The banana has played a vital role in Ecuador's economic history. Following an epidemic blight that wiped out many of the banana plantations in Central America during the early 1940s, Ecuador was called upon to serve as an alternative supplier of the fruit to satisfy the growing demands of the U.S. market. After the end of World War II, Ecuador enjoyed a decade-long "banana boom" that brought with it an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. From 1948 to 1952, annual exports increased from 2 million bananas to 20 million, and by 1955 they'd reached 26 million. Banana profits were used to improve the country's infrastructure, education, and health-care system, as well as to increase salaries.
Ecuador's political scene was also affected by the country's transformation into a Banana Republic. President Velasco served out three full consecutive terms in office, an unprecedented and unmatched feat in the country's history. Toward the close of the 1950s, however, world banana prices dropped, sparking an economic crisis marked by high unemployment and widespread social discord. The discovery of petroleum in the late 1960s helped alleviate the problem. (Bananas still rank as Ecuador's second-most-important export, after oil, and Ecuadorean bananas account for some 30% of worldwide consumption.)
The year-round tropical climate enjoyed by the country's southern coastal regions near Guayaquil is ideal for banana production. The majority of plantations are managed by private interests, the most well-known being those belonging to ex-presidential candidate and banana magnate Alvaro Noboa, owner of the world's largest export brand, Bonita. (Noboa, not coincidentally, is the wealthiest person in Ecuador.)
Ecuadorean banana workers -- who represent at least 10% of the nation's workforce -- are some of the lowest paid in Latin America. Human-rights abuses on plantations continue to attract international media attention; there have been reports of violent attacks against workers and union organizers.
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