By Maidhc Ó Cathail
The Passionate Attachment
June 11, 2012
For those familiar with the writings of Noam Chomsky and the anti-imperialist Left, United Fruit epitomizes the crimes of corporate-sponsored U.S. imperialism in Latin America. Much less well-known, however, is the infamous American corporation’s intimate ties to the state of Israel. In a review of Rich Cohen’s biography of Samuel Zemurray, The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King, The Jewish Week notes the crucial behind-the-scenes role the longtime president of the United Fruit Company played in the creation of Israel:
And when the initial vote to create the Jewish state failed at the United Nations in 1948 — but was close enough to allow for a re-vote within 72 hours — Zemurray went to work.
From his mansion in New Orleans (later donated to Tulane, and now the university president’s house), he called several Latin American leaders and got enough of them to switch their votes. “Knowing about the work of Zemurray,” Cohen writes in his book, “certain yes votes that might otherwise seem mysterious — Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ecuador, Panama — suddenly makes perfect sense. Behind them, behind the creation of the Jewish state, was the Gringo pushing his cart piled high with stinking bananas.”
By comparison with the 750,000 Palestinians who lost their homes as a result of Zemurray’s work for Israel, many of the indigenous people of Latin America were even less fortunate:
He financed the coup of the Honduran government in 1910, and got the U.S. government to help overthrow the Guatemalan government in 1954 — both of which had disastrous consequences for each country. The Guatemalan coup alone resulted in three-decades-long civil war that resulted in 200,000 deaths.
In his defense, Cohen, an author with a soft spot for “Tough Jews,” says:
“You can’t exercise power without f***ing up the lives of a lot of people.”