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Caribbean Islands - History

Caribbean Islands - Acknowledgments

Caribbean Islands

The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of Irving Kaplan, Howard I. Blutstein, Kathryn Therese Johnston, and David S. McMorris, who wrote the 1976 edition of the Area Handbook for Jamaica, and Jan Knippers Black, Howard I. Blutstein, Kathryn Therese Johnston, and David S. McMorris, who wrote the 1976 edition of the Area Handbook for Trinidad and Tobago. Their work provided a useful guide in organizing portions of chapters 2 and 3 of the present volume.

The authors are grateful to individuals in various agencies of the United States government and international and private institutions who gave of their time, research materials, and special knowledge to provide information and perspective. The staffs of various Commonwealth Caribbean embassies, the InterAmerican Development Bank, and the World Bank provided materials that were unavailable from other sources. Stephen F. Clarke, senior legal specialist at the American-British Law Division, Library of Congress, offered insights on the structure and functions of the Eastern Caribbean court system. None of these individuals is in any way responsible for the work of the authors, however.

The authors also wish to thank those who contributed directly to the preparation of the manuscript. These include Richard F. Nyrop, who reviewed all drafts and served as liaison with the sponsoring agency; Martha E. Hopkins, who edited portions of the manuscript and managed its production; Barbara Auerbach, Vincent Ercolano, and Marilyn L. Majeska, who also edited portions of the manuscript; Barbara Edgerton, Janie L. Gilchrist, Monica Shimmin, and Izella Watson who did the word processing; Andrea T. Merrill, who performed the final prepublication editorial review; Diann Johnson of the Printing and Processing Section, Library of Congress, who phototypeset the manuscript under the supervision of Peggy Pixley; and Editorial Experts, which compiled the index.

Finally, the authors would like to thank several individuals who provided research support. Joan C. Barch, Susan Lender, Timothy L. Merrill, and Marjorie F. Thomas wrote the geography sections in chapters 2 through 6. Timothy L. Merrill also supplied the authors with data on telecommunications and transportation.


This study is an attempt to treat in a compact and objective manner the dominant social, political, economic, and military aspects of the contemporary islands of the Commonwealth Caribbean. Sources of information included scholarly books, journals, and monographs; official reports of governments and international organizations; numerous periodicals; and interviews with individuals having special competence in Caribbean affairs. A bibliography appears at the end of the book. Measurements are given in the metric system.

Caribbean Islands

Caribbean Islands - Regional Overview

Caribbean Islands

THE COMMONWEALTH CARIBBEAN ISLANDS have a distinctive history. Permanently influenced by the experiences of colonialism and slavery, the Caribbean has produced a collection of societies that are markedly different in population composition from those in any other region of the world.

Lying on the sparsely settled periphery of an irregularly populated continent, the region was "discovered" by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Thereafter, it became the springboard for the European invasion and domination of the Americas, a transformation that historian D. W. Meinig has aptly described as the "radical reshaping of America." Beginning with the Spanish and Portuguese and continuing with the arrival more than a century later of other Europeans, the indigenous peoples of the Americas experienced a series of upheavals. The European intrusion abruptly interrupted the pattern of their historical development and linked them inextricably with the world beyond the Atlantic Ocean. It also severely altered their physical environment, introducing both new foods and new epidemic diseases. As a result, the native Indian populations rapidly declined and virtually disappeared from the Caribbean, although they bequeathed to the region a distinct cultural heritage that is still seen and felt.

During the sixteenth century, the Caribbean region was significant to the Spanish empire. In the seventeenth century, the English, Dutch, and French established colonies. By the eighteenth century, the region contained colonies that were vitally important for all of the European powers because the colonies generated great wealth from the production and sale of sugar.

The early English colonies, peopled and controlled by white settlers, were microcosms of English society, with small yeoman farming economies based mainly on tobacco and cotton. A major transformation occurred, however, with the establishment of the sugar plantation system. To meet the system's enormous manpower requirements, vast numbers of black African slaves were imported throughout the eighteenth century, thereby reshaping the region's demographic, social, and cultural profile. Although the white populations maintained their social and political preeminence, they became a numerical minority in all of the islands. Following the abolition of slavery in the mid-nineteenth century, the colonies turned to imported indentured labor from India, China, and the East Indies, further diversifying the region's culture and society. The result of all these immigrations is a remarkable cultural heterogeneity in contemporary Caribbean society.

The abolition of slavery was also a major watershed in Caribbean history in that it initiated the long, slow process of enfranchisement and political control by the nonwhite majorities in the islands. The early colonies enjoyed a relatively great amount of autonomy through the operations of their local representative assemblies. Later, however, for ease of administration and to facilitate control of increasingly assertive colonial representative bodies, the British adopted a system of direct administration known as crown colony government in which Britishappointed governors wielded nearly autocratic power. The history of the colonies from then until 1962 when the first colonies became independent is marked by the rise of popular movements and labor organizations and the emergence of a generation of politicians who assumed positions of leadership when the colonial system in the British Caribbean was dismantled.

