Communist Conspiracies and Imperial Plots: Narratives of The Honduran General Strike of 1954

By N. H. Gill

The historiography of the Honduras general strike of 1954 shows that the extent of communist influence and external Guatemalan involvement are still subjects of significant historical debate. Kevin Coleman’s A Camera in the Garden of Eden, which focuses on the self-forging of Honduran banana workers and their marginalized communities, is the latest addition to this body of research.[1] Through an exploration of the photographic archive of a Honduran man of Palestinian descent in the banana town of El Progreso, who documented the 1954 strike with his camera, Coleman argues for an interpretation of the strike that favors local initiative over outside forces. This essay will compare the author’s specific account of the 69-day strike itself with the available historiography in an effort to explore how Coleman uses this new archive to present a different perspective of one of the largest labor protests in Central American history.[2]

The general strike, which spread from the North Coast banana ports and plantations to eventually engulf the national economy, spurred significant political and social change. Coming amid the bitter presidential election campaign of 1954, which featured a former dictator campaigning on an anti-communist platform, as well as the U.S.-backed military coup against Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz across the border, the strike occurred within a period fraught with Cold War tension.[3] As demonstrated by Coleman’s discussion of two 1954 photo-essays, published by U.S.-based Life magazine and Cuba’s Bohemia, as well as other contemporaneous sources including a series of New York Times articles published on the strike in 1954, this debate over communists and Guatemalans has permeated narratives of the event from the earliest accounts up until the present day.

Following the end of military rule in the early 1980s, Honduran historians such a Mario Posas, Victor Meza, and Mario Argueta began to revisit narratives of the strike to more explicitly examine the role of previously ignored working-class communities in the banana regions. These were the people who organized, walked out, and bore the brunt of the strike.[4] Around the same time, U.S.-based scholars Robert MacCameron and Walter LaFeber published two contrasting histories of the strike, with MacCameron highlighting the negative impact of the striker’s communist leadership on reaching a final agreement, while LaFeber dismissed their participation in the movement outright. For example, MacCameron says “it was likely, therefore, that the rank and file of the workers uttered a collective sigh of relief after the ‘free’ labor leadership managed to negotiate the final agreement. When the alleged ‘radical’ leadership was jailed, there were few protests from among the strikers.”[5] In contrast, LaFeber writes “this first major labor stoppage in Honduras had occurred spontaneously and without apparent leadership.”[6]

In the 1990s, another series of major historical works were published, most notably Marvin Barahona’s 1994 El Silencio Quedó Atras, which included testimonies of seven key strike leaders, shedding light on their intellectual and political formation, as well as their activities in the month leading up to the strike. Included in these accounts are statements explicitly recognizing the extent to which the strike leadership was not only actively working with the nascent Communist Party of Honduras (PCH), many of the members of the strike committee were also founding members of the PCH. When the earlier historical narratives put forward by MacCameron and LaFeber are compared to the testimonies published by Barahona, the earlier histories do not appear to capture the full extent of the communist leadership in the struggle.[7] However, Barahona’s work and the testimonies he includes also highlight the profound discontent among rank-and-file banana workers and the importance of the local actions that they took to help launch the strike. In this respect, the testimonies complicate both elements of the debate by showing that strike towns like El Progreso were deeply involved in the Honduran communist party even as apolitical banana workers joined forces from the fields.[8]

Mario Argueta followed Barahona’s work with a new study in 1995, incorporating some of the strike testimonies into his narrative of the events. His 1987 short history 1954 En Nuestra Historia, published without the benefit of Barahona’s testimonies, described the communist party involvement as limited compared to workers’ own agency, saying that “the emergency came about…before the majority of the workers involved had been organized.” However, after Barahona’s work was, Argueta’s second work included a much more detailed examination of their influence on the strike leadership and the Communist Party’s organizing efforts in the North Coast banana communities in the months and years before the general strike of 1954.[9] Still, like Coleman, Argueta continued to downplay the role of communists as he sought to emphasize the role of the banana worker in the larger narrative of the strike. Even so, he concludes that Marxist groups “maintained the agricultural and railroad workers of the North Coast in constant agitation, promoting strikes and disorder.”[10]

