UNITED STATES—When the teacher-president Arreola formed his presidential cabinet, he appointed Gascón as minister of defense. It was a defensive chess play. President Arreola merely wanted to secure the loyalty of the army, where Gascón was wildly popular, even beloved. Let’s not be coy, dear reader, you can see how in the history of Bananaland, the military is a wild card that holds all the cards. A General would be replaced by an elected liberal president; the generals had more staying power and often dismissed the fuss of free elections. It was so common that when skirmishes broke out between rebels as soldiers, the owners had to flee to the United States for a season or two.

Juan David’s father had a banana plantation down there until they had to flee to the US. Something to do with rebels or the government. Massive piles of bananas being left to rot because they weren’t within the strict size range demanded by the American and British markets. They gave the banana stems to pig farmers for free, but after some time the pigs didn’t want any more. So, once again, they were stuck with huge piles of bananas, rotting.

This time something different happened; Arreola, upon completion of his full term, tapped Gascón to pursue and complete the objectives of the Revolution. You see, in Bananaland, and most of its geographical neighbors, there were strict term limits, and therefore the perennial machine of the Revolution, the holy, sacred, botched revolution could creep forward from an era owned always by one man or woman, as when Violeta was elected.

“I can trust you to fulfill the aims of the revolution,” they said one morning in the breakfast nook of the presidential palace.

“Yes, your excellency,” said Gascón, who later castigated himself for the slip but said nothing.

Gascón formed a coalition government made up of fractious factions, including members of a small Communist party. As far as the Yanks were concerned, the presence of these Commies suggested that Gascón was a Communist himself. In the first spring of the second half of the century, Gascón took the oath of office, flanked by the departing president. It was the first peaceful transition of power in the country’s history.

“Pretty amazing.”

“You bet, amazing.” The denizens of the isthmus could be proud of their democracy.

In his farewell speech Arreola ominously warned of the monstrous power of the banana corporation.

“The Revolution will have to be pushed forward, or it will be lost.”

Gascón was from the start a different sort of ruler than his predecessor, who tread carefully on eggshells with Allied Fruit. Arreola condemned the company but never undermined the company or challenged Delaney directly. He was cautious, deliberate and humble. Gascón advanced in a soldierly way, quick and decided, no half measures. He was aware of time (we have nothing but time) and wanted to push through his program before the wind of the times changed. He was unafraid of Delaney. Uproriously, it seemed that he wanted to infuriate the bosses of Allied Fruit and make a display of his independence and defiance. He’d like to get his fingernails in their flesh and let them know who the elected leaders of their country were.

In his inaugural address, Gascón promised to transform the country from a dependent nation with a semi-colonial economy, into an independent economical powerhouse.”

Achieving this would mean ridding the country once and for all of the latifundios, the extravagantly large plantations and farms, that were often like little private towns to themselves. An urgency was obvious from the first day of Gascón’s rule. It could be detected in the tone of informal diplomatic communiques. Indeed. And in the tenor of official dialogue. While previous leaders seemed to swallow Allied Fruit’s view of its history, the new government under Gascón sought to undermine the founding myths of El Pulpo (the Octopus in Spanish). It was a bit of he said, she said; He said Allied Fruit was an enlightened company that had mastered nature.

The new president spoke:

“All the achievements of the Company were made at the expense of our nation and its impoverishment and voracious appetite for land, minerals, timber for railway ties, and thirst for cheap labor, the octopus would gobble our peasants down with a sweat chaser.” This was written by one of Gascón’s chief wordsmiths, his minister of eloquence. “To protect its dominion Allied Fruit had at its disposal every method: political intervention, economic compulsion, imposed contractual obligation, bribery, bribery, bribery and propaganda as suited it purposes of exploitation and domination. The Allied Fruit Co. is enemy number one of progress in the nation, of its newborn democracy and of every effort of it economic liberation/independence.”

There was action to back up the words. Gascón signed Decree 800 into law, which gave the government the right to expropriate fallow portions of large plantations. Gascón vowed to end once and for all the latifundios and feudal practices. That’s all the banana moguls would hear. By nature of their focus and ire raised to dangerous levels by the new president’s declarations, they were completely deaf to the great pains Gascón (or his speechwriter) took to be diplomatic. It did not label the Company’s practices as feudal, but semi-feudal. And farms under 223 acres were exempt from Decree 800, and farms up to 670 acres were exempt if they were at least two-thirds cultivated.

“Land shall be given to thousands of peasants, raising their purchasing power and creating a great internal market favorable to the developments of domestic industry.”

They say there’s a great woman behind every man. The contribution and clarity of these ideas was Angelica María, and Gascón in his Virgoan humility in state dinners and other events would say with that self-defacing humor, when he introduced her to visiting diplomats and artists, “There is a great man behind every great woman.”

To be continued…

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)