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tHe HonDURAn lIBeRAl ReFoRMs 27 ing up of new lands by Latin American governments, scientific research demanded by newly developing tropical agriculture, the development of extensive canal networks, the construction of railroads, the purchase of modern machinery, and the global transportation of a perishable commodity .37 While focusing specifically on the United Fruit Company in Ecuador, Striffler’s model holds true for Honduras because it was there that the United Fruit Company and several other North American– owned fruit companies developed the business strategies that were implemented throughout Latin America. The cultivation of bananas in Honduras, specifically the Gros Michel variety, was initiated on the Bay Islands and on the North Coast of Honduras in the later decades of the nineteenth century. From roughly 1860 to 1900, the industry remained almost completely in the hands of local growers. In coastal cities such as La Ceiba, these local growers were mainly independent farmers descended from migrants from the department of Olancho who settled the coast in search of better economic opportunities . The farmers cultivated the banana and sold the fruit to North American merchants who had access to seafaring vessels. Some estimates indicate that roughly 320,000 bunches of bananas were shipped to the United States per year between 1891 and 1899.38 According to U.S. diplomatic correspondence from the 1890s, La Ceiba emerged as the center of a large district devoted to the production of tropical fruits for export to the United States. It was estimated that some ten to twelve American steamships called at the port every month from New Orleans and New York.39 These North American merchants had access to an untapped market for “exotic” tropical fruits. In addition, the large ports of the northeastern and southern United States, combined with a transcontinental railroad system that linked the entire United States, set in place the necessary infrastructure to market the fruit throughout the country. While the number and size of North American–owned fruit companies in Honduras varied throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ranging from small independent companies to large multinational corporations, three companies proved essential to defining the dynamics of the North Coast of Honduras: the Vaccaro Brothers (later Standard Fruit and Steamship Company), the United Fruit Company, and the Cuyamel Fruit Company. Most West Indians on the North Coast worked for one of these three companies. The Standard Fruit and Steamship Company eventually controlled the fruit industry in the region in 28 RACe, nAtIon, AnD West InDIAn IMMIGRAtIon to HonDURAs and around La Ceiba, while the United Fruit Company, after merging with the Cuyamel Fruit Company in 1929, and through its subsidiaries in Tela and Trujillo, controlled the fruit industry from west of San Pedro Sula to La Lima and Tela and from Trujillo to Puerto Castilla.40 The three major fruit companies on the North Coast all shared an ability to obtain and manipulate government concessions. The Honduran government awarded the Vaccaro Brothers and Company a concession in 1905 to export fruit from La Ceiba in exchange for a promise to build canals in the region served by the Salado and Porvenir rivers. In addition, the company was to build jetties, docks, and structures necessary for the development of the region. Smaller local companies acquired access to the canals and the ports and were exempt from customs duties on imports and exports.41 The Cuyamel and United Fruit Companies gained access to the North Coast through similar dealings with the government. The history of the Cuyamel Fruit Company often focuses on its controversial founder, Samuel Zemurray. A Mobile, Alabama, banana merchant of Russian JewFruit Companies on the North Coast of Honduras, 1905–1954 tHe HonDURAn lIBeRAl ReFoRMs 29 ish immigrant origins, Zemurray began his career by buying bananas in railroad cart loads and selling them to local dealers. Later he moved to New Orleans and contracted himself out to the United Fruit Company to sell bananas that had ripened aboard ship and needed to be disposed of quickly in order to avoid a total loss. Eventually in 1910, Zemurray and his partner, Ashbell Hubbard, raised enough money to purchase 5,000 acres of plantation land in Honduras near the Cuyamel River, marking the beginning of the Cuyamel Fruit Company. The firm owned land in the region around the port city of Omoa and built railroads to transport its product to seafaring vessels. The company also built shops and developed a town in the area. The Cuyamel Fruit Company owed its...


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