Following Argueta’s work, Darío Euraque, a Honduran historian working at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, published in 1996 Reinterpreting the Banana Republic, the first major English-language history of the strike in over a decade. This work provides a more detailed account of the shifting political alliances that influenced events on the ground. In that book, he wrote that while the “the radicalization of North Coast labor was subject to the appeals and influence of organizers from the formal [Partido Democrático Revolucionario de Honduras], from mainstream liberals…and from the clandestine PCH…the first strike committee consisted mostly of members of the PDRH and the PCH militants.”[11] Importantly, Euraque is less concerned about the partisan debate over the role of the communist party in the strike, focusing instead on the period insofar as it led to the social reforms of the 1960s and 1970s, which he claims helped Honduras escape the violence that marked neighboring Guatemala in the second half of the twentieth century. Perhaps because Euraque does not have a figurative dog in the fight over communist involvement in the 1954 strike, he is able to present a more complete reading of the political landscape of the time without getting hung up in Cold War intrigue. While other scholarly histories of the United Fruit Company’s role in Central America were published in the years following Barahona, Argueta, and Euraque’s books, Coleman’s 2016 monograph represents the first major history of the strike in two decades.

FRAMING THE STRIKE

Turning to Coleman’s account of the strike, he begins chronologically with a May Day procession held in the lowland town of El Progreso. There, down the street from photographer Rafael Platero Paz’s studio, in front of the mayor’s office in Ramón Rosa Plaza, he narrates how the leaders of a procession of an estimated 8,000 United Fruit Company workers climbed up onto a raised platform and read a statement declaring a general strike.[12] Coleman acknowledges other “relatively small strikes by longshoremen” in nearby Puerto Cortés, but clearly places El Progreso at the center of events. He highlights the town’s commanding role by saying that the next day, the workers “sent emissaries out into the surrounding plantations to propose that field hands join in withholding their labor.”[13]

In this brief framing narrative, the outlines of Coleman’s central arguments can already be seen, as well as some of the broader historiographical debates that exist over the 1954 strike. Specifically, we see El Progreso and its banana workers as the protagonists in an emergent struggle. We also have a date, May Day, which, even though it holds symbolic meaning for Honduran communists, especially in 1954, is not discussed.[14] Instead, the date as used by Coleman serves to minimize the importance of the earlier April 26-27 strikes that broke out in nearby Puerto Cortés.[15] Furthermore, the source of this information, Agapito Robleda, is only identified as “a United Fruit Company construction worker,” with no mention of his role as a founder of the nation’s communist party.[16] While Coleman’s overall argument that workers were deeply involved in every aspect of the strike seems convincing and in-line with other accounts of the movement, the omission of key background context of the sources he cites, like Robleda and later, Julio Rivera, makes a meaningful difference in the interpretation of the evidence he uses to support his arguments. While acknowledgement of his sources’ communist backgrounds may or may not have undermined Coleman’s claims, it serves to further highlight the continued controversy over acknowledging the role of communist organization in the strike.

In terms of the May 1 date used by Coleman, compared with the histories of Argueta, Barahona, and Euraque, one can see that the other sources give much more attention to the earlier protests in Puerto Cortés, as well as in Puerto Tela, which began in the last weeks of April.[17] Citing witness testimonies and national newspapers, Barahona also notes the presence of other multiple May Day protests in other areas of the country, helping to broaden our understanding of the strike as a national event with multiple centers outside of El Progreso.[18]

