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The Banana Massacres

El Colectivo/The Collective

"The official version, repeated a thousand times and mangled out all over the country by every means of communication the government found at hand, was finally accepted: there were no dead, the satisfied workers had gone back to their families, and the banana company was suspending all activity until the rains stopped."

—Gabriel García Márquez,
One Hundred Years of Solitude

The Banana Massacre recounted by Gabriel García Márquez—that took place in Ciénaga on 6 December 1928, perpetrated by a squadron of the national army—remains in the memory of many Colombians. Hundreds or perhaps thousands of strikers protesting the United Fruit Company were murdered in the plaza where they had gathered. But what is the scope of the significance of this event that is a landmark in the fight for the rights of farm workers and the working class of Colombia? Even several decades after Marquez's retelling in One Hundred Years of Solitude, such massacres continue to be committed in the regions that are dedicated to the mono-cultivation of bananas, sugar cane, or coconut. And just as in 1928, the repeated silence conceals the meaning of this violence that aims to destroy all social movements that denounce dehumanizing working conditions.

The persecution of labor movements undermines the possibilities for communal solidarity because it does not recognize the human being in the worker; it alienates the worker from his labor and from his community by preventing the formation of a union collective and by silencing his demands. The birds flee; the victims fall.

Over the past 80 years, thousands have been the victims of the alliance between armed groups, multinational corporations, and wealthy landowners. There have been innumerable formal complaints against these businesses and landowners, linking them to the displacement, disappearance, and assassination of workers and union leaders. We have rough statistics, and know of mass graves, and of thousands of victims, hidden in the shadows of banana trees and palm leaves, whose names, histories, and lives have been systematically removed from the collective memory.

In the best of cases, the rights of workers in this real-life Macondo (Márquez's mythical town) are reduced to a specific sum dictated by a legal sentence requiring Chiquita Brands (successor to the United Fruit Company) to pay a fine for having given funds to the AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a terrorist organization) for "security services." Human rights violations paid in millions; orphans increase like banana groves, and truth goes right past the television viewers. That's the limit of our own agency over our own history, over our own destinies. What unites us with the massacred plantation workers of 1928 or those killed in the 80 years following? History, geography, space-time, the necessity and the right to use our own resources, and above all, our definition as workers in the legal framework that governs us today.

The concentration of land ownership and the lack of agricultural reform; the ignorance of civil and social rights; the violent and unscrupulous appropriation of farmland and natural resources; the complicity of the State in the face of countless abuses of the market; the dedication of entire regions to the mono-cultivation of crops whose profits go only to multinational corporations, elite landowners, and the armed groups that defend them: these are major problems that demand our reflection and sound an urgent call to action.

Bananas and massacres,
one after the other,
bodies rotting on the ground like overripe fruit.
Consumers buying bananas in the supermarket,
Without memory
and without pain.

We will not respond by way of violent action. Contagion will be our strategy to break the routines of habit, to unleash the virus of suspicion and awaken doubt about memory, and to rethink our position in relation to it; facing the injustice lived by plantation workers, and lived by all of us who work in this culture of consumption.

For contagion, a golpe of memory:

So that the pain of the massacres may turn into action, so that the anguish becomes living memory, to make from this present a past that we construct, every golpe of memory counts. We invite the transmission of the virus, from us to our friends, from our friends to those who purchase bananas, to everyone at home; to their kitchens, as an appetizer for the banana split they have on the weekend. We seek to bring the virus to all who may be susceptible to remembering, to all who are at risk of becoming victims—because the private is also political—passing from the public space of the market to the private space of fruit bowls on kitchen tables.

1928 click to download
1988 click to download

We suggest these brief steps:

1. Print on self-adhesive paper and cut out the stickers on this page

2. Stick them on bananas in supermarkets; the fruit with its new logo is a reminder of the deaths it cost.

3. Record your golpe with photos, comments, videos, or whatever medium allows us to preserve the memory of our collective action, and send it to us. It will be published at http://elcolectivo.wikispaces.com/.