‘Harsh Times’ by Mario Vargas Llosa – Banana Republic or Banana Dictatorship?


‘Harsh Times’ by Mario Vargas Llosa (2021) – 288 pages               Translated from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West


The country of Guatemala, just south of Mexico in Central America, has the ideal conditions for growing bananas. Today, we in the United States and also those in Europe take bananas for granted, but at one time they were not available in the North. The modern-day company Chiquita Brands Incorporated, formerly United Fruit Company, has a monopoly on the banana trade.

‘Harsh Times’ is the true story of how the United Fruit Company warped the government of the United States to fund and arm a military coup to topple the democratically elected government of Guatemala and replace it with a far right-wing dictatorship in 1954. The United States CIA, under Allen Dulles whose brother John Foster Dulles was also Secretary of State in the Eisenhower administration, conspired with the dictators Trujillo of the Dominican Republic and Somoza of Nicaragua to remove the duly elected government of Guatemala led by Jacobo Árbenz and replace it with a military dictatorship under Castillo Armas.

This is historical fiction with a vengeance.

Jacobo Árbenz was a great admirer of the supposed democratic values of the United States and was attempting to implement land reforms which would improve the living conditions of the large number of poverty-stricken Guatemalans, including those of the native Indians. The United Fruit Company saw these land reforms as interfering with their banana business and worked with the Eisenhower Administration to replace the elected Guatemalan government. United Fruit Company hired a New York public relations firm to spread the false rumor that Árbenz was a supporter of Soviet Communism. This was the “Communist” boogieman which the United States used so often to damage South American progressive governments.

After the military coup succeeded, the United States brought in Johnny Abbes Garcia, a torture expert from Trujillo’s Dominican Republic, to deal with Guatemalan dissidents. Much of ‘Harsh Times’ is taken up with colorful stories of Garcia as well as the so-called Miss Guatemala, the new dictator Armas’s girlfriend.

The Armas dictatorship did not last long and was replaced by dictatorship after dictatorship. After United States intervention the Guatemala banana republic became a banana dictatorship.

The US put an end to whatever optimism I had, and now we’re back with the same thing we’ve always had: one dictatorship after another.”

The people of Central America might consider it poetic justice that the United States stuck itself with its own far right-wing would-be-dictator fool in Donald Trump, just like the far right-wing would-be-dictator fools that the US and its CIA installed as leaders in many countries throughout Central and South America. What goes around comes around.


Grade:    A





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