One explanation for Coleman’s focus on the date of May 1 may be simply due to the fact that Platero’s photographic archive does not provide evidence of those other strikes. It may also be due to the violence that accompanied the protests in Puerto Cortés as well.[19] One of Coleman’s central arguments is that workers were peaceful, orderly, and disciplined. As he notes, “for sixty-nine heady days, an ethnically and socially diverse group of more than 25,000 workers maintained strict order…while they withheld their labor, the workers did so without infringing upon the parallel rights of others.”[20] However, as already mentioned, other sources reference violent outbreaks that do not conform to this description. For example, Argueta cites UFCO reports of “violence on a large scale” on April 26 in Puerto Cortés.[21] Barahona also highlights how protesters in Puerto Cortes in late April were “throwing rocks, breaking windows and provoking a situation that nobody had seen before,” citing a statement from UFCO subsidiary Tela Railroad.[22] Rigoberto Padilla, a strike organizer and communist party member who was in Puerto Cortés and El Progreso during the strike, recalled in a testimony in Barahona’s book how he and other strikers would stop trains by “putting a machete or pistol to the heads of the conductors.”[23] Given that Coleman uses both Argueta and Barahona as sources, one can assume that he also read these accounts and chose not to include them in his narrative. Later in the book, Coleman returns to the issue of the workers’ peaceful protests claiming that “even the United Fruit Company acknowledged that ‘not a single act of violence has been recorded in the two divisions of the Tela Railroad Company.’”[24] Here, Coleman is citing a May 12 El Día newspaper article, while Barahona’s completely different account of the violence comes from an April 29 article published by La Epoca, a Tela Railroad Company public relations bulletin. Perplexingly, MacCameron also uses El Día as a source to describe incidents of worker violence, including the halting of a passenger train in the strike region after railroad “tracks were ripped up near the aldeas…forcing the train to return to the station.[25]

On top of this discrepancy, if we also consider Coleman’s decision not to focus on the May Day demonstrations that occurred in other places around the country, organized by the newly-formed communist party, it becomes clear that more is at stake in Coleman’s narrative than meets the eye. To be clear, his broad argument regarding worker involvement in the strike seems compelling, but his omission of key facts related to communist involvement is too widespread to be a mere coincidence, especially given the later claims he makes about U.S. attempts brand the strikers as communists. Instead, for Coleman the event represented a “massive worker-driven declaration of economic, political, and cultural independence” in which links made to communist participation are described as “extreme Right” attempts to minimize the role of workers.[26] As will be shown below, these links to communism were not just made by the amorphous “extreme Right,” but also by the members of the communist party itself.

HONDURAN AGENCY AND GUATEMALAN AGENTS

We now turn to the author’s portrayal of the United States’ attempts to impose a narrative of communist infiltration from Guatemala on the historiography of the period.[27] Besides the intriguing image analysis that Coleman performs using Platero’s photographic archive, his book also examines two international photo-essays, from Life magazine in the U.S. and Bohemia in Cuba, as well as other news articles published by U.S. media during the strike. In Chapter Eight, his most detailed description of the strike itself, he analyzes the media articles for evidence of their position vis-à-vis the striking workers. In short, where Life saw armed communists, Bohemia saw hungry children.[28]

Coleman begins his discussion criticizing the way that the United States sought to “ignore the strike in Honduras while quietly seeking to crush it beneath a narrative of a communist Guatemala.”[29] In this light, Coleman argues that by framing the strike as evidence of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz’s desire to export his communist ideals to other countries, the United States was able to strengthen its rationale for supporting a military in that country. However, a review of the historiography of the strike shows that the roles of Guatemalan communists and Hondurans with ties to the Guatemalan party are more complicated than Coleman admits.

MacCameron gives the most explicit account of this suspected communist plot, citing a 1953 U.S. congressional report on Soviet plans for a “grand coup” to take control of Central America. According to this source, alleged Guatemalan communists and Nicaraguan exiles were plotting to assassinate Nicaragua’s President Anastasio Somoza and seize control of that country, while communist labor leaders in Guatemala planned to “foment a general strike in Honduras with the intent of also securing control of the government.”[30] While MacCameron questions the veracity of the accounts, he says that “communist labor movement in Guatemala spent more than $3 million to maintain the Honduran general strike.[31]

In terms of other claims that Guatemala was fomenting unrest in Honduras, the historiography reviewed for this essay, including A Camera in the Garden of Eden, does not dispute the fact that two Guatemalan consuls expelled from Honduras for alleged communist activities in the strike zone just days after the strike began. The New York Times reported on May 5, 1954, that the Honduran government expelled the diplomats for “spreading doctrines and practices aimed at the overthrow of the country’s democratic government,” including “communist literature” in Puerto Cortés. However, Coleman is dismissive of these claims that communists from Guatemala were involved in the strike, saying that “by spinning a tale of pervasive communist infiltration, the U.S. government and its local allies created a parallel story that never intersected with what actually drove tens of thousands of banana workers to go on strike.”[32] As mentioned earlier, he also referred to these as conspiracy theories of the extreme right.

