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How To Win Friends and Influence People: The Secret Service In Colombia

Yes! We have no bananas

The history of US involvement in Colombia has been filled with violence and the exertion of colonial power. We have peeled back its surface and bitten down hard on a soft, creamy core. We have consumed it and we have dressed our consumption in a sweet sugary glaze to make it more palatable.

Colombia represented a property to exploit; first for a canal, later for agricultural products. While workers in the United States struck for fair working conditions in the early 20th century, the US government was involved in the notorious United Fruit protests in which soldiers opened fire on unarmed striking workers demanding better treatment. Six hour work weeks? Eight hour days? Contracts? Nothing shall stand between us and our bananas.

United Fruit became an almighty power in Colombia, using the government to protect its interests—and those of the United States—all for the sake of cheap tropical produce sold in the United States. Every grocery store in the US carries bananas, now. They are ubiquitous; typically any sort of convenience store with any kind of fruit at all has bananas. Bright yellow emblems of colonialism, suffering, and interventionism.

There are some ripening on top of my fridge right now.

The term ‘banana republic’ exists for a reason, and it is not a line of clothing. United Fruit controlled vast swaths of territory in South and Central America and maintained an iron lock on them and the labourers it exploited. Its effective monopoly extended tentacles deep through the halls of power; el pulpo knew no bounds. It controlled the land, the transportation, the government. It needed only lift a finger for troops to arrive to protect its precious resources, of which profit was the most precious of all.

You know it as Chiquita Brands International now. You know, the brand with the cutesy images of Latin American women in ruffles, objects to be exploited? They are exotic and delicious! Eat them up.

People have died for bananas.

The matanza de las bananeras was not the low point in our involvement in Colombia.

La Violencia

It was in the 1960s that we provided training and military assistance in Colombia to crush the aftermath of a civil war. Our old friend napalm came with us so we could destroy ‘peasant enclaves,’ hotbeds of revolution that they were.

Oh, such allies we are!

Business interests were threatened and that meant mounting pressure on the Colombian government to ‘accept’ our ‘assistance.’ For we could not have Colombia politically unstable. This would do no good at all. We helpfully imported counterinsurgency experts to train the military and the police in the interrogation of peasants. This was important, world-saving business, you know.

Torturing people.

Things that represent ‘insurgent infiltration’:

  • Initiating letter-writing campaigns
  • Protesting poor conditions
  • Speaking out about the government
  • Petitions
  • Worker unrest
  • Political art

We maintain a legacy of ‘counterinsurgency’ in Colombia. How helpful we are!

We must protect oil piplines. This is helpful. And we must fight the drug war.

Let us spray defoliants on the people of Colombia.

Planes fly overhead to deliver a rain of death.

Let us school you in our ways

We train human rights abusers at the School of the Americas. Colombian graduates are among our finest accomplishments. If you threaten to imprison the families of your subjects, they become more cooperative! Also effective: beatings. These are the skills we teach there.

The SOA is a secretive place but it is not an invisible one.

How helpful we are, with our foreign police aid.

Your women mean nothing to us

What is more surprising, that Secret Service agents avail themselves of sex workers in possible violation of the law and certain violation of agency policy, or that they think they can get away with not paying them? Rest assured that this is not the first nor the last place that the Secret Service has played sex tourist;  this was simply the time someone was caught.

What is the personal misconduct here? That they besmirched the reputation of the United States and endangered the President by dallying with sex workers? That they used US tax dollars to stay in a five star hotel and live the high life with a party so loud that it apparently disrupted other guests? That they failed to set a good example for the residents of Colombia, that ‘lesser’ and ‘inferior’ nation?

Or that they carelessly flexed their muscles as the colonisers, as the abusers, as the takers?

We know nothing about the women involved in this scandal; they are the faceless ‘prostitutes’ and we need know nothing more about them. They don’t matter; they aren’t human beings, women with lives and careers of their own. In every story they are simply the vehicle for the shame and embarrassment. How awkward for the US Secret Service, to be caught with whores. 

Disposable women. Chiquitas!

We are all in danger here

Flavia talks about the desecration and violation of nameless brown bodies, the treatment of these bodies as things, the objectification of women who are inhuman by virtue of who they are: This is what she means when she talks about this.

That we, the coloniser, should enter the colonial subject and take what we will.



  1. Sean wrote:

    I’d been waiting for this to be bigger news. How silly of me.

    Monday, April 16, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink
  2. @Sean, you just wait until one Fox News head so much as mentions it in their segment. I suspect it is bound to happen within the next 24 hours or so.

    Monday, April 16, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
  3. GGeek wrote:

    I’m glad this is getting some press, but the breath-taking scope of the US’ colonial audacity really needs a LOT more attention. Thanks, s.e., Flavia, et al, for taking up some of that important work, and for writing so movingly about these disastrous policies, attitudes, and events.

    I’ve shared this link around.

    Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink