For many Colombians, the United Fruit Company (UFC) is synonymous with the 1928 massacre of banana pickers immortalized in Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Others remember the scandal surrounding the company’s successor, Chiquita Brands, which admitted to financially supporting the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia in 2007. In other parts of Latin America, the company’s name has been linked to coups, human rights violations and dictatorships, which is why Marcelo Bucheli’s book ‘Después de la hojarasca’ (After the Leaf Storm) is bound to spark debate.
Originally published in 2005 under the title Bananas and Business, Bucheli’s text chronicles one hundred and one years of UFC’s history from 1899, when the company began operations in Colombia, to 2000, when Chiquita Brands went bankrupt. Bucheli examines the company’s business strategies and relationships with government officials and local businesses, focusing on its structural adjustments in response to a changing political context.
Although Bucheli doesn’t deny UFC’s human rights violations, he tries to situate the company’s actions within a broader political and historical context. He argues that most studies on UFC have focused on specific incidents, extrapolating conclusions about the company’s policies and local relationships based on isolated events. In this text, which was originally his doctoral thesis at Stanford University, Bucheli attempts to paint a more nuanced portrait of the company. He conducted extensive research, consulting documents from UFC’s archives and interviewing former UFC employees, union members, politicians, and field workers, to analyze how the company’s policies developed over time.
When this book was published in the United States, it attracted the attention of businesspeople, historians, and political scientists. Now, thanks to a Spanish translation completed by the Banco de la República and the Social Sciences Department at the Universidad de los Andes, Colombians will be able to participate in the debate over UFC’s legacy.
There will undoubtedly be critics who accuse Bucheli of minimizing UFC’s human rights abuses and others who see his book as a welcome revision of the company’s traditionally negative image. Regardless of the reader’s interpretation of UFC´s actions, however, Después de la hojarasca provides insight into an era of international investment that has in many ways shaped the way multinationals do business today.