To be sure, most historians seem to agree that Guatemala played a lesser role in the Honduran strike than the U.S. government sought to portray. As Schulz and Schulz note in their 1994 book, “In fact, communist influence on the strike seems to have been minor.”[33] Or as MacCameron wrote in 1983 “it is hard to believe that Guatemala sponsored the Honduran general strike.”[34] However, MacCameron includes reports that the Confederación General de Trabajadores de Guatemala (CGTG) contributed funds to the strikers. The testimony of Rigoberto Padilla, the former Tela Railroad worker and one of the founders of the Honduran Communist Party who was active in El Progreso during the strike, also admits that he worked for the secretary general of the CGTG while in exile in Guatemala in 1953 and helped distribute “thousands” of flyers urging banana workers to go on strike in the days before the May 1 demonstrations.[35] He also discusses how communist members dissimulated their presence by adopting pseudonyms and publishing statements in local newspapers denying the presence of communist organizers.[36] This subterfuge seems to have fooled some historians, including MacCameron, whose work was published before Barahona released his collection of testimonies in the 1990s.[37] Padilla also recalls how immediately after the strike began, he and other members of the communist party began to organize strike committee with help from “compañeros from Guatemala” who “arrived to reinforce us.”[38] While this evidence does not discredit Coleman’s broader argument about the relative lack of importance of Guatemalan aid, it does undermine his claim that the United States created a “parallel story that never intersected with what actually drove tens of thousands of banana workers to go on strike.” By omitting Padilla’s testimony and other evidence of some Guatemalan involvement, he clouds our understanding of the events.

Interestingly, MacCameron provides some insight into why Coleman may have attempted to downplay the role of Guatemalan communists in Honduras. In discussing how the United States government used Guatemalan communists’ involvement in Honduras as a pretext to justify their support for the military coup there, MacCameron identifies an historiographical debate between historians of Guatemala coup, such as Ronald Schneider (1958), who used this evidence to rationalize U.S. actions. Other historians writing about this period, including Daniel James, with whom Coleman worked as a graduate student at Indiana University, downplayed this cross-border activity to argue that the U.S. fabricated a communist crisis to justify its intervention in Guatemala.[39] Seen in this light, Coleman’s reticence to discuss the extent of Guatemalan communists’ involvement in Honduras may reflect his support for his advisers’ work in a separate historiographical debate. As this essay has previously stated, there would be nothing wrong with taking these positions, however the author’s omission of contrary evidence leaves him exposed to questions about his portrayal of the period in question.

MEDIA WARS

In Coleman’s defense, the news articles published in the United States which he cites shows ample evidence of bias against the strikers and communist actors in general. For example, a May 6 article in the New York Times described the nearby town of La Lima as having been “terrorized by roving bands of wildcat strikers, armed with pistols and machetes.” On May 22, another Times article cited “an unverifiable report” that the “strikers were planning armed attacks on military garrisons” and that unattributed reports from the strike area “asserted that foreign agitators had moved in and taken over control of the strike.” Given what we know from Padilla’s testimony, it appears that there is at least a grain of truth to these accounts, however, the reporters responsible for the coverage seem to be going beyond the call of duty to insert anti-communist color into their accounts of the strike.

The Life magazine article that Coleman also cites, titled “Guatemalan Reds Worry Neighbors,” is equally loaded with hyperbole, describing the strike as a “squabble over double pay for Sunday work.”[40] A June 1954 Time magazine article describes the initial dispute that set of the strike as “petty” and asked if the “hand of Honduras’ neighbor, Communist-infiltrated Guatemala, [was] showing in the strike.” The article even defended the United Fruit Company, saying that “Guatemalan Communists, in recent years, have roughed up United Fruit with labor demands and land expropriation.” In this regard, there seems to be no dispute among historians that the U.S. government had ulterior motives in portraying the strike as infested with communists, though many historians go to greater lengths than Coleman to put those criticisms in their historical context.

Furthermore, if we compare Coleman’s analysis of the Bohemia article with the rest of the historiography, elements of the debate over the role of workers versus communists also appear. In chapter eight of A Camera in the Garden of Eden, Coleman argues that “as the Bohemia photos make clear, it was the workers who brought themselves into existence as self-aware laborers and citizens.”[41] Compare this to the testimony of Julio Rivera, whom Coleman cites as a “schoolteacher and labor leader from El Progreso,” but who was also a self-described communist and central figure in the political organization education of El Progreso workers in the months and years leading up to the strike. Rivera, who also worked closely with labor leader Rigoberto Padilla, credits the Revolutionary Party’s clandestine newspaper Vanguardia Revolucionaria with playing a central role in organizing the banana workers ahead of the strike. According to him, “never in the history of Honduras did a newspaper do as much as Vanguardia Revolucionaria to propel the struggle and organization of workers.”[42] He details how the party had “agents” who distributed clandestine copies of the newspaper on banana farms and helped organize worker cells.[43] The object of these cells was to “prepare, organize, and orient the workers so that they initiated the fight for their own grievances.”[44] By May of 1954, “almost all of El Progreso was organized,” Rivera said.[45] In the immediate aftermath of the El Progreso declaration of a general strike on May 1, what Coleman describes worker “emissaries” who traveled to the outlying banana fields to call for other to join the strike,[46] Rivera describes as “organized clandestine groups.”[47]

Still, while Rivera emphasizes the fundamental role that the communist party played in the strike committee and the early organization of the workers, the specific decision to strike seems to have come from the workers themselves.[48] In describing the early days of the protest, labor leader Padilla recounts a meeting with Rivera in which the two men strategized their plan for the ensuing strike. According to Padilla, the El Progreso strike was a “collective uprising” but “what the people needed was direction.”[49] After declining calls for him to take over leadership of the strike, Padilla said he recommended César Augusto Coto for the position. Surprisingly, Coleman does not cite Coto in his narrative.

In summary, it is difficult to fully reconcile Rivera and Padilla’s testimony about the influential role of political propaganda and the painstaking efforts of communist party operatives to organize the banana workers in El Progreso with Coleman’s description of them as self-made citizens. Perhaps Rivera is exaggerating his role in the strike? Yet the fact that Coleman himself relies on Rivera’s testimony to show how workers organize themselves undercuts that theory. The difference between Coleman’s use of Rivera’s testimony versus Barahona’s use of it is that Coleman never acknowledges that Rivera and many other members of the strike committee were communists.[50]

INVENTING ENEMIES

Also embedded in Coleman’s argument is the claim that the United States went to lengths to “invent[t] the object to be feared and the necessity of destroying it.[51] This seems to imply that the United States was inventing the presence of communist in the strike. The author takes this criticism further, saying that in the search for communist scapegoats, the United States early on drew up a list of the alleged strike leaders to better understand who they were. “Workers who, nine days before, had not existed as political subjects were now deemed leaders to be identified and separated from the others.”[52] Further on, he claims that “neither the Honduran nor the US government had any proof of communist intervention.”[53] Given that Coleman himself cites the testimonies of long-time political agents like Julio Rivera and Agapito Robleda, both communists, as well as Barahona’s 1994 work which included statements from other communist members of the strike’s leadership, these statement are difficult to understand. Indeed, no other historian reviewed goes so far in their attempts to minimize the role of communist or other organized political leadership in the 1954 strike.

