Sep 10, 2006

ROATAN, Honduras – So much suits me here: the palms like tiny asterisks on the horizon, the lassitude of a Latin-Caribbean culture, how planes wait until all the passengers arrive. I couldn't design a better banana republic.

That's not gringa exaggeration. Honduras was a banana republic once.

Sam Zemurray, a Bessarabian immigrant, built a fruit empire here in the early 1900s. When the government didn't play ball, he plotted a coup.

Federal agents tried to block the mercenaries' departure from the U.S. The key conspirators caroused in a New Orleans bordello, until officers abandoned the stakeout.

"Well, compadre, this is the first time I've ever heard of anybody going from a whorehouse to the White House. Let's be on our way!" one announced.

Off they sailed, with Sam the Banana Man, and conquered the country.

Zemurray, by most accounts, was a fairly upright guy. Later, as head of United Fruit, he fought for local management and diversified crops.

And he remains famous for this quote, so oddly resonant today in America: "In Honduras, a mule is worth more than a congressman."

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