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10 Most Deceptive PR Campaigns in History


8
United Fruit Overthrows Guatemala's Government
This 1954 photo shows the first group of prisoners taken in Guatemala in the battle for Chiquimula by anti-Communist liberation forces. The impetus for this "revolution" came in large part from United Fruit Company. © Bettmann/CORBIS
This 1954 photo shows the first group of prisoners taken in Guatemala in the battle for Chiquimula by anti-Communist liberation forces. The impetus for this "revolution" came in large part from United Fruit Company. © Bettmann/CORBIS

For much of the 20th century, Chiquita Brands International, formerly United Fruit Company, dominated weak or corrupt governments in Central America, where it grew most of its bananas. Sure, the company could make a lot of cash just by selling the fruit. But if it could also control, say, the railroads, shipping and governments themselves, it could really rake in the dough. So it set out to do just that, becoming the impetus for the term banana republic, used to describe small countries economically dependent upon one export commodity — like bananas — that are ruled by a weak government or dictator [source: Fischer].

In 1950, United Fruit ran into a particularly thorny problem. Guatemalans overwhelmingly elected the left-leaning Jacobo Arbenz Guzman as their leader. Guzman, a champion of the poor, was pushing agrarian land reform to help them, as well as negate some of United Fruit's power. For the fruit company, that simply would not do.

For the third time on our list, Edward Bernays comes to the rescue. He was already the company's PR counsel and began a campaign to convince Americans that Guzman was a closet Communist. Bernays brought journalists into the region, where they were fed false information, and even tapped "intelligence agents" to conduct "a private survey" which — surprise! —confirmed what he said. The U.S. government, pressured to conduct a coup, toppled Guzman's regime, though a CIA-trained "liberation army." (In addition to PR spin, United Fruit had close ties to the CIA.) America's intervention was widely condemned by the international community. For decades after Guzman was toppled, people all over Latin America lost hope for governmental reform, and the region became a hotbed of revolution [sources: Kurtz-Phelan, Fischer].


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