Despite shared historical and cultural experiences and geographic, demographic, and economic similarities, the islands of the former British Caribbean empire remain diverse, and attempts at political federation and economic integration both prior to and following independence have foundered. Thus, the region today is characterized by a proliferation of mini-states, all with strong democratic traditions and political systems cast in the Westminster parliamentary mold, but all also with forceful individual identities and interests.

Caribbean Islands


Caribbean Islands

THE COMMONWEALTH CARIBBEAN is the term applied to the English- speaking islands in the Carribbean and the mainland nations of Belize (formerly British Honduras) and Guyana (formerly British Guiana) that once constituted the Caribbean portion of the British Empire. This volume examines only the islands of the Commonwealth Caribbean, which are Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Windward Islands (Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada), Barbados, the Leeward Islands (Antigua and Barbuda, St. Christopher [hereafter, St. Kitts] and Nevis, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, and Montserrat), and the so-called Northern Islands (the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands).

To the casual observer, these islands might appear to be too disparate to allow for a common discussion. Consider, for instance, the differences in population, size, income, ethnic composition, and political status among the various islands. Anguilla's 7,000 residents live on an island totaling 91 square kilometers, whereas Jamaica has a population of 2.3 million and a territory of nearly 11,000 square kilometers. The per capita gross domestic product (GDP--see Glossary) of the Cayman Islands is nearly fourteen times as large as that of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Trinidad and Tobago's population is evenly divided between blacks and East Indians, a pattern quite different from that on the other islands, on which blacks constitute an overwhelming majority. Although most of the islands are independent nations, five (the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat, the Cayman Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands) remain British dependencies.

These and other differences, however, should not obscure the extensive ties that bind the islands of the Commonwealth Caribbean. For instance, the islands' populations clearly regard themselves as distinct from their Latin American neighbors and identify more closely with the British Commonwealth of Nations than with Latin America (see Appendix B). All of the Commonwealth Caribbean islands except Grenada supported Britain's actions during the 1982 South Atlantic War in the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, in sharp contrast to the strong Latin American defense of the Argentine position.

This perceived distinctiveness emerged from the islands' shared historical experiences. Their transformation during the seventeenth century from a tobacco- to a sugar-based economy permanently changed life on the islands, as a plantation society employing African slave labor replaced the previous society of small landholders (see The Sugar Revolutions and Slavery, ch. 1). By the early nineteenth century, blacks constituted at least 80 percent of the population in all but one of the British Caribbean islands. The exception was Trinidad, which had begun bringing in large numbers of slaves only in the 1780s and 1790s. When the British abolished slavery in the Caribbean in the 1830s, Trinidadian planters imported indentured labor from India to work the sugarcane fields. Despite their numerical minority, whites continued to control political and economic affairs throughout the islands. Indeed, the all-white House of Assembly in Jamaica abolished itself in 1865 rather than share power with blacks. This abrogation of local assemblies and establishment of crown colony government (see Glossary) was the norm in the British Caribbean in the late 1800s and impeded the development of political parties and organizations.

Demands for political reform quickened after World War I with the appearance of a nascent middle class and the rise of trade unions. In the mid-1930s, the islands became engulfed by riots spawned by the region's difficult economic conditions (see Labor Organizations, ch. 1). The riots demonstrated the bankruptcy of the old sugar plantation system and sounded the death knell for colonial government. Beginning in the 1940s, the British allowed increasing levels of self-government and encouraged the emergence of moderate black political leaders. As a prelude to political independence for the region, the British established a federation in 1958 consisting of ten island groupings. The West Indies Federation succumbed, however, to the parochial concerns of the two largest members--Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago--both of which declared independence in 1962. Between 1966 and 1983, eight additional independent nations were carved out of the British Caribbean.

These ten island nations are located in a strategically significant area. Merchant or naval shipping from United States ports in the Gulf of Mexico--including resupply of North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in wartime--cross narrow Caribbean passages that constitute "choke points." The Caribbean Basin also links United States naval forces operating in the North Atlantic and South Atlantic areas and provides an important source of many raw materials imported by the United States (see Current Strategic Considerations, ch. 7).

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the United States asserted its interest in the Caribbean by frequently intervening in the affairs of the Hispanic islands. It did not involve itself, however, in the British colonies, a difference that may explain the relatively harmonious state of relations between the United States and the Commonwealth Caribbean islands when compared with the often contentious tone evident in United States- Latin American interactions. During World War II, and especially after 1960, the United States began to assume Britain's security and defense responsibilities for the Commonwealth Caribbean. Nonetheless, Britain continued to provide police training and remained an important trading partner with the region.

