Saturday, February 13, 2016
Pretend you're Samuel Zemurray. You are thirty-two. You've been in America less than twenty years. You lived in Russia before that, in a poor farming town filled with rabbis. Now you're here, an entrepreneur of considerable means, but still, somewhere in your mind, the little Jew who snuck in the back door. You're a husband and father, with a young daughter and another child on the way. You've been summoned to Washington, called to account by the secretary of state, warned. What do you do? Put your head down, shut up? Sit in a corner and thank God for your good fortune? Well, maybe that's what you would do, but not Sam Zemurray. He muttered all the way back to New Orleans: these momzers! Don't get involved? How about I overthrow the fucking government? Is that too involved? You made a deal with the president of Honduras, Miguel Davila? Well, what if Senor Davila wasn't president no more?
Consider the audacity!
In defying Philander Knox and J. Pierpont Morgan, Sam Zemurray was challenging two of the most powerful men in America.
Zemurray's scheme can be described as a coup disguised as a revolution. (It would not be hard to stir popular anger in the country, since most Hondurans hated the Knox plan.) Davila would be driven out and a new president put in his place. General Manuel Bonilla, who had been president of Honduras until he was disposed in 1907, was cast in the role of insurgent leader for several reasons: because he was living in New Orleans; because he was known in Honduras; because he was trusted by Honduras businessmen; because Sam knew and liked Bonilla, who he called Mi General; because Bonilla knew and liked Sam, having described him on one occasion as "an angel sent from heaven"; because he had allies in the region who would fight by his side; because he was dark skinned and broad nosed, features described by diplomats as Indian in a way that would give the operation the aura of popular revolt.
Rich Cohen, as excerpted from The Fish That Ate The Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King