In one of the few places where Coleman does acknowledge the presence of communist organization, he uses it to show how a worker sought to escape the party, “but did not know how to get out safely.”[54] Here, the reference to the Communist Party serves to show how average banana workers were not involved in communist politics. Yet by showing that communists were indeed organizing in the fields, Coleman undermines the argument he develops in the rest of the book. Still, Coleman touches on an interesting point that is made in other accounts of the strike about the workers’ relative ignorance of their leaders ties to the communist party. Barahona cites Juan Bautista Canales, the secretary general of the banana workers’ union SITRATERCO, saying that if workers had known that members of the PDRH were communists “possibly we would not have participated,” however, he continued, at the beginning of the walkout many workers told the PDRH members, “alright, you are revolutionary communists and you are responsible for all of the consequences that may arise from this strike.” This account, like many oral histories related to the strike, presents contradictory statements that makes it difficult to understand the true extent of communist influence in the organization of the movement. However, it seems clear that many of the workers were aware that communists were in charge of the strike committee, but that the communists also tried to hide their presence in the strike. As Teresina Rossi, a Tela Railroad office secretary and member of a political cell working to organize laborers in Tela, says of her activities before the strike, “they were clandestine, due to persecution, and in order to prevent any betrayals.”[55] While she was aware that other worker cells existed, “I only met with my own group.”[56] This also coincides with the testimony of Rigoberto Padilla who notes the great lengths party members went to avoid arrest and persecution.[57]

SETTLING THE STRIKE

Turning now to the historical accounts of how the strike ended, the historiography reviewed for this essay shows some agreement that the arrest in June of many of the early strike leaders with ties to the Communist Party and their subsequent replacement with anti-communist labor directors more sympathetic to the United States had a significant impact on the resolution of the dispute. As Schulz and Schulz say, “eventually, the central strike committee was reconstituted under more conciliatory leadership” and “an agreement was finally reached.[58] Argueta echoes this narrative, saying that the resolution of the strike came about after the communists members of the first strike committee were imprisoned. “Once the leadership was removed and various members jailed…the degree of conflict tended to decrease,” Argueta said.[59] As noted earlier in this essay, MacCameron also agrees with this description of events, highlighting the positive impact that the imprisonment of the communist leadership had in the resolution of the strike.[60] Euraque agrees with this appraisal, too, while LaFeber does not offer a hypothesis. Interestingly, Coleman also does not provide an analysis on the strike’s resolution. Could this be because of the jailing of communists – who he does not admit existed – helped break the strike? Does the change of strike leadership and the infighting that occurred between workers in different towns undermine his argument of worker cooperation and unity? These are questions that cannot be answered by using his text.

From the historical evidence reviewed for this essay, it seems reasonable to conclude that the communist party played a central role in organizing banana workers in the months and years before the 1954 strike. It also seems reasonable to conclude that because of government prohibitions on Communist Party activity its members adopted a policy to minimize their exposure. That all workers were not aware of their presence in the banana fields does not mean that the communists were not there. It also seems that the strict discipline that strikers tried to maintain was largely effective, but that there were notable outbreaks of violence, especially in the early protests in Puerto Cortés, which Coleman ignores.

The most concrete evidence of Guatemalan interference in the strike comes from the testimony of Rigoberto Padilla, the communist organizer and former secretary to the Guatemalan CGTG labor party. While it is impossible to know, the reinforcements from Guatemala that Padilla mentions arriving in the early days of the strike could have arrived in the plane that allegedly brought communist propaganda to Puerto Cortés at the beginning of May 1954. We know that Guatemalan President Arbenz admitted to having sent a plane, but he denied it was to influence the strike itself. However, Padilla, operating in Puerto Cortés at this time, recalls distributing thousands of flyers calling workers to join the strike. Did Puerto Cortés has a press capable of printing those flyers? There is also the issue of CGTG claims that it sent funds to the strikers in Honduras, as well as U.S. government reports that the party funneled $3 million to the cause in solidarity with the workers.[61] The fact that a military coup was planned and carried out against Arbenz in June of 1954 further muddies the water, but knowing that Arbenz had purchased Czech weapons to arm civilians and support his presidency illustrates that both Guatemalan forces on the left, as well as those on the right, were gearing up for a major confrontation. Just as the anti-Arbenz forces used Honduras as a site to organize, Arbenz’s willingness to send a plane to surveil his opponents in Honduras shows he was willing to violate that country’s sovereignty to further his interests. It would be naïve to assume that both sides were not taking advantage of every tool at their disposal.

