The outrageous thuggery in the nation’s capital that the world witnessed on Wednesday was alarming, but to those paying close attention to President Donald Trump’s destructive rhetoric and lies over the past four years, it was hardly surprising. I saw it coming — didn’t everyone?
Unstable governments and reputed “banana republics” don’t just happen — they are created.
Trump, the leader of the mob of thugs, has been stoking violence and manipulating his followers with misinformation and racism for decades and launched his presidential campaign in 2015 by slanderously calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers. In campaign rallies and from his powerful pulpit in the White House, the 45th president has been feeding delusions of supremacy to white nationalists and encouraging them to violence, if necessary, to stay in power. And this week, in the midst of the bloody chaos, rather than rebuking the savagery, Trump sent his hooligan followers a video message, subsequently removed from Twitter, telling them that “we love you, you’re very special,” while insisting on the lie that the election was stolen from him. This is seditious behavior at its worst and white-collar thuggery at its finest.
As a citizen born in Puerto Rico, America’s oldest colony, where half a million colonial subjects showed the world how to elegantly protest without violence in the summer of 2019 to remove a misogynist and homophobic governor, what was disturbing to me was not only the vulgar undemocratic violence on display, but the deceitful narrative created by pundits, politicians and journalists in the wake of that violence. They centered the U.S. as the beacon of democracy in the world, with booms that “this sort of thing doesn’t happen in America” — but that it does in distant lands inhabited by Black, brown and Indigenous peoples.
“We are witnessing absolute banana republic crap in the U.S. Capitol right now,” Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Republican of Wisconsin, tweeted to his followers, in one of many examples. CNN anchor Jake Tapper told viewers that he felt “like I’m talking to a correspondent reporting from, you know, Bogota.”
This talk is disingenuous, racist and just plain ignorant. This “banana republic crap” is a duplicitous narrative used to distract from the grotesque mess colonialism, imperialism and capitalism sows in countries where U.S. companies have abused workers, displaced millions from their lands and pilfered resources for gain — the real banana republic activity.
The historical record shows that the U.S. government has directly interfered with democracy, supporting coups in countries around the world, destabilizing fragile governments, manipulating elections and, in the case of several Central and South American nations, sanctioned and assisted in the killing of democratically elected leaders when it was inconvenient to U.S. commercial interests.
I am thinking of Chile, where in 1973, the democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, was assassinated with the help of the CIA and replaced by the right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet, who went on to kill and torment millions of innocent citizens for two decades.
I am thinking of Cuba and the many failed CIA attempts to kill the island’s president, Fidel Castro, because Castro’s way of running his nation was in direct conflict with the U.S. The inconvenient truth is that this nation, the alleged beacon of freedom, has dirty hands when it comes to democracy — subverting it abroad while relatively championing it at home. Since the nation’s founding there is a long history of voter suppression in Black and brown communities that unfortunately continues to plague the nation. Abroad, it’s just as brazen.
I am thinking of Honduras, Panama, Ecuador and Guatemala, where the United Fruit Company, now rebranded Chiquita, with the help of the U.S. government, displaced natives from their lands and imposed monocropping, a form of industrial farming that destroys the environment, among other evils. The list of “banana republic” behavior perpetrated and paid for by the U.S. taxpayers is long, not just in Latin America, but around the globe.
It was a fictionalization of Honduras that the crook and short story writer William Sydney Porter used in conceiving the term in the early 1900s. This white, male American bank embezzler who went by the pen name O. Henry escaped to Honduras fleeing a federal indictment. While running from the law, he wrote a book in 1904 called “Cabbages and Kings,” in which he describes Anchuria, aka Honduras, as a “banana republic.” The term stuck.
Banana republics over the years have come to symbolize in the white supremacist imagination all the exploited smaller Black and brown nations of the world and their bandidos that rise up. What is clearly missing is the entire story — they rise against imperial states like the U.S. that get their way, through subversion of democracy when a people’s chosen leader is not convenient to American corporate interests. Indeed, unstable governments and reputed “banana republics” don’t just happen — they are created. The larger story is that the U.S. has, to the detriment of democracy around the world, refined the art of intervention in other nations’ affairs.
It is time we retire the use of the racist term “banana republic” to describe what happens in places where the U.S. has worked to deny citizens democracy.
In what became known as the “Banana Wars,” history buffs will recall that Honduras was invaded by the U.S. seven times in the early 1900s, followed by invasions of Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and Haiti, to name a few. In 1898, the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico after acquiring it illegally from Spain at the end of the Spanish-American War. The U.S. military occupation continues today.
In fact, the historical record shows that America is the original banana republic, and for the last four years in particular, under a reckless president, it has profited from the cultivation of one crop: racism. It is time we retire the use of the racist term “banana republic” to describe what happens in places where the U.S. has worked to deny citizens democracy and where people rise up to defend it. Instead, let’s use it to describe Trump’s America of 2021, where thousands of Republican Party bandits, led by a Republican bandit president, want to end democracy.