The term was popularized through this writing and portrayed the United States as a police force sent to reconcile these warring tropical countries, lawless societies and corrupt politicians; essentially establishing U.S. reign over tropical trade. Hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Latin American civilians were killed in the Banana Wars.
Most prominently, the U.S. was advancing economic, political, and military interests in order to maintain its sphere of influence and to secure the Panama Canal (which opened in 1914). The U.S. had recently built the Panama Canal in order to promote global trade and to project its naval power. U.S. companies, such as the United Fruit Company, also had financial stakes in the production of bananas, tobacco, sugar cane, and other commodities throughout the Caribbean, Central America and northern South America.
Other Latin American nations were influenced or dominated by American economic policies and/or commercial interests to the point of coercion. Theodore Roosevelt declared the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine in 1904, asserting the right of the United States to intervene to stabilize the economic affairs of states in the Caribbean and Central America if they were unable to pay their international debts. From 1909 to 1913, President William Howard Taft and his Secretary of State Philander C. Knox asserted a more "peaceful and economic" Dollar Diplomacy foreign policy, although that too was backed by force, as in Nicaragua.
The first decades of the history of Honduras are marked by instability in terms of politics and economy. Indeed, three armed conflicts occurred between independence and the rise to power of the Carias government. This instability was due in part to American involvement in the country.
One of the first companies that concluded an agreement with the Honduras government was the Vaccaro Brothers Company (Standard Fruit Company). The Cuyamel Fruit Company then followed their lead. United Fruit Company also contracted with the government through its subsidiaries, Tela Railroad Company and Truxillo Rail Road Company.
Contracts between the Honduran government and the American companies most often involved exclusive rights to a piece of land in exchange for building railroads in Honduras.
However, banana producers in Central America (including Honduras) "were scourged by Panama disease, a soil-borne fungus (…) that decimated production over large regions". Typically, companies would abandon the decimated plantations and destroy the railroads and other utilities that they had used along with the plantation, so the exchange of services between the government and the companies was not always respected.
The ultimate goal of the contracts for the companies was control of the banana trade from production to distribution. The companies would finance guerrilla fighters, presidential campaigns and governments. According to Rivera and Carranza, the indirect participation of American companies in the country's armed conflicts worsened the situation. The presence of more dangerous and modern weapons allowed more dangerous warfare among the factions.
In British Honduras (now Belize), the situation was significantly different. Although the United Fruit Company was the sole exporter of bananas there, and the company also attempted to manipulate the local government, the country did not suffer the instability and armed conflicts that its neighbors experienced.
Perhaps the single most active military officer in the Banana Wars was U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, nicknamed "Maverick Marine", who saw action in Honduras in 1903, served in Nicaragua enforcing American policy from 1909 to 1912, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his role in Veracruz in 1914, and a second Medal of Honor for bravery in Haiti in 1915. After his forced retirement for making reckless statements, Butler made a career of speaking to left-wing groups denouncing capitalism. His standard speech after 1933 was titled War is a Racket, where he denounced the role he had played, describing himself as "a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers...a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism".