Honduras Table of Contents

The Growth of the Banana Industry

Although the peaceful transfer of power from Bonilla to General Sierra in 1899 was important as the first time in decades that such a constitutional transition had taken place, that year was a watershed in another, even more important, sense. In 1889 the Vaccaro brothers of New Orleans, founders of what would become the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company (later known as Standard Fruit Company), shipped their first boatload of bananas from Honduras to New Orleans. The fruit found a ready market, and the trade grew rapidly. By 1902 local railroad lines were being constructed on the Caribbean coast to accommodate the expanding banana production.

Sierra's efforts to perpetuate himself in office led to his overthrow in 1903 by General Manuel Bonilla, who proved to be an even greater friend of the banana companies than Sierra had been. Companies gained exemptions from taxes and permission to construct wharves and roads, as well as permission to improve interior waterways and to obtain charters for new railroad construction.

Conservative Manuel Bonilla was an opponent rather than a relative or friend of Sierra's liberal predecessor, Policarpo Bonilla. During Manuel Bonilla's term in office, he imprisoned expresident Policarpo Bonilla for over two years and took other steps to suppress his political opposition, the liberals, who were the only group with an organized political party. The conservatives were divided into a host of personalist factions and lacked coherent leadership. Manuel Bonilla made some efforts to reorganize the conservatives into a "national party." The present-day National Party of Honduras (Partido Nacional de Honduras--PNH) traces its origins to his administration.

Manuel Bonilla promoted some internal improvements, notably road building. He improved the route from Tegucigalpa to the Pacific coast. On the international front, he concluded friendship pacts with Nicaragua and later with Guatemala and El Salvador.

Of perhaps greatest significance was the work accomplished during Manuel Bonillo's administration to delineate the longdisputed border with Nicaragua. The area, called the Mosquitia region, was located in the eastern part of the country in the department of Gracias a Dios. The area was large but virtually unpopulated except for small groups of Miskito who owed little allegiance to either nation. In 1894 a treaty provided for the establishment of a boundary commission, composed of representatives of Honduras and Nicaragua, to resolve the dispute. By 1904 the commission had been able to agree on only the lower part of the boundary. In that year, to reach agreement on the upper part, the representatives of the two nations picked King Alfonso XIII of Spain as a neutral, third member of the commission, in effect making him the arbiter. His decision, announced in 1906, gave the bulk of the disputed territory to Honduras, establishing the upper boundary line along the Río Coco. At the time, both governments accepted the decision, but in 1912 Nicaragua raised new objections. The dispute was finally resolved in favor of the 1906 arbitration only in 1960.

In 1906 Manuel Bonilla successfully resisted an invasion from Guatemala, but this was his last major success. The friendship pact with Guatemala and El Salvador signed in 1906 was interpreted as an anti-Nicaraguan alliance by the Nicaraguans. Nicaragua's powerful President Zelaya began to support exiled Honduran liberals in their efforts to topple Manuel Bonilla, who had become, in effect, the Honduran dictator. Supported by elements of the Nicaraguan army, the exiles invaded Honduras in February 1907 and established a provisional junta. With the assistance of Salvadoran troops, Manuel Bonilla tried to resist, but in March his forces were decisively beaten in a battle notable for the introduction of machine guns into Central American civil strife.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress