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The Fish That Ate The Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King


Rich Cohen's biography of Sam Zemurray, the legendary businessman who built the United Fruit Company into a regional king-making empire, is, to be blunt, phenomenal. To learn the story of how one man who sold bananas played a decisive role in such a world-changing event as the founding of Israel is well worth the cheap price of this paperback - and that is only one of the fascinating stories presented!

There is, however, one major flaw. It is his treatment of Jacobo Arbenz, the Guatemalan ruler overthrown in 1954 by rebels supported by the CIA. Here, for example, is what Cohen says of the idea of Arbenz as a Communist menace:

Never mind that Arbenz claimed no allegiance to the Communist Party; never mind that Arbenz cited Franklin Roosevelt as among his heroes; never mind that many of the Arbenz policies that United Fruit found so offensive were patterned on the New Deal – the signs were evident for those who knew where to look.

That last line, by the way, is meant to be ridicule for those Americans who looked on Arbenz as a threat. But, ironically, it's true - and the signs become more and more evident as time goes on!

A few years ago, the release of files from the FBI’s most successful counterintelligence operation of the Cold War confirmed what has been known for a long time, but has been taboo in academic and intellectual circles ever since the rise of the so-called anti-anti-Communist “New Historians”. The files from the operation code-named “Operation SOLO” confirm that the regime of Jacobo Arbenz was indeed Communist-aligned and that it was dependent on and heavily influenced by the Stalinist Partido Guatemalteco del Trabajo (PGT, which is what the Guatemalan Communist Party called itself).

Operation SOLO, as described by the great Cold War historian Ronald Radosh,

“referred to the secret recruitment of two bitter ex-Communists, Morris and Jack Childs. The Bureau urged them to rejoin the Party, and work within its ranks to feed information to them. Before long, Morris Childs became what in effect was the CP’s Secretary of State, traveling around the world to meet top Communist leaders, including those of both the Soviet Union and China. From his perch, he passed on to the U.S. Government all he learned first hand from Moscow’s top leaders.”