Banana republic

political science term for a politically unstable country

A banana republic is a politically unstable country whose economy depends on the export of one product in limited supply, such as bananas or minerals. A banana republic has social classes that are divided by wealth. These include a large, poor working class and a small ruling class made up of the businessmen, politicians, and the military.[1] The ruling class controls and exploits the country's economy.[2]

The phrase banana republic was coined (ca. 1904) by the American writer O. Henry (William Sydney Porter, 1862–1910).
United States are shown in blue. That's were United Fruit Company is. The states shown in red were called banana republic at some point in time. They are Cuba, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama

Characteristics of a Banana Republic

The way the phrase banana republic is used has evolved since it was introduced more than a century ago. It is no longer limited to countries in Central America or the tropics. Key characteristics of a banana republic in the modern world include:

  • Widespread government corruption
  • Tyrannical government
  • Unstable government
  • Civil unrest
  • Coup attempts/insurgency
  • Economic dependency on exporting a limited natural resource (which may or may not be bananas)
  • Infrastructure owned/supported by out-of-country interests
  • Overall economic dependency on foreign investment or business entities
  • Widespread poverty
  • Significant stratification of social classes
  • Enormous gap between the haves and have nots
  • Lack of a middle class

Examples of Banana Republics

In the modern world, whether or not a country could accurately be described as a banana republic government is a matter of opinion. A number of countries have been described as banana republics at some point.

A country that at some point might exhibit all of the characteristics of a banana republic could change, which would mean that the term would no longer apply. The fact that someone refers to a country as a banana republic does not mean that the country really is one. Remember that the phrase is a derogatory description rather than an actual type of government.

Related pagesEdit


  1. White, Richard Alan (1984). The Morass. United States Intervention in Central America. New York: Harper & Row. p. 319. ISBN 978-0-06-091145-4.
  2. "Big-business Greed Killing the Banana (p. A19)". The Independent, Via the New Zealand Herald. 24 May 2008. Archived from the original on 20 November 2018. Retrieved 24 June 2012.