The link between private corporations and U.S. world power has a much longer history than most people realize. Transnational firms such as the United Fruit Company represent an earlier stage of the economic and cultural globalization now taking place throughout the world. Drawing on a wide range of archival sources in the United States, Great Britain, Costa Rica, and Guatemala, Colby combines "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches to provide new insight into the role of transnational capital, labor migration, and racial nationalism in shaping U.S. expansion into Central America and the greater Caribbean. The Business of Empire places corporate power and local context at the heart of U.S. imperial history.
In the early twentieth century, U.S. influence in Central America came primarily in the form of private enterprise, above all United Fruit. Founded amid the U.S. leap into overseas empire, the company initially depended upon British West Indian laborers. When its black workforce resisted white American authority, the firm adopted a strategy of labor division by recruiting Hispanic migrants. This labor system drew the company into increased conflict with its host nations, as Central American nationalists denounced not only U.S. military interventions in the region but also American employment of black immigrants. By the 1930s, just as Washington renounced military intervention in Latin America, United Fruit pursued its own Good Neighbor Policy, which brought a reduction in its corporate colonial power and a ban on the hiring of black immigrants. The end of the company's system of labor division in turn pointed the way to the transformation of United Fruit as well as the broader U.S. empire.
About the Author
Jason M. Colby is Associate Professor of History at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.
Table of Contents
IntroductionPart I. Foundations of Empire
1. Enterprise and Expansion, 1848–1885
2. Joining the Imperial World, 1885–1904Part II. Race and Labor
3. Corporate Colonialism, 1904–1912
4. Divided Workers, 1912–1921Part III. Imperial Transitions
5. The Rise of Hispanic Nationalism, 1921–1929
6. Reframing the Empire, 1929–1940EpilogueNotes
What People are Saying About This
"Jason Colby's close attention to the United Fruit Company and his deft analysis of the interplay among Central American nationalism, West Indian migration, and UFC labor regimes remap the histories of Caribbean people in the networks of corporate capital."
"The Business of Empire demands that we think anew about a corporation that has long had a storied place in the history of U.S. imperialism, the United Fruit Company. Jason M. Colby reveals a previously hidden history of struggle and negotiation that helped to shape the Company's infamous attempts to exploit national, racial, and other kinds of differences among workers. Colby integrates his unprecedented research into the Company's operations in Costa Rica and Guatemala into a provocative reinterpretation of the broader sweep of U.S. empire that is truly transnational in scope."