The political systems of the Commonwealth Caribbean nations paradoxically are both stable and fragile. All have inherited strong democratic traditions and parliamentary systems of government formed on the Westminster model. Political succession generally has been handled peacefully and democratically. For example, Barbados' Parliament deftly coped with the deaths in office of prime ministers J.M.G.M. "Tom" Adams in 1985 and Errol Barrow in 1987. At the same time, however, the multi-island character of many of these nations makes them particularly susceptible to fragmentation. The British had hoped to lessen the vulnerability of the smaller islands by making them part of larger, more viable states. This policy often was resented deeply by the unions' smaller partners, who charged that the larger islands were neglecting them. The most contentious case involved one of the former members of the West Indies Federation, St. Kitts-Nevis- Anguilla. In 1967 Anguillans evicted the Kittitian police force from the island and shortly thereafter declared independence. Despite the landing of British troops on the island two years later, Anguilla continued to resist union with St. Kitts and Nevis. Ultimately, the British bowed to Anguillan sentiments and administered the island as a separate dependency. Separatist attitudes also predominated in Nevis; the situation there was resolved, however, by granting Nevisians extensive local autonomy and a guaranteed constitutional right of secession.

The fragility of these systems also has been underscored in the 1980s by a reliance on violence for political ends. Grenada, Dominica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines offered the most dramatic examples (see Regional Security Threats, 1970-81, ch. 7). Over a four-year span, Grenada experienced the overthrow of a democratically elected but corrupt administration, the establishment of the self-styled People's Revolutionary Government (PRG), the bloody collapse of the PRG and its replacement by the hard-line Revolutionary Military Council, and the intervention of United States troops and defense and police forces from six Commonwealth Caribbean nations (Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines). In 1981 the Dominican government foiled a coup attempt involving a former prime minister, the country's defense force, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, mercenaries, and underworld elements from the United States. Several months later, members of the then-disbanded defense force attacked Dominica's police headquarters and prison in an effort to free the coup participants. In 1979 Rastafarians (see Glossary) seized the airport, police station, and revenue office on Union Island in the Grenadines.

Most of the island governments were quite unprepared to deal with political violence; indeed, only five--Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago--have defense forces, the largest of which has only a little over 2,000 members. In response, the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines signed a regional security accord that allowed for the coordination of defense efforts and the establishment of paramilitary units drawn from the islands' police forces. Nonetheless, Commonwealth Caribbean leaders generally opposed creating a regional army and contended that such a force might eventually threaten democracy in the region (see A Regional Security System; Controversial Security Issues, ch. 7).

Drug trafficking represents an additional threat to the islands' political systems. The Caribbean has become increasingly important as a transit point for the transshipment of narcotics from Latin America to the United States. Narcotics traffickers have offered payoffs to Caribbean officials to ensure safe passage of their product through the region. Numerous examples abound of officials prepared to enter into such arrangements. In 1985 a Miami jury convicted Chief Minister Norman Saunders of the Turks and Caicos Islands of traveling to the United States to engage in narcotics transactions. A year later, a Trinidadian and Tobagonian government report implicated cabinet members, customs officials, policemen, and bank executives in a conspiracy to ship cocaine to the United States. Bahamian prime minister Lynden O. Pindling frequently has been accused of personally profiting from drug transactions, charges that he vehemently denies. The most recent accusation came in January 1988, when a prosecution witness in the Jacksonville, Florida, trial of Colombian cocaine trafficker Carlos Lehder Rivas claimed that Lehder paid Pindling US$88,000 per month to protect the Colombian's drug operations.

Yet the greatest challenges facing the Commonwealth Caribbean in the 1980s were not political but economic. The once-dominant sugar industry was beset by inefficient production, falling yields, a steady erosion of world prices, and a substantial reduction in United States import quotas. The unemployment level on most of the islands hovered at around 20 percent, a figure that would have been much higher were it not for continued Caribbean emigration to Britain, the United States, and Canada. Ironically, however, because the islands' education systems failed to train workers for a technologically complex economy, many skilled and professional positions went unfilled. In addition, the islands were incapable of producing most capital goods required for economic growth and development; imports of such goods helped generate balance of payments deficits and increasing levels of external indebtedness.

In the early 1980s, regional leaders hoped that President Ronald Reagan's administration's Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) would produce a substantial rise in exports to the United States, thus alleviating economic problems (see Appendix D). The most important part of the CBI--the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA) of 1983--allowed eligible Caribbean nations duty-free access to the United States for most exports until 1995. The CBERA, however, excluded some of the region's most important exports, including textiles, apparel, footwear, and sugar. Although nontraditional exports from the Caribbean to the United States increased during the first five years of the CBI, Caribbean governments expressed disappointment with the program's overall results. Legislation introduced in the United States Congress in 1987 called for an extension of the CBI until 2007, an expansion of products included under the duty-free access provision, and a restoration of sugar quotas to 1984 levels. Although the status of the bill remained uncertain in mid-1988, few analysts anticipated changes in sugar import quotas.

