"Although the United States is, uh, a very rich country and San Marcos is a very poor one, there are a great many things we have to offer your country in return for aid. For instance, there, uh, there are locusts."
Any backwards tropical country (almost always fictitious, more often than not Latin American), that is ruled by a small corrupt clique (often but not always presided over by a man with a chest full of medals and epic facial hair). Also known in Spanish as "República Bananera" or "República del Plátano". Usually a People's Republic of Tyranny or a Puppet State. Will probably contain Jailbirds of Panama.
The terms has its origins in the United Fruit Company, an honest-to-god Mega Corp. with a Corrupt Corporate Executive approach. With the help of their buddies in the CIA, and some "well-intentioned" and actually well intentioned American presidents, United Fruit created countless US-friendly military dictatorships throughout the tropics dedicated to growing bananas. In these countries, United Fruit paid extremely low wages and close to zero taxes. Marxist and Maoist guerrillas surfaced everywhere, and a cycle of civil wars and dictatorial overthrows ensued.
Since it was usually the Communists who opposed the dictatorships note (even though they didn't necessarily establish democratic/egalitarian societiesonce they got to power; see Cuba), in Latin America, the term is associated with countries that have governments that are controlled by multinational corporations, and not with just any decadent dictatorship per se. In Europe and the U.S, the connotation tends to fall more closely with that of any dictatorship in any tropical country, capitalist, socialist, or what have you. Although, possible exceptions notwithstanding, there aren't really any left in Latin America these days, they can still be found in Africa and Southeast Asia.
May be called "Val Verde". As seen below, however, there is a whole catalogue of fictional names for these countries.
Similar to Ruritania, Qurac, and Bulungi, but easier to fake on a budget.
No relation to the clothing brand.
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Anime and Manga
In Lupin III: Dead or Alive, the fictional country of Zufu gets a subtle Lampshade Hanging by being placed in the Banana Republic. The corrupt government is a military dictatorship, which has actually sent the previously prosperous nation into a sharp decline. At the end, the dictatorship is overthrown, but no government is set up to replace it, yet. Other indicators suggest that the nation is Latin American.
A mild version in Michiko to Hatchin. There are police, but they're rarely there when you need them. However, since the main character isa criminal, the law's absence may be justified.
San Theodoros, in the Tintin series, notable for having two rival military juntas who take turns ousting each other. General Alcazar's junta is even said to be financed by a banana company in Tintin and the Picaros. However, the rival junta of General Tapioca (yes, Tapioca) has more in common with the stereotype - lots of hideously over the top uniforms, cigars, foreign aid (the fictional Communist state of Borduria)
Worse: in "The Broken Ear", we see two representatives of different oil companies addressing to the presidents of San Theodoros and the neighbouring Republic of Nuevo Rico, which then fight over a piece of land shared by both, where Oil has been found. At the end of the episode, some scientist realizes there is not Oil there, actually. Then we see a newspaper's headline announcing the end of the war. Meanwhile, a representative of (legal) weapon dealers visits both governments, one after another selling them expensive equipment for the war.
Managua in Buck Danny, located in the Caribbean sea. It appear 2 or 3 time in the course of the series with different governement each time. Two albums took place there during one of those revolution.
Funnily enough, a real place with that name exists, except it's not a country, but a city - it's the capital of Nicaragua.
Corto Maltese, the island nation which the US and the Soviet Union went to war over in the 1986 graphic novel series Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (named after the lead character in the Italian comic series of the same name)
Santa Prisca shows up a lot in various Batman related titles.
Ciudad Barranquilla from the Judge Dredd comics fits this type to a T, but is notable in that the corrupt and murderous regime was recently replaced by an (equally corrupt and murderous) puppet regime by the Judges of Mega City One.
Palombia in Spirou and Fantasio. Its political regime is so unstable, revolutions are a quasi-daily occurrence.
Tapasambal (a Mexican rather than South American version) and Platopabo (government agents, revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries, counter-counter-revoltuionaries, and the natives) in Ach!lle Talon.
The sheer number of these in the Marvel Universe is revealed with the Marvel Atlas. In Central/South America alone, there's Costa Verde, Terra Verde and Tierra Verde, all of which were created at different times for different comics.
