Business History Review


Enforcing Business Contracts in South America: The United Fruit Company and Colombian Banana Planters in the Twentieth Century

Marcelo Buchelia1

a1 MARCELO BUCHELI is the 2004-5 Harvard-Newcomen Postdoctoral Fellow in Business History at Harvard Business School and professor of economic history at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá.


In the first half of the twentieth century, the United Fruit Company, based in Boston, Massachusetts, created an impressive network that produced bananas in Colombia for distribution to the U.S. market. The company grew its own fruit but relied as well on local entrepreneurs. United Fruit imposed draconian contracts on the growers, forcing them to trade on terms that were very favorable to the company. These practices set the standards for other exporters operating in the country, even those based in Colombia.

Marcelo Bucheli is the 2004–5 Harvard-Newcomen Fellow in Business History and professor of economic history at Universidad de los Andes in Colombia. His book, Bananas and Business: The United Fruit Company in Colombia, 1899–2000, will be published by New York University Press in February 2005. He has also written “United Fruit Company in Latin America,” published in Banana Wars: Power, Production, and History in the Americas, edited by Steve Striffler and Mark Moberg (2003), and “The United Fruit Company in Colombia: Impact of Labor Relations and Governmental Regulations on its Operations, 1948–1968,” which appeared in Essays in Economic and Business History (1997).