Matías had warned them of the plague that would descend upon the forest. Time and time again. He could feel the disease forming in his very bones. For he had worked with the Musa paradisiaca his entire life. Handled the, for all intents and purposes, berries with more care than he daily handled his own. It was never a choice for him to care about something else, for his great-grandfather, Andrós, had been a small farmer before his land was raped and pillaged by the white man representing the cruelly and falsely named Chiquita (a brand that connotes some sort of ties to Latino culture but is, in fact, a Swiss company). It was 1928, the year of the illustrious Banana Massacre in Ciénaga. Almost an hour away in Santa Marta was Andrós’ farm, soon to be pillaged by an enraged United Fruit Company, looking for any resources that might fill the void caused by the strike of the factory workers, whose demands were simple and just–modest even. Totaling nine terms to be fulfilled in order for them to continue working; among the ultimately “foolish desires” were a six-day workweek, an increase in daily pay, compensation for work-related injuries and payment via actual money as opposed to coupons. Imagine the shock of the U.S. Secretary of State, Frank B. Kellogg, when he heard such a thing after it was positioned as signs of a communist rebellion. Threatening the only increasingly beloved product of the banana among red meat-loving Americans subconsciously seeking a “healthy” supplement to their diet in the form of the then recently innovated banana split.
“Where are our bananas? Give us our bananas! We care not for your workers’ plight but our ability to have a motherfucking banana split whenever the fuck we want to show off our First World decadence to your fucking wetback kind!… I don’t care if a wetback is what you call a Mexican, they’re all the fucking same once you pass Texas!” One can imagine Kellogg screaming at his secretary as she transcribes this message to a telegram that will be sent to Colombia, where soon even the threat of implementing the force of the U.S. Marine Corps was at play. Fortunately for Kellogg, it didn’t come to that. Things were kept nice and clean in their ugly dirtiness with the Colombian army laying siege to the factory and quelling the proverbial proletariat.
Blood runs darker on the skin of a banana. And Matías was never made to forget that as the legend of the events of that year was passed down through the generations to him, reminding him that the Rodríguez family was once associated with wealth and power before the white man’s infiltration with their corporate insidiousness plucked it all away. Like swatting a fly away from their face, in essence. That’s what happened to both Matías’ grandfather and father, both men losing their lives to a (banana) plant injury, not getting the medical care they needed and then being tossed to the dogs to fend for themselves. Isabella, Matías’ mother, was always adamant about reminding Matías of the family’s past, and in so doing, was constantly encouraging him against working in the banana fields or factories merely because it was the easiest work for him to find. She cautioned him that there was a curse upon their family, and that if he pushed his luck for too much longer, it would descend down upon him to take its latest bounty. He willfully ignored what he saw as her paranoia.
Then came that feeling of disease in his own bones. The one that foretold of something that the Colombian Agricultural Institute wouldn’t announce until it was already too late: that La Guajira had been infected with fungus Fusarium. The very thing that the Soviets used for their biological warfare in Laos, Kampuchea and Afghanistan in the late 70s and early 80s. Matías could see its effects take hold almost instantaneously, reporting it to his superior but being told to keep his mouth shut, that all he would do with his so-called “attentiveness” would be to attract the unwanted eyes of the corporation that would then shut down production–ergo halt their wages–all for the whims of some frogface’s intuition. He obeyed, but at the cost of suffering what felt like the same physical ailments that might be caused had he himself consumed the fungus as the plants had.
“The spores will live in the soil for decades,” a professor of biodiversity announces to the cultivars when the problem can finally no longer be ignored. When it has spread so far and with such steadfast slowness that everyone suddenly has to wonder how long this has all really been going on. The answer, Matías knew years ago, before the infection at last had its way with him, inducing him to vomit and have diarrhea until his system could function no more, opting to shut down and spare him further agony. He had found out perhaps too much about what was really going on in his sudden weekly trips to the library, where microfiche was his most loyal and reliable friend. It gradually revealed to him that the culprit of the fungus’ implementation–for it was, no pun intended, planted–could be none other than the U.S. government, back in the mid-90s. At the height of promotional posters for TV’s “must-see” hit, Friends, one of which featured an image of the sextet posing in a fake malt shop, with none other than a banana split making a very distinctive cameo next to Chandler. In the same period, the U.S., with its precious War on Drugs, got the bright idea to wipe out the source of the substances that seemed most alluring to Americans: hemp and coca. Obliterate these plants and obliterate the habit. With Fusarium. Whether or not right-wing Colombians were in collusion with the U.S. in turning a blind eye to the manufactured infection was something Matías could never figure out before his own expiration. An abrupt browning like a bushel of bananas suddenly too over-ripened.
He would never be able to tell anyone what he unearthed. Not even a Colombian-American representative for Chiquita who was sent to survey the ruins of the fungal forest. He couldn’t help but titter at the sight of the ravaging. A titter that soon gave way to a howling cackle. “All this so white people could have their banana split.”