Coleman’s argument that the banana strike represented a moment of awakening among the banana worker on Honduras’ North Coast is consistent with all of these readings, though his denial of the presence of communist leaders is not. Indeed, it is difficult to explain is why a historian writing in 2016 would go to such lengths to construct a narrative that ignores their role in the strike, in spite of much evidence, including multiple personal testimonies, to the contrary. While it possibly that admitting communists’ presence in the strike would detract from Coleman’s narrative of worker agency, it need not nullify his argument.

It is also possible that Coleman and other historians who seek to downplay the role of the Communist Party in the Honduran strike do so from a position of moral outrage. It is clear that the U.S. involvement in the 1954 military coup that toppled President Arbenz in Guatemala may be listed as one of the more tragic foreign policy decisions of the twentieth century. The brutal repression and civil war that followed led to the murder of as many as 200,000 civilians and continues to affect the population of that country even today. For a scholar seeking to expose historical abuse, taking a position that could rationalize the U.S. invasion of Guatemala would be a bitter pill to swallow. Whatever the reason, I believe that Coleman’s repeated omissions of contrary evidence regarding the nature of communist and Guatemalan involvement in the Honduran general strike seriously undermine the arguments he makes in A Camera in the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, his omission of key moments in the strike, including its beginning and end, as well as all but ignoring the larger national context of the strike outside of El Progreso makes this history a poor place to go for scholarly insight into the strike.

Where Coleman does succeed is in his deep analysis of Platero’s photographic archive. While this essay has not focused on his image analysis, he makes a powerful case that the average banana worker had more than enough reasons to join the strike in 1954. He also convincingly argues that the strike represented a key moment in the forging of a Honduran national identity, while providing insight into the possible roots of xenophobia against El Salvadoran which contributed to the so-called Football Wars of 1969.[62]

In terms of the historiography of the Honduran general strike, Barahona’s book El Silencio Quedó Atras represents a watershed moment that changes how scholars should understand the strike. The fact that it has not been translated into English may be relevant to the question about why authors like LaFeber and Coleman do not make better use of the testimonies included. But, given Coleman’s own use of the text, why he chose not to engage with it in a more meaningful way remains perplexing. Robert MacCameron’s Bananas, Labor, and Politics in Honduras and Mario Argueta’s La Gran Huelga Bananera are clearly the most detailed histories of the strike in print in English and Spanish, respectively. While the other works reviewed in this essay provide significant insights into the strike itself, none compare with the breadth of detail marshalled by MacCameron and Argueta.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Argueta, Mario R. 1954 En Nuestra Historia. Tegucigalpa, Honduras: Editorial Universitaria, 1987.
  2. Argueta, Mario R. La Gran Huelga Bananera: Los 69 días que estremecieron a Honduras. Tegucigalpa, Honduras: Editorial Universitaria, September 1995.
  3. Barahona, Marvin. El Silencio Quedó Atrás: Testimonios de la Huelga Bananera de 1954. Tegucigalpa, Honduras: Editorial Guaymuras, 1994.
  4. Coleman, Kevin. A Camera in the Garden of Eden: The Self-Forging of a Banana Republic. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016.
  5. Coleman, Kevin. “Photographs of a Prayer: The (Neglected) Visual Archive and Latin American Labor History.” Hispanic American Historical Review 95:3 (2015): 459-492.
  6. Euraque, Darío A. Reinterpreting the Region and State in Banana Republic Honduras, 1870—1972. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
  7. LaFeber, Walter. Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1983.
  8. MacCameron, Robert. Bananas, Labor, and Politics in Honduras: 1954—1963. Foreign and Comparative Studies/Latin American Series, No. 5, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 1983.
  9. Schulz, Donald E. and Deborah Sundloff Schulz. The United States, Honduras, and the Crisis in Central America. Boulder: Westview Press, 1994.

[1] Kevin Coleman, A Camera in the Garden of Eden: The Self-Forging of a Banana Republic (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016).

[2] This essay draws on the works of eight historians of Honduras, published between 1983 and 2016: Walter LaFeber (1983); Robert MacCameron (1983); Mario R. Argueta (1987, 1995); Marvin Barahona (1994, 199); Donald E. Schulz and Deborah Sundloff Schulz (1994); Darío A. Euraque (1996); Jason M. Colby (2011); and Kevin Coleman (2015, 2016). Full citations are included below.