Despite the generally troubling economic picture, the tourist sector demonstrated considerable vitality in the 1980s. Commonwealth Caribbean nations successfully marketed the region's beauty, climate, and beaches to a receptive North American audience. As a result, many of the nations achieved dramatic increases in tourist arrivals and net earnings from tourism. For example, the number of foreign visitors to the Bahamas climbed from 1.7 million in 1982 to 3 million in 1986. The British Virgin Islands recorded 161,625 visitors in 1984, an increase of 91,338 as compared with 1976. Jamaica doubled its earnings over the 1980-86 period to stand at US$437 million in 1986. At the same time, however, the sector became quite susceptible to occasional slumps in the United States economy. Two months after the October 1987 stock market crash on Wall Street, tourist arrivals in Jamaica declined by 10 percent compared with the previous year.

In an effort to minimize their overall economic vulnerability, the independent nations of the Commonwealth Caribbean and the British crown colony of Montserrat established the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom--see Appendix C) in 1973. Caricom had a number of goals, the most important of which were economic integration through the creation of a regional common market, diversification and specialization of production, and functional cooperation.

The organization's greatest success was in the area of functional cooperation; by the late 1980s, almost two dozen regional institutions had been created, including the University of the West Indies, the Caribbean Development Bank, the Caribbean Meteorological Council, the West Indies Shipping Corporation (WISCO), and the Caribbean Marketing Enterprise. Not all members of Caricom felt that they shared equitably in the services provided by these institutions, however. In 1987, for example, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Belize withdrew from WISCO, claiming that the corporation had provided them with few benefits.

Despite success in functional cooperation, Caricom has an uneven track record in achieving economic integration and diversification and specialization. Although members registered substantial increases in intraregional trade during the 1973-81 period, much duplication of production occurred. Over the next five years, intraregional trade declined by more than 50 percent, the result in part of the adoption of protectionist measures by the region's largest consumer, Trinidad and Tobago. In 1987 the cause of regional integration was revived somewhat by Trinidad and Tobago's decision to repeal the provisions in question and by the Caricom members' joint pledge to remove all barriers to intraregional trade by the end of the third quarter of 1988. Even if this commitment is honored, however, depressed demand in the region will inhibit exports.

The most extensive level of cooperation has occurred among seven small islands and island groupings of the Eastern Caribbean (see Glossary). The seven--Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines--have a long history of integration that includes a common market, shared currency, and joint supreme court. In 1981 they formed the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS--see Glossary) as a Caricom associate institution to provide for enhanced economic, foreign policy, and defense cooperation. In May 1987 OECS leaders announced an agreement in principle to form one nation and called for referenda to be held on each island to approve or reject the proposed union. The original plan actually envisaged two separate votes: the first, scheduled for mid-1988, to determine whether unification was desired, and a subsequent ballot the following year to specify the kind of government of the new state. If approved, the union would be established in late 1989 or early 1990.

The fate of the proposed OECS political union remained uncertain as of May 1988. Although Antigua and Barbuda's prime minister Vere Cornwall Bird, Sr., announced his opposition to the plan in July 1987, the other six heads of government continued to support unification. Nonetheless, these leaders resisted demands from ten opposition parties to provide specific details of the proposed venture prior to the first vote. This resistance perhaps stemmed from the leaders' perception that most islanders favored unification in some form; indeed, even the opposition parties-- under the banner of the Standing Committee of Popular Democratic Parties of the Eastern Caribbean (SCOPE)--felt compelled to endorse the idea of union. Still, SCOPE and others raised many issues that needed to be resolved. How much political authority would the six states retain under an OECS government? Would the states be granted equal representation in one of the houses of an OECS parliament? Would civil service employees be subject to transfer anywhere in the new state? Would a uniform wage structure be enacted for these employees? Would Nevisians continue to have local autonomy and a right of secession? Would Montserratians support independence? Thus, a positive vote in the first referenda might lead to contentious debates in the Eastern Caribbean in 1989.

Dynamic political activity was also in evidence in early 1988 in the Turks and Caicos Islands and Trinidad and Tobago. In March 1988 the People's Democratic Movement (PDM) crushed the Progressive National Party (PNP) in parliamentary elections in the Turks and Caicos, winning eleven of thirteen seats; PDM leader Oswald Skippings became the islands' chief minister. The elections were the first held in the Turks and Caicos since the British imposed direct British rule on the territory in July 1986 (see British Dependencies: The Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands, Government and Politics, ch. 6). That action was taken after a Royal Commission of Inquiry found the chief minister and PNP head, Nathaniel "Bops" Francis, guilty of unconstitutional behavior and ministerial malpractices. Interestingly, the commission also determined that then-PDM deputy leader Skippings was unfit for public office.