One Chick Tract portrayed one of these, threatened by a (cynical) communist revolutionary, in "Fat Cats" (1989).
Zymbodia and Zhato in Love And Rockets. Less stereotypical than many examples since the creators are Hispanic.
A cartoon that ran in one magazine showed Hispanic-looking revolutionaries overrunning the dictator's office. The dictator, confronting the revolutionary leader, snarled, "You fool — I'm CIA, too!"
The Military Republic of Santa Banana in French Canadian film Elvis Gratton. Exactly What It Says on the Tin: a backward Spanish-speaking tropical island-sate, complete with its dictators and military coups. The national airline is called Air Banana and the national food is... you guessed it.
In the film The In Laws, General Garcia's mansion is located on United Fruit Way.
The unnamed country in the Stephen King short story "In The Deathroom".
Canastarica, a Central American republic in the parodic gangster novels about "Dickie" Dick Dickens by Rolf & Alexandra Becker. The protagonist accidentally becomes dictator there, but absconds when he sees the risks inherent in the job.
In another DDD story, an exiled politician from one of these, Meranda, comes to Chicago to try to gather money and support from wealthy Americans. Except he is an American conman, having killed and impersonated the politician...
Older than Television: Several of O. Henry's writings take place in these. His Cabbages and Kings (1904) is the origin of the term "banana republic."
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut largely takes place in a fictional banana republic, the island of San Lorenzo.
Joseph Conrad's 1904 novel Nostromo is set in Costaguana, a fictional South American banana republic that is also prone to revolution. Much political power is held by a foreign mining company.
That last part is somewhat of a reflection of the state of affairs in Cuba pre-Castro, although it was sugar there.
The Republic Of Sacramento from the Brazilian novel O Senhor Embaxaidor. The story is pretty much a dead ringer of the history of Cuba in the 1940's and 1950's
The Republic of Fernando Poo in the Illuminatus! Trilogy, an island (a real one, by the way) off the West Coast of Africa where Captain Jesus Tequila y Mota has seized power and seceded from Equatorial Guinea, precipitating a civil war and an international confrontation between the U.S., the Soviet Union and China (but it's all part of the Illuminati's Evil Plan to Immanentize the Eschaton).
For the record: "Jesus Tequila y Mota" means "Jesus Tequila and Weed".
The eponymous San Sombrèro in San Sombrèro: A Land of Carnivals, Cocktails and Coups (from the creators of Molvania and Phaic Tan).
In The Stainless Steel Rat For President, "Slippery Jim" diGriz goes up against a planetary dictator by exploiting his need to maintain a facade of democracy.
The village of Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude is set in such a country (assumed to be Colombia.) The story comes complete with banana-growing plantation owned by the notoriously corrupt United Fruit Company, which in the book persuades the Colombian army to massacre all the workers. This actually happened in real life and is remembered as the massacre of the banana growers (masacre de los bananeros).
Simon Templar, in Leslie Charteris' original novella "The Wonderful War", helped overthrow the corrupt government of the Republic of Pasala, which was actually a Oil Republic. In the TV series, the episode of the same title changed the setting to a Qurac.
In Latin America there's a whole style of books dealing with this. They're called "dictator novel" and, like the name implies, they tend to focus more on the man with the power rather than the country itself.
San Marcos in Richard Powell's Don Quixote, U.S.A.. Woody Allen may or may not have read this particular novel before making Bananas.
Boca Grande in Joan Didion's 1977 novel "A Book of Common Prayer"
Live Action TV
MacGyver found himself in quite a few of these in Latin America as well as Africa. One particular episode had Mac being sequestered by his CIA operative friend Abe into kidnapping a South American dictator. When Abe tells Mac this is because said dictator was on CIA's payroll, only for him to double cross them, we get this priceless exchange:
The IMF in Mission: Impossible were dispatched to one of these countries almost every episode where they weren't sent to Ruritania, it seems.
Airwolf featured a few as the source of the antagonist(s) of the episode.
Argentinian comedian Alberto Olmedo made a series of sketches called "Pais Bananero" (Banana Country) about a stereotyped Banana Republic whose name was "Costa Pobre" (Pobre = Poor).
