Cortes Vargas served as a military general in Colombia during the Santa Mara strikes in 1928, his goal was to reestablish peace in this region.1 Shortly after the strike began, Vargas requested to be moved to the area for this goal.2 Vargas ordered heavily armed posts to be set up around the Cienaga main square during the strike.3
In the time leading up to the banana massacre, Vargas authored several reports about the local situation and received many reports from those outside the area. During the strikes, the Colombian government’s labor inspector claimed the strike was legal. In response, Vargas had him jailed and continued with his plan to stop the strikers at all costs.4 Following acts of arson and vandalism in the city, Vargas declared the strikers to be outlaws and criminals. This assertion legitimized violence, both by members of the community and state forces, against the strikers.5 On the night of December 5, 1928, Vargas received a decree 1 (state of siege) from the Colombian government.6 Vargas issued a warning for the strikers to disperse, but before they could do so, Vargas ordered his troops to open fire on the crowds.7 When the firing had ceased, the strike had been broken. But Vargas’ actions had created a new problem, the aftermath of killing and injuring a large number of strikers. His response to the strike created strong anti-government feelings in Colombia and led to the creation of several leftist guerilla groups.8 Vargas’ response was defended in different ways. In his own accounts he stated that the strikers attacked his soldiers who then acted in self-defense.9 It has also been suggested that Vargas acted to swiftly end the strike to avoid American intervention in Colombia and to protect American lands and citizens that may be near the strikes.10 This claim is backed up by the fact that following the strike, Vargas destroyed his report to the United States congress, likely due to mention of American involvement during the strike.11 Vargas was briefly demoted after the banana massacre, but in 1929, he was appointed as supreme chief of police in Colombia.12
1 “Troops Kill Eight in Colombia Strike” The Evening Star, December 7, 1928. Accessed March 10, 2020. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1928-12-07/ed-1/seq-42/#date1=1927&index=0&rows=20&words=Cortes+Vargas&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1929&proxtext=cortes+vargas&y=2&x=12&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1
2 “Bananeras Massacre,” Colombia in 20th Century, June 15, 2015. Accessed March 15, 2020. http://colombiain20thcenturybydiana.blogspot.com/2015/06/bananeras-massacre_18.html
3 “Banana Massacre,” History Channel, Accessed March 15, 2020. https://www.historychannel.com.au/this-day-in-history/banana-massacre/
4 Bender, Daniel, and Lipman, Jana, Making the Empire Work: Labor and United States Imperialism (Culture, Labor. History) no. 13, (NYU Press: New York, 2015), 114.
5 Caro, Jorge Enrique Elías, and Ortega, Antonio Vidal, “The workers massacre of 1928 in the Magdalena Zona Bananera- Colombia. An unfinished story,” Memorias: Revista Digita de Historia y Arqueología Desde el Caribe Colombiano, no. 18: 44.
6 Coleman, Kevin, “The Photos We Don’t Get to See (Photo Essay),” North American Congress on Latin America, December 18, 2018. Accessed March 16, 2020. https://nacla.org/news/2018/12/18/photos-we-don%E2%80%99t-get-see-photo-essay.
7 “Banana Massacre,” History Channel.
9 Bender, Daniel, and Lipman, Jana, Making the Empire Work, 115
10 Amelinckx, Andrew, “Old Time Farm Crime: The Banana Massacre,” Modern Farmer, July 24, 2014. Accessed March 15, 2020. https://modernfarmer.com/2014/07/latest-old-time-farm-crime-banana-massacre/
11 Wolf, Paul, “1928: The Santa Marta Massacre,” Libcom, 2002. Accessed March 14, 2020. https://libcom.org/history/1928-santa-marta-massacre
12 “New Police Chief Named,” The Evening Star, April 15, 1929. Accessed March 10, 2020. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1929-04-15/ed-1/seq-17/#date1=1928&index=1&rows=20&words=Cortes+Vargas&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1931&proxtext=cortes+vargas&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1