Case | HBS Case Collection | May 2005 (Revised January 2012)

The Octopus and the Generals: The United Fruit Company in Guatemala

by Geoffrey G. Jones and Marcelo Bucheli

Abstract

Examines the overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954 in a U.S.-backed coup in support of the United Fruit Co. Over the previous half century, United Fruit had built a large vertically integrated tropical fruit business that owned large banana plantations in the "banana republics" of Central America, including Guatemala. Examines the impact and role of United Fruit in the Guatemalan economy, one of the poorest in the world, and the reasons for growing hostility toward the company, culminating in Arbenz's agrarian reform policies aimed at redistributing some of the land held by United Fruit. The United States, which regarded Arbenz as pro-communist, supported United Fruit in the context of the Cold War.

Keywords: Developing Countries and Economies; Multinational Firms and Management; Policy; International Relations; Business History; Business and Government Relations; Central America; Guatemala; United States;

Citation:

Jones, Geoffrey G., and Marcelo Bucheli. "The Octopus and the Generals: The United Fruit Company in Guatemala." Harvard Business School Case 805-146, May 2005. (Revised January 2012.)