Banana yellow streaks the drunken sky…

By the mid-1950s, questions of public education, and even of selling bananas, were being swamped by unpleasant questions for Bernie and his employers at Allied Fruit.

Guatemala was the hot spot now in Bananaland. It had been since 1944, when a mass uprising ended the fourteen-year rule of a General Jorge Ufico, who was the property of the Allied Fruit company lock, stock and barrel. Sam Delaney cringed when he saw the new resident in the presidential palace in Guatemala City.

Juan José Arias, a philosophy professor living in exile in Argentina, which was the last place you expected a military dictatorship, returned home. Arias was swept into office with more than 85 percent of the vote. Arias introduced democratic elections and, for the first time, gave workers the right to organize and strike. Sam fumed only with Rebekka.

“How can this be?”

“The right to organize and strike never came from G*d. It came from unions. I know you don’t like them. You came up on your own, selling guineos on the waterfront. You did it all on your own, Sam, of course with a little help from the mob.”

“Unions are G*d,” replied Rebekka.

“Rebekka,” Sam said. “I think perhaps you need your ears check. I said, G*d is not mob!”

Wherewith, she turned and faced the double sink in the house at Audubon place, and sunk herself—elbows on the porcelain, slightly rusted. Unforgivable in the mansion of one of the richest men in the United States of America.

Sam was a far better man than the author, Graydon Miller, who would have flummoxed and snapped back at her; maybe swing a fist (G*d forbid), but there it was; tough guy Sam Delaney breathed hard for a few eternal seconds and ate the hurt. He ate it up, as he always had.

In March 1951, Arias was succeeded by his defense minister, Jacobo Gastón Balverde who pleased Sam at first because he thought, being a military man, who would be practical like his old friend the General. But then Gastón picked up the pace of change, enacting a modest income tax, paving roads and modernizing ports, and, most significantly, pushing a program to redistribute 177,000 acres of uncultivated lands owned by large plantations. Between 1952 and 1954, the Gaston government confiscated and turned over to one hundred thousand poor families, 1.5 million acres—including, in March 1953, 210,000 acres belonging to the Allied Fruit Company.

Allied Fruit had chosen Guatemala half a century before because of its “fluid” government. Guatemalan rulers exempted the company from internal taxation, guaranteed when Sam got his old buddy and drinking pal, Padilla Ortiz back into power and workers would be happy with 50 cents a day.  Professor Arías helped Allied maintain control of the sole only Atlantic seaport and every mile of railroad, and guaranteed workers would get no more than sixty-five cents a day. It was a capitalist’s dream. By the time Arias took over, Allied Fruit was Guatemala’s number one landowner, employer, and exporter. First, the Arias reign raised a red flag for the company. Workers went on strike at its banana plantation and seaport, forcing it to make concessions in a labor contract, and Allied Fruit was targeted as Guatemala’s gaudiest symbol of hated Yankee imperialism. To distribute uncultivated lands to peasants so they could farm, that was a promise Gascon made to get elected, and he felt the need to make it stick once he was elected.

Gascón went several steps further, vowing to build a highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific to break Allied Fruit’s stranglehold on inland transport, a second port to compete with Allied Fruit’s facilities at Puerto Barrios, the country’s sole seaport, and a hydroelectric plant to end the near monopoly of Westinghouse electric plants. He also wanted to take another 177,000 acres of fallow Allied Fruit land. The company would be reimbursed about three dollars an acre. That was what Allied Fruit said in its tax statements the fallow land was worth, far less than the 13 million the company claimed once the land was expropriated para el bienestar publico.

To be continued…

Grady is the Wizard of Fiction

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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. ( His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (