Colombia, Great Banana Strike

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Colombia, Great Banana Strike

Colombia's Great Banana Strike, a violent labor dispute in 1928. The target of the strikers was the United Fruit Company, which controlled banana production and marketing in the coastal department of Magdalena. In mid-November 1928 about twenty thousand workers went on strike against United Fruit and Colombian growers. The strikers' main demand was that they be recognized as company employees so that they might receive benefits guaranteed by law. To avoid providing these benefits, the company used labor contractors in hiring and firing. The strikers also sought wage increases and collective contracts. Intransigence on both sides prolonged the strike, and as tension mounted, the government declared martial law on 5 December. Early the next morning General Carlos Cortés Vargas ordered a crowd of 1,500 strikers and family members camped in the plaza of Ciénaga to disperse. When the order was ignored, his soldiers fired, killing thirteen. Strikers then attacked and burned company buildings in Sevilla, where soldiers killed twenty-nine. A wave of repression that followed produced additional deaths. The total number of victims is not known, but a historian has estimated the total between sixty and seventy-five. Many strike leaders were also jailed.

The Conservative government's handling of the strike, and especially the use of the army in defense of a foreign enterprise, provoked outrage and contributed to the Liberal victory in 1930. Jorge E. Gaitán, then a Liberal member of Congress, excoriated the government in an inflammatory debate that solidified his reputation as a friend of labor. The strike occupies an important place in Colombian national consciousness. It is the focal point of Álvaro Cepeda Samudio's novel La casa grande (1962) and the subject of a key episode in Gabriel García Márquez's Cien años de soledad (1967).

See alsoBanana Industry .


Miguel Urrutia, The Development of the Colombian Labor Movement (1969), esp. pp. 99-109.

Judith White, Historia de una ignominia (1978).

Roberto Herrera Soto and Rafael Romero Castañeda, La zona bananera del Magdalena (1979).

Carlos Arango Z., Sobrevivientes de las bananeras (1981).

Additional Bibliography

Bucheli, Marcelo. Bananas and Business: The United Fruit Company in Colombia, 1899–2000. New York: New York University Press, 2005.

Green, W. John. Gaitanismo, Left Liberalism, and Popular Mobilization in Colombia. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003.

                                          Helen Delpar