A banana republic is a country that is a democratic republic on paper but is ruled by the army in practice, either directly or through a strongman known as a dictator. It is a feature of American world power, especially in the late 1900s.
Many say that America has no empire because it does not rule other countries directly, as the British and Romans did. But its style of rule is different: it rules by means of banana republics – what they called vassal states in the old days.
The dictator of a banana republic is weak: lacking the support of his own people, he needs the support of America. This puts him above the law and allows him to exercise military rule when he needs to. But he must do America’s bidding or fall. It is a deal with the devil.
America wants one thing above all: markets. It needs countries where its companies can freely do business without fear of war or revolution. Banana republics provide this. They have been America’s building blocks for world peace and free markets.
In a banana republic the leader always wins the election or puts them off until he feels the country is “ready”. In a working democracy power changes hand at least once every ten years.
There are three types of banana republics:
- Type I: these are ruled by good men who care about their country. Their rule is stern but wise. That together with years of peace and American money make the country richer. Not just those at the top enjoy its fruits, but everyone. In time the people begin to demand the same rights, freedom and democracy that America and other rich countries have. Examples: South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Mexico
- Type II: the dictator only cares about making his family and friends rich. The country remains poor – and angry. These are the kleptocracies – rule by robbers. Examples: Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt
- Type III: these are so badly ruled that a guerrilla war takes root. The war can go on for years, up in the hills, keeping the country poor. If the guerrillas win, as they sometimes do, they pull the country out of the empire and try to go it alone without American money. Guerrilla leaders love their country, but they tend to have very fixed ideas and take their country down a dead end. Examples: Vietnam, Iran, Nicaragua, Cuba, Peru, China
Banana republics, it turns out, only work in the short term. They bring a false peace. Not only are some overturned in guerrilla wars and become dangerous (China, Iran), but the anger and despair caused by Type II sometimes leads to acts of terror directed against America itself: Osama bin Laden, 9/11 and all that.
So now the latest thinking in America is that only democracies will make the world safe for democracy.