The A-Team tended to travel to one of these every few episodes. Sometimes it would a horribly stereotypical version of a real country, like Venezuela and Colombia in a Season 2 episode, but it could also be a fictional country, like the uncreatively named "Republic of Caraguay." Needless to say, this approach had more than a few Unfortunate Implications.
Parks and Recreation used the real Venezuela for the episode "Sister City", which centers around visiting delegates from Pawnee's sister city in that country. The main cast assume Venezuela is a poor, developing-nation version of this trope and try to introduce the visitors to many of their first world luxuries, until the delegates explain that their government is actually very rich because of Venezuela's oil deposits and that rural, working-class Pawnee looks/smells like garbage to them in comparison.
Interestingly, one episode has Premier Alejandro Goya (played by Armand Assante) overthrown by his Number Two in cahoots with Goya's own wife, supposedly because Goya has forgotten his revolutionary (i.e. communist) ideals and has become a typical decadent dictator. It later turns out that she was merely upset that her husband does not take her seriously (yes, a marriage squabble that results in a coup). Everything goes back to normal (with the exception of the Evil Chancellor, who gets arrested) once the couple reconciles, and Goya makes his wife the Secretary of State.
The classic Israeli skit show The Chamber Quintet had a series of skits referring to the concept. Several actors (one at a time) would make long rants about something that annoys them to the person responsible (one talks about the poor product quality at the café he’s in, another about her spouse’s poor sexual habits, another about the poor quality of a book he’d bought), ending the rant with, ‘What is this, a banana republic?!’ In the final skit, another actor walks around a supermarket, accidentally gets hit on the head by a cluster of bananas hung by a string, and says, ‘What is this, a banana republic?!’
The Fast Show had a recurring sketch featuring a TV channel called 'Chanel 9', from a fictitious European country called "Republicca Democratia Militaria", run by El Presidente. The country is a parody of the sort of TV seen by British tourists in Spain during Franco's rule, with elements of other Mediterranean countries thrown in.
The pilot episode of Mr. Lucky is set on the Spanish-speaking island-nation of "Guatamaca," presumed to be located somewhere in the Caribbean Sea, ruled by a corrupt dictator.
JAG: Subverted in the ninth season episode “Secret Agent Man”. While on a CIA mission in the Philippines, Harm’s partner Beth O’Neill has managed to get caught by the local police. Harm goes to the police station and tries to first play the act of an ignorant American tourist. When that doesn’t work he changes to a tactic which completely misfires.
Harm: All right, I get it. What's it gonna cost?
Police Officer: What? You think that we are some kind of banana republic here where every official is for sale? You listen to me. You just go back to your nice comfortable tourist hotel and you think about it. (Starts shouting aggressively in Tagalog)
The Bruce Cockburn song "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" was written in response to visiting a Guatemalan refugee camp in Mexico, and talks about the helicopters which regularly crossed the border to strafe it.
The Boomtown Rats did a single called Banana Republic, a scathing, and regarded as most unpatriotic, Take That at the Republic of Ireland, which they likened to a third world corrupt Latin American dictatorship, only attached to the edge of Europe. At the time (middle-late 1970's) Ireland was something of a backwater state, relatively poor, marginalised, and economically dependent on Great Britain. Bob Geldof and the boys went to town on their native country being socially repressive and over-religious.
Junta from West End Games is set in La Republica de los Bananas. The winner is the one with the most money in their Swiss bank account when the foreign aid runs out.
Larry Gelbart's satirical play Mastergate: A Play on Words has not one but two. The play, which presents itself as a mock senate hearing about the latest government scandal, concerns the nation of Ambigua and the Republic of San Elvador, and the shady dealings of the military, CIA, IRS, the Vice President and the President.
The Tropico series is basically one big Troperiffic Banana Republic simulation, where you play the recently-installed dictator of a small country in the Caribbean. You can run it as anything from benevolent to hideously oppressive. The United Fruit Company is given extended Shout-Out. The first game has you creating a customized El Presidente of your own. Your choices determine things like your allegiances with the two superpowers (the game is set during the Cold War). For example, your character may be a Harvard grad, which endears you to the US; or, you can graduate from the University of Moscow with the opposite results.
