In 1925 Victor M. Cutter, President of United Fruit Company wrote:
     "For more then a decade this company has had no serious difficulties because its contracts and franchises are not exclusive or monopolistic. It has maintained a policy of encouraging long term contracts for the products for which it deals with the citizens of the countries in which it operates; it employs as many citizens as possible in its business."
So what went wrong?
     "On 12 November 1928, United Fruit Company workers in Colombia went on strike. Estimates, varying a great deal, put the figure of strikers throughout the banana zone at between 11,000 and 30,000 people." Posado-Carbo from Journal of Latin American Studies 
     "The debate over the numbers, unfortunately, has made people forget the reason that led to the massacre in the first place-the workers’ demand that they be recognized and made permanent employees of United Fruit." Bucheli from Bananas and Business

The United Fruit Company paid contractors who then paid the workers.
     "The Company maintained that the piecework contract sytem was the only way to make efficient use of a mobile labour force; its critics argued that the Company had adopted this system to circumvent Colombian labour laws." Peloso from Work, Protest and Identity 

“Prior to 1928 there was a constant struggle by the Magdalena banana workers to be recognized as formal workers of United Fruit. The company did not hire workers directly but through subcontractors. United Fruit faced several strikes before the 1928 strike and in all of them, the workers demanded the elimination of the subcontract system and the formalization of a direct contract between them and United Fruit.” Bucheli from Bananas and Business

Had the strike been successful this would have changed labor relations between United Fruit and Latin American countries.     
     “The strike turns into the largest labor movement ever witnessed in the country and radical members of the Liberal Party and members of the Socialist and Communist Parties participate strongly. The national labor union bigwigs Carlos Mahecha and Maria Cano traveled to the banana zone to organize the strike. They counted with the help of Italian and Spanish anarchist immigrants for this. The banana worker strike gets national attention since it is supported by the Liberal Party. The Conservative Party, which controls the government, decides to send the Army into the Banana Zone.
from United Fruit Historical Society

The following correspondence between the Bogota' Embassy, Santa Marta Consulate and Secretary of State described events that took place on December 5th, 6th and 7th near Santa Marta Colombia.
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Leaders of the banana plantations workers' strike.

 From left to right: Pedro M. del Río, Bernardino Guerrero, Raúl Eduardo Mahecha, Nicanor Serrano and Erasmo Coronel. Guerrero and Coronel were killed by the Colombian army
courtesy Bing Images

December 6, 1928

The Bogota' Embassy dispatched an army to deal with the strikers.
     "The army led by General Corte'z Vargas, took repressive measures on the eve of 6 December, which ended in bloodshed and persecution of the strikers and leaders." Posado-Carbo from Journal of Latin American Studies
As the workers gathered in the port city of 
Ciénaga near Santa Marta, army troops who were mounted on rooftops fired into the crowd. The following correspondence shortly after the massacre, revealed the number of individuals presumed dead was uncertain. Today it remains unclear how many were killed that day. The number ranged from 47-2,000.

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The workers strike and subsequent massacre seemed to light a fuse that would ignite sticks of dynamite across the country for years to come. As seen in the following correspondence United Fruit remained at the center of controversy.
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