The 1928 Massacre of Banana Workers

The Photos we Don't get to see

I’ve written an essay analyzing a photograph that United Fruit Company managers and the Colombian military used to identify the workers during the 1928 strike in the banana zone of Colombia. That chapter, “The Photos We Don’t Get to See: Sovereignties, Archives, and the 1928 Massacre of Banana Workers in Colombia,” appears in Making the Empire Work: Labor and United States Imperialism, (New York University Press, 2015). An abbreviated version was published as “Las fotos que no alcanzamos a ver: Soberanías, archivos y la masacre de trabajadores bananeros de 1928 en Colombia,” in Fotografía e historia en América Latina, (Centro de Fotografía de Montevideo, 2015).

In my essay on the (nonexistent) photographs of the massacre, I examined a number of primary source documents and the rich historiography produced by Mauricio Archila, Catherine LeGrand, Miguel Urrutia, Carlos Arango Z., and Marcelo Bucheli. For more on the strike and the massacre, I highly recommend this book, Bananeras: Huelga y masacre 80 años, edited by Mauricio Archila Neira and Leidy Jazmín Torres Cendales (2009).

Below, my graphic history of the 1928 strike and massacre of banana workers in Colombia. The mutilation of the archive. And imagining ourselves out of that violence. “The Photos We Don’t Get to See” was on exhibit at the Universidad de la Salle, Bogotá, and in Ciénaga for the December 6 anniversary of the 1928 massacre of banana workers. Designed by Fidel Peña, Underline Studio.

On a now-defunct website, Paul Wolf, a lawyer based in Washington, DC, posted a variety of declassified U.S. State Department cables on the 1928 massacre of banana workers in Ciénaga, Colombia. Although his website is now offline, all of the original documents that he collected can still be accessed here through Below, I post the memos that I found to be especially illuminating.

Teaching Students to Write Essays Using Primary Source Material
I’ve designed an exercise that asks students to use these documents to write their own critical interpretation of the past. You can download the assignment here. Feel free to use in your classes!