[3] The presidential elections of 1954 pitted incumbent Juan Manuel Gálvez, a former United Fruit Company lawyer, against General Tiburcio Carías, the former dictator running on an anti-communist platform, and Liberal candidate Ramón Villeda Morales. While Villeda Morales won a plurality in October, Vice President Julio Lozano Díaz assumed the presidency in November amid a constitutional crisis.

[4] Darío A. Euraque, Reinterpreting the Region and State in Banana Republic Honduras, 1870—1972 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 232.

[5] Robert MacCameron, Bananas, Labor, and Politics in Honduras: 1954—1963, (Foreign and Comparative Studies/Latin American Series, No. 5, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 1983), 62.

[6] Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1983), 133.

[7] Barahona, Silencio, 143, 153, 178, 210, 213-214, 218.

[8] Marvin Barahona, El Silencio Quedó Atrás: Testimonios de la Huelga Bananera de 1954 (Tegucigalpa, Honduras: Editorial Guaymuras, 1994), 155.

[9] Mario R. Argueta, 1954 En Nuestra Historia (Tegucigalpa, Honduras: Editorial Universitaria, Feb. 1987), 16; Mario R. Argueta, La Gran Huelga Bananera: Los 69 días que estremecieron a Honduras (Tegucigalpa, Honduras: Editorial Universitaria, September 1995), 162-163.

[10] Argueta, Gran Huelga, 162.

[11] Euraque, Reinterpreting, 96.

[12] Coleman, Camera, 183.

[13] Ibid., 183.

[14] Barahona, Silencio, 209.

[15] Ibid., 64.

[16] Coleman, Camera, 183. Coleman also omits Robleda’s communist party links in the other two references to him later in the book, 191, 245-246. For references to Robleda’s role in the PCH see: Rigoberto Padilla Rush, Memorias de un Comunista, compiled by Marvin Barahona (Tegucigalpa, Honduras: Editorial Guaymuras, 2001), 257; also “Fallece fundador del Partido Comunista de Honduras, Agapito Robleda Castro,” La Tribuna, Jan. 5, 2016, http://www.latribuna.hn/2016/01/05/fallece-fundador-del-partido-comunista-de-honduras-agapito-robleda-castro/.

[17] Mario R. Argueta, La Gran Huelga Bananera: Los 69 días que estremecieron a Honduras (Tegucigalpa, Honduras: Editorial Universitaria, September 1995), 65; Barahona, Silencio, 64; Euraque, Reinterpreting, 95.

[18] Barahona, Silencio, 62

[19] Ibid., Silencio, 64-65; Argueta, Huelga, 65-66.

[20] Coleman, Camera, 193.

[21] Argueta, Huelga, 65.

[22] Barahona, Silencio, 64.

[23] Padilla, cited in Barahona, Silenco, 232.

[24] Coleman, Camera, 220.

[25] MacCameron, Bananas, 23.

[26] Coleman, Camera, 156, 198.

[27] Ibid., 202.

[28] Ibid., 204, 210.

[29] Ibid., 202.

[30] MacCameron, 55.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Coleman, Camera, 203.

[33] Schulz and Schulz, 22.

[34] MacCameron, Bananas, 43.

[35] Barahona, Silencio, 212.

[36] Ibid., 212.

[37] MacCameron, Bananas, 67.

[38] Barahona, Silencio, 214.

[39] MacCameron, Bananas, 43.

[40] Coleman, Camera, 204, 205.

[41] Ibid., 214.

[42] Barahona, Silencio, 143.

[43] Ibid., 138, 142.

[44] Ibid., 143.

[45] Ibid., 153.

[46] Coleman, Camera, 183.

[47] Barahona, Silencio, 154.

[48] Ibid., 214.

[49] Ibid., 214.

[50] Ibid., 178.

[51] Coleman, Camera, 203.

[52] Ibid., 221.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid., 180.

[55] Barahona, Silencio, 331.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid., 212.

[58] Schulz and Schulz, 22.

[59] Argueta, Gran Huelga, 173.

[60] MacCameron, Bananas, 62.

[61] Ibid., 55.

[62] Coleman, Camera, 110.

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