The continued decline in 1987 of the economy in Trinidad and Tobago placed considerable strains on the ruling National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR). Against a backdrop of sharp reductions in the gross domestic product and in public expenditures, Prime Minister A.N.R. Robinson openly feuded with the former leaders of the East Indian-based United Labour Front, one of four political parties that had merged to create the NAR--the others being the Democratic Action Congress (DAC), the Organization for National Reconstruction (ONR), and Tapia House (see Political Dynamics, ch. 3). In November 1987 Robinson fired the minister of works, John Humphrey, for criticizing the government's economic performance. In response, Humphrey accused the prime minister of failing to consult with cabinet members. In January 1988 external affairs minister and NAR deputy leader Basdeo Panday, public utilities minister Kelvin Ramnath, and junior finance minister Trevor Sudama participated in a meeting of over 100 NAR dissidents seeking Robinson's ouster; the prime minister dismissed the three from his cabinet the following month. Although each side accused the other of trying to divide the nation between blacks and East Indians, neither called for the breakup of NAR. All of the sacked ministers remained as NAR members of the House of Representatives; Panday also resumed his duties as president of the All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factory Workers Trade Union.

Thus, the Commonwealth Caribbean islands offer a study in contrast, and sometimes conflict, within their individual boundaries and among themselves. A region gifted by abundant natural beauty and a pleasant climate, it looks to North America to generate increasing tourist dollars. Yet the islands also seek to maintain their independence from North American and West European dominance. Beset by internal bickering, the region nevertheless has seen economic interdependency blossom among some of its parts. Although distinct from Latin America, it suffers from some of the same ills, including the infiltration of the drug trade into its politics. It is a region that could be on the brink of true cooperation or on the path of further disunity.

Caribbean Islands

Caribbean Islands - GEOGRAPHIC SETTING

Caribbean Islands

The Commonwealth Caribbean islands make up a large subcomponent of the hundreds of islands in the Caribbean Sea, forming a wide arc between Florida in the north and Venezuela in the south, as well as a barrier between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean (see fig. ___, Regional Map). Varying considerably in size, the islands, which are the isolated upper parts of a submerged chain of volcanic mountains, are scattered over thousands of square kilometers of sea. The entire region lies well within the northern tropics.

The three principal geological formations found throughout the Caribbean are igneous and metamorphic rocks, limestone hills or karst, and coastal, sedimentary plains of varying depths, resulting in three prevailing types of topography, found either separately or in combination. The first consists of high (over 1,200 meters), rugged, sharply dissected mountains--such as the Blue Mountains in eastern Jamaica, the Morne Diablotins in central Dominica, the Pitons in St. Lucia, and the Northern Range in Trinidad--all covered with dense, evergreen rain forests and cut by swiftly flowing rivers. The second typography consists of very hilly countryside, such as the high plateau of central Jamaica, or the islands of St. Kitts, Antigua, and Barbados. There the hills seldom rise above 600 meters and are more gently sloped than the high mountains, but karst areas are still rugged. Finally, the coastal plains skirt the hills and mountains, with their greatest extensions usually on the southern or western sides of the mountains. Active volcanoes exist in Dominica, St. Vincent, and St. Lucia, and there are crater lakes formed by older activity in Grenada. All the islands have rugged coastlines with innumerable inlets fringed by white or dark sands (depending on the rock substratum ) of varying texture. The beaches of Negril, Jamaica, and Grand Anse, Grenada, have fine-textured white sands that extend for nearly eleven kilometers each.

The Caribbean climate is tropical, moderated to a certain extent by the prevailing northeast trade winds. Individual climatic conditions are strongly dependent on elevation. At sea level there is little variation in temperature, regardless of the time of the day or the season of the year. Temperatures range between 24°C and 32°C. In Kingston, Jamaica, the mean temperature is 26°C, whereas Mandeville, at a little over 600 meters high in the Carpenters Mountains of Manchester Parish, has recorded temperatures as low as 10°C. Daylight hours tend to be shorter during summer and slightly longer during winter than in the higher latitudes. The conventional division, rather than the four seasons, is between the long rainy season from May through October and the dry season, corresponding to winter in the northern hemisphere.

Even during the rainy period, however, the precipitation range fluctuates greatly. Windward sides of islands with mountains receive much rain, whereas leeward sides can have very dry conditions. Flat islands receive slightly less rainfall, but its pattern is more consistent. For example, the Blue Mountains of eastern Jamaica record around 558 centimeters of rainfall per year, whereas Kingston, on the southeastern coast, receives only 399 centimeters. Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, has an average annual rainfall of 127 centimeters, while Bathsheba on the central east coast receives 254 centimeters--despite the fact that Bathsheba is only about 27 kilometers away by road. Recording stations in the Northern Range in Trinidad measure some 302 centimeters of rainfall per year, while at Piarco Airport on the Caroni Plains the measurement is only 140 centimeters. Most of the rainfall occurs during short heavy outbursts during daylight hours. In Jamaica, about 80 percent of the rainfall occurs during the day. The period of heaviest rainfall usually occurs after the sun has passed directly overhead, which in the Caribbean islands would be sometime around the middle of May and again in early August. The rainy season also coincides with the disastrous summer hurricane season, although Barbados, too far east, and Trinidad and Tobago, too far south, seldom experience hurricanes.

Hurricanes are a constant feature of most of the Caribbean, with a "season" of their own lasting from June to November. Hurricanes develop over the ocean (usually in the eastern Caribbean) during the summer months when the sea surface temperature is high (over 27°C) and the air pressure falls below 950 millibars. These conditions create an "eye" about 20 kilometers wide, around which a steep pressure gradient forms that generates wind speeds of 110 to 280 kilometers per hour. The diameter of hurricanes can extend as far as 500 to 800 kilometers and produce extremely heavy rainfalls as well as considerable destruction of property. The recent history of the Caribbean echoes with the names of destructive hurricanes: Janet (1955), Donna (1960), Hattie (1961), Flora (1963), Beulah (1967), Celia and Dorothy (1970), Eloise (1975), David (1979), and Allen (1980).

The natural resources of the Commonwealth Caribbean islands are extremely limited. Jamaica has extensive deposits of bauxite, some of which is mined and processed locally into alumina, with the United States being the largest market for the bauxite and alumina. In addition, Jamaica has large quantities of gypsum. Trinidad and Tobago has petroleum, pitch, and natural gas. Small, noncommercially viable deposits of manganese, lead, copper, and zinc are found throughout most of the islands. Nevertheless, most of the territories possess nothing more valuable than beautiful beaches, marvelously variegated seas, and a pleasant climate conducive to the promotion of international tourism.

Industrialization varies from territory to territory, but agriculture is generally declining on all the islands. The sugar industry, once the mainstay of the Caribbean economies, has faltered. Although the labor force employed in sugar production (and in agriculture in general) still forms the major sector of the employed labor force in Barbados and Jamaica, the contribution that sugar makes to the gross domestic product (GDP--see Glossary) has steadily dropped. Barbados has kept its sugar industry going, but it has steadily reduced dependence on sugar exports and diversified its economy. For example, in 1946 Barbados had 52 sugar factories producing nearly 100,000 tons of sugar and employing more than 25,000 persons during crop-time. Although production had increased by 1980, the number of factories had declined to eight, and the number employed was slightly less than 9,000. Furthermore, the proportion of GDP contributed by sugar and sugar products had declined from 37.8 percent to 10.9 percent over the same period.

Since the 1950s, light manufacturing, mining, and processing of foods and other commodities have been used to bolster employment and increase the local economies. Although these sectors have been important contributors to the GDP of the individual states, in no case does this contribution exceed 20 percent of the total. Moreover, industrialization has provided neither sufficient jobs nor sufficient wealth for the state to offset the decline in agricultural production and labor absorption.

The Commonwealth Caribbean islands, like the rest of the region (except Cuba), find themselves in a difficult trading situation with the United States. From the regional perspective, the United States accounts for between 20 and 50 percent of all imports and exports. On the other hand, the Commonwealth states account for less than 1 percent of all United States imports and exports and less than 5 percent of the more than US$38 billion of overseas private investment in the Western hemisphere. But the interest in the Commonwealth Caribbean islands cannot be measured in economic terms only. The Caribbean is clearly within the American sphere of interest for political and strategic considerations that defy economic valuation.

Caribbean Islands


Caribbean Islands The Pre-European Population

Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, most of the Caribbean was peopled by three types, or groups, of inhabitants: the Ciboney or Guanahuatebey, the Taino or Arawak, and the Caribs. The cultural distinctions among the three groups are not great; the single greatest differentiating factor appears to be their respective dates of arrival in the region. The Ciboney seem to have arrived first and were found in parts of Cuba and the Bahamas. They also seem to have had the most elementary forms of social organization. The most numerous groups were the Arawaks, who resided in most of the Greater Antilles--Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (presently, Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and Puerto Rico. The smaller eastern island chain was the home of the Caribs, a tropical forest group related to most of the indigenous Indians found in Central and South America. Barbados and a number of smaller islands were not permanently inhabited.

