Making West Indians unwelcome: Bananas, race and the immigrant question in Izabal, Guatemala, 1900--1929

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Steve Stein - Committee Chair


As a target for the United Fruit Company's plans for expansion at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the eastern lowland Department of Izabal became the first major bridge between Guatemala and the modern world-system. As it had done elsewhere, United Fruit brought in West Indian workers---many in supervisory positions---to spearhead the establishment of what would be the crown jewel of its banana operations. Curiously, by the 1930s these workers had virtually disappeared from Guatemala, and during the next half century, they were written out of the country's history. Where did these West Indian workers go? And why were they written out of Guatemala's history? Using United Fruit and its establishment in Guatemala as a backdrop, this dissertation focuses on how the company's West Indian workers arrived and, more important, why they left. In a country that held rigid views on racial hierarchy, seemingly easy access for "blacks" to choice positions within the company and their apparent affluence, led almost inevitably to social and economic envy. By 1914, such jealousies erupted into racial violence which, throughout the next decade, came to be supplanted by systematic harassment, demonization, and reprisals against the West Indian population. By the 1920s, the Guatemalan government officialized racism, as it instituted anti-"black" immigration laws and modified labor codes that would not only make West Indians feel unwelcome, but effectively run them out of the country.


History, Latin American; Economics, History; Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

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