Dictator, an obscure text-based ZX Spectrum game, allows you to control the people of another fictional republic of Ritimba... not for long, still, due to it being an Endless Game (it's impossible to please every layer of society, you see). Sidenote Make sure you have got an escape plane and a couple of bodyguards before a revolution starts... they LOVE throwing revolutions at your head. Literally.
The Just Cause series lets you loose as a Crazy Awesome CIA agent tasked with overthrowing a junta on two fictional island nations (San Esperito in the first game and in the second, the more unusual, South Asian-style dictatorship of Panau).
In Hidden Agenda, you play the president of Chimerica, a Central American country whose military dictatorship has just recently been overthrown.
The main character in Mercenaries 2helps turn Venezuela into this in the intro and spends the rest of the game "fixing" it.
Caruba (portmanteau of Cuba and Aruba?) in Time Crisis: Project Titan, and the Zagorias Federation in Time Crisis 3.
Banana Republics are one of the government options in Shores of Hazeron. Players are appointed rank by El Presidente (the default ruler name), but players can also gain ranks (i.e. System administrators) by assassinating other players, which causes them to gain the killed player's ranks, while the killed player spawns without their rank.
Roger Ramjet includes among its many parodies the Latin American banana republic of San Domino; thanks to the efforts of the eponymous hero, however, it remains junta-free and is still ruled by the President and his Cabinet (which is rectangular and made of wood).
From DuckTales: "I want you to catch the first plane to the Banana Republic."
An episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog shows that in the future, the area that was once Kansas will be ruled by a literal Banana Republic (yes there are sentient bananas.)
Roger takes over an island from the CIA in American Dad!. He renames the country "Bananarama", forces everyone to dance, and turns it into a resort where the only mode of transportation is floating in innertubes. The locals finally rebel after he decrees that everything be painted yellow, then changes his mind and has them do it over again in turquoise. As one of the revolutionaries mentions, "I have painted my children for the last time."
The Mask animated series had the "Plantation Republic" in one episode. It seemed to be based on a blend of Nicaragua and Honduras (guerillas, outdated prop plane fighters), but set on a relatively featureless forested island. Their welcome sign had the phrase "Now Go Away" at the end.
Hurricanes has a Banana Republic ruled by a soccer-obsessed General who once kept the Hurricanes captive.
Bananaman once had to go to a Banana Republic to stop a villain from cutting off the world's banana supply in "The Last Banana".
In The Venture Bros. episode "Venture Libre", the characters go to one of these named Puerto Bahía. Its president is supported by the USA, and the country itself seems to be mostly jungles, coffee plantations and sweatshops. It is also home to La Résistance consisting of freaks of super-science.
Colombia during the 20th century. The United Fruit Company had a lot of power in the government, which allowed them to exploit the workers without any consequences. This incited a number of protests that led to the "Masacre de las Bananeras," in 1928 in which the Colombian army shot the protesters by the order of the government under the influence of both the United Fruit Company and the US government, who threatened to invade if the Colombian government didn't protect the company's interest.
The advertising slogan The man from Del Monte, he say "Yes!" is regarded as too near to reality in many Central and South American countries. you wonder why...
The Dominican Republic under Trujillo and Chile during Pinochet's rule. Also Honduras, Nicaragua (1937-1979), Brazil (1964-1985), Paraguay (1954-1989), Argentina, and so on, especially during (and due to) the Cold War. But there were many more.
Cuba was a Sugar Cane Republic until Castro showed up. note There were bananas, mostly grown in the east. There was also tourism and gambling, centered in Havana and run by The Mafia.
The term comes from the American occupations of Nicaragua, Cuba, Panama, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic from the end of the Spanish-American War to 1934, referred to collectively as "The Banana Wars".
Italy has been described as a modern version of this trope, at least according to its Useful Notes description. It is a country of at times incredible contrasts, being one of the world's major economies (and home to a number of globally renowned brands) despite an archaic system, constantly protesting unions, regional disputes and a (ex, for now) Prime Minister infamous for his escapades.
The Pacific Islands nation of Fiji, since the first of several coups d'etat in 1987.
There is a Russian joke: What is the difference between a banana republic and a Petroleum Superstate? The answer: Bananas are a renewable resource.