Estimates of the size of the pre-Hispanic population of the Americas vary considerably. Both Columbus and Father Bartolomé de Las Casas (who wrote the first history of the Spanish conquest and treatment of the Indians) produced estimates that appear to defy credibility. Las Casas thought the population of the Caribbean might have been in the vicinity of several million, and by virtue of his having lived in both Hispaniola and Cuba where he held encomiendas, or the right to tribute from Indians, he is as close as we get to an eye-witness account. Las Casas had a penchant for hyperbole, and it is doubtful that he could have produced reliable estimates for areas where he did not travel. Nevertheless, some more recent scholars have tended to agree with Las Casas, estimating as many as 4 million inhabitants for the island of Hispaniola in 1492. Although the dispute continues, a consensus seems to be developing for far lower figures than previously accepted.

An indigenous population of less than a million for all of the Caribbean would still be a relatively dense population, given the technology and resources of the region in the late fifteenth century. Probably one-half of these inhabitants would have been on the large island of Hispaniola, about 50,000 in Cuba, and far fewer than that in Jamaica. Puerto Rico, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Trinidad all had fairly concentrated, if not large, populations.

The pre-European populations of the territories that later formed the Commonwealth Caribbean belonged to the groups designated as Caribs and Arawaks. Both were tropical forest people, who probably originated in the vast expanse of forests of the northern regions of South America and were related linguistically and ethnically to such present-day tropical forest peoples as the Chibcha, the Warao, the Yanomamo, the Caracas, the Caquetío, or the Jirajara--in short, the peoples found anywhere from Panama to Brazil.

The Arawaks lived in theocratic kingdoms, with a hierarchically arranged pantheon of gods, called zemis, and village chiefs, or caciques. The zemis were represented by icons of wood, stone, bones, and human remains. Arawaks believed that being in the good graces of their zemis protected them from disease, hurricanes, or disaster in war. They therefore served cassava (manioc) bread as well as beverages and tobacco to their zemis as propitiatory offerings.

The size of the community and the number of zemis he owned were directly related to the chief's importance. Chiefs lived in rectangular huts, called bohios, while the regular members of the community lived in round huts, called caneyes. The construction of both types of building was the same: wooden frames, topped by straw, with earthen floor, and scant interior furnishing. But the buildings were strong enough to resist hurricanes.

From the European perspective, the wealth of the indigenous Indians was modest indeed. While Columbus and his successors sought gold and other trading commodities of value on the European market, the native Antilleans were not interested in trade and used gold only ornamentally. Their personal possessions consisted of wooden stools with four legs and carved backs, approximately two-meter- long hammocks of cotton cloth or strings for sleeping, clay and wooden bowls for mixing and serving food, calabashes or gourds for drinking water and bailing out boats, and their most prized possession, large dugout canoes for transportation, fishing, and water sports. One such canoe found in Jamaica could transport about seventy-five persons.

The Indians painted their bodies in bright colors, and some wore small ornaments of gold and shells in their noses, around their necks, or hanging from their ears. Body-painting was also employed to intimidate opponents in warfare.

Arawak villagers produced about two crops per year of manioc, maize, potatoes, peanuts, peppers, beans, and arrowroot. Cultivation was by the slash-and-burn method common throughout the Middle Americas, with the cultivated area's being abandoned after the harvest. The Indians worked the soil with sticks, called coas, and built earthen mounds in which they planted their crops. They might also have used fertilizers of ash, composted material, and feces to boost productivity. There is even evidence of simple irrigation in parts of southwestern Hispaniola.

Hunting and fishing were major activities. Arawaks hunted ducks, geese, parrots, iguanas, small rodents, and giant tree sloths. Parrots and a species of mute dog were domesticated. Most fishing, done by hand along the coast and in rivers, was for molluscs, lobsters, and turtles. Bigger fish were caught with baskets, spears, hooks, and nets. In some cases, fish were caught by attaching the hooks of sharpened sticks to a small sucking fish, called a remora, which fastened itself to larger fish such as sharks and turtles.

Food was prepared by baking on stones or barbecuing over an open fire, using peppers, herbs, and spices lavishly for both flavor and preservation. In some places, beer was brewed from maize. The descriptions of the first Europeans indicated that the food supply was sufficient and in general the inhabitants were well fed--until the increased demand of the new immigrants and the dislocation created by their imported animals created famine.

The Caribs of the eastern islands were a highly mobile group; they possessed canoes similar to those of the Arawaks, but they employed them for more warlike pursuits. Their social organization appeared to be simpler than that of the Arawaks. They had no elaborate ceremonial ball courts like those found on the larger islands, but their small, wooden, frame houses surrounded a central fireplace that might have served as a ceremonial center. Many of their cultural artifacts--especially those recovered in Trinidad-- resemble those of the Arawaks. This might be explained in part by the Carib practice of capturing Arawak women as brides, who then could have socialized the children along Arawak lines.

