Puerto Limón: birthplace of the United Fruit Company - present-day Chiquita Banana.
The story’s a bit long and complicated, but basically, an American tycoon was hired to build a railroad between San Jose and Limón and he planted banana trees along the tracks to feed his workers. When the railroad opened, it was running at a loss and the owner desperately started shipping the track-side bananas to New Orleans to recoup some of his investment.
People up north loved them.
He saw it as a business opportunity. He vastly expanded his banana fields (bribing government officials in the process), and joined other fruit merchants to form the United Fruit Company. For many years, his only competitor was the Standard Fruit Company - present-day Dole.
The United Fruit Company became the largest employer in Central America. El Pulpo (the octopus), as locals called it, owned most of the land, transportation, and communication infrastructure in the Costa Rican lowlands. The United Fruit Company also became known for heavily influencing regional politics in its favor - hence the term “Banana Republics” - and promoting waves of cheap migrant laborers from Jamaica, changing Costa Rica’s ethnic complexion and provoking racial tensions.
Today, Limón still bares its Afro-Caribbean roots. Big black mamas with crazy hair, reggae beats and jerk chicken can be found at every street corner. Interestingly, the Costa Rican government did not recognize Afro-Caribbean people as citizens and restricted their movement outside the Limón province until 1948.
As a result of this travel ban, the Afro-Caribbean population became firmly established in the region and remained on the east coast even after it was legally permitted to move about the country.
Who would’ve thought a foreign banana company could change so much in a peaceful democratic nation?
Puerto Limón, Costa Rica - © Diego Cupolo 2011