As a term of critique, a banana republic describes a country whose government is primarily concerned with economics benefiting a colonial or corporate power, rather than values of democracy and social welfare. Specifically, "bananaland," or "banana republic" was coined to refer to Central and South American dictatorships set up for the purpose of foreign exploitation of natural resources such as agricultural crops.
The pejorative "banana republic" can be traced back to the original experience of the United States' involvement in banana importing in the 1870s. A corporate honcho named Minor Keith anticipated the wild popularity of the exotic fruit and wanted to encourage cheap export of bananas from Costa Rica. He established political advantage by marrying into the Presidential family, and was soon running miles of railroad tracks, flanked by banana plantations, using exploited labor. Next, he advanced his grand plan by founding or buying other American fruit companies, eventually controlling the monopolistic United Fruit Company. This gave him power over numerous agricultural centers in Cuba, Jamaica, Columbia, Santa Domingo, Guatemala, Panama, and Nicaragua.
Conditions ideal for exploiting workers are propagated by sham democracies in banana republics. A pseudo-democracy means that elections are rigged, so that a pre-selected candidate is guaranteed victory. This puppet leader has ensured the colonial or corporate power that he will follow their directives to make the most profit. Other methods of instituting a compliant government include the staging of political coups, where the foreign power backs an insurrection, often resulting in assassination of the current leader. The military coup only succeeds with weapons and resources secured by a foreign power. Once in control, the new government might be further supported with foreign subsidies to their agricultural crops.
The concept of banana republics has evolved with the changing political climate. For instance, more than fruit, resources such as oil and coffee spurred banana republics in the 20th century. Corruption at all levels usually arises in these unstable governments, breeding a system rife with bribes and black markets. Increasing privatization of basic social services leaves the population with reduced wages and worsening living conditions. Critics of the United States frequently relate its policies to the phenomenon of banana republics both in South America and the Middle East.