The social and political organization of Carib society reflected both their military inclination and their mobile status. Villages were small, often consisting of members of an extended family. The leader of the village, most often the head of the family, supervised the food-gathering activities, principally fishing, done by the men, and cultivation, a task for the women. In addition, the leader settled internal disputes and led raids against neighboring groups. The purpose of these raids was to obtain wives for the younger males of the village.

Warfare was an important activity for Carib males, and before the arrival of the Spanish they had a justified reputation as the most feared warriors of the Caribbean. Using bows, poisoned arrows, javelins and clubs, the Caribs attacked in long canoes, capturing Arawak women and, according to Arawak informants, ritualistically cooking and eating some male captives. There are, however, no records of Caribs eating humans after the advent of the Europeans, thus casting doubts on the Arawak tales.

When the Spanish arrived in the Caribbean at the end of the fifteenth century, the Caribs and Arawaks, like all other frontier peoples, were undergoing mutual adaptations. The generally more peaceful Arawaks were becoming more adept at fighting; and, away from the contested frontier, the Caribs, like those in Trinidad, were spending more time on agriculture than warfare.

The Caribs and the Arawaks were progressively wiped out by the after-effects of the conquest, with the peaceful Arawaks suffering the greater catastrophe. The concentrated populations on Hispaniola, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica declined rapidly, victims of enslavement, social dislocation, and unfamiliar epidemic diseases. The smaller, more scattered populations of the smaller eastern Caribbean islands survived much better physically and epidemiologically. In the seventeenth century, the Caribs resisted European settlements on Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent, destroying the first English colony on St. Lucia in 1641 and delaying the effective occupation of Dominica and St. Vincent until the middle of the eighteenth century. Some Caribs resisted assimilation or acculturation by the Europeans, and a few of their descendants still live on a reservation in Dominica. Both the Caribs and Arawaks left indelible influences on the languages, diet, and ways of life of the twentieth century people who live in the region. Caribbean food crops, such as peanuts, cashew nuts, potatoes, tomatoes, pineapples, pumpkins, manioc, and maize, have spread around the world. The Indians' habit of smoking tobacco has become widespread, and tobacco has become an important commercial commodity. Arawakan and Cariban words have permeated the languages of the region: words such as agouti, avocado, barbecue, bohio (a peasant hut), buccaneer, calpulli (an urban zone), caney (a thatched hut), canoe, cannibal, cassava, cay, conuco (a cultivated area), quaqua (a bus or truck), quajiro (a peasant), guava, hammock, hurricane, iguana, maize, manatee, and zemi (an icon).

The Impact of the Conquest

The Europeans who invaded and conquered the Caribbean terminated the internally cohesive world of the native peoples and subordinated the region and the peoples to the events of a wider world in which their fortunes were linked with those of Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The Caribbean peoples were devastated by new epidemic diseases, such as measles, smallpox, malaria, and dysentery, introduced by the Europeans and the Africans imported as slaves. Their social and political organizations were restructured in the name of Christianity. Their simple lives were regimented by slavery and the demands of profit-oriented, commercial-minded Europeans. Above all, they were slowly inundated culturally and demographically by the stream of new immigrants in the years immediately after the conquest.

Caribbean Islands


Caribbean Islands

European settlements in the Caribbean began with Christopher Columbus. Carrying an elaborate feudal commission that made him perpetual governor of all lands discovered and gave him a percentage of all trade conducted, Columbus set sail in September 1492, determined to find a faster, shorter way to China and Japan. He planned to set up a trading-post empire, modeled after the successful Portuguese venture along the West African coast. His aim was to establish direct commercial relations with the producers of spices and other luxuries of the fabled East, thereby cutting out the Arab middlemen who had monopolized trade since capturing Constantinople in 1453. He also planned to link up with the lost Christians of Abyssinia, who were reputed to have great quantities of gold--a commodity in great demand in Europe. Finally, as a good Christian, Columbus wanted to spread Christianity to new peoples. Columbus, of course, did not find the East. Nevertheless, he called the peoples he met "Indians," and, because he had sailed west, referred to the region he found as the "West Indies."

However, dreams of a trading-post empire collapsed in the face of real Caribbean life. The Indians, although initially hospitable in most cases, simply did not have gold and trade commodities for the European market. In all, Columbus made four voyages of exploration between 1492 and 1502, failing to find great quantities of gold, Christians, or the courts of the fabled khans described by Marco Polo. After 1499, small amounts of tracer gold were discovered on Hispaniola, but by that time local challenges to his governorship were mounting, and his demonstrated lack of administrative skills made matters worse. Even more disappointing, he returned to Spain in 1502 to find that his extensive feudal authority in the New World was rapidly being taken away by his monarchs.

Columbus inadvertently started a small settlement on the north coast of Hispaniola when his flagship, the Santa Maria, wrecked off the Môle St-Nicolas on his first voyage. When he returned a year later, no trace of the settlement appeared--and the former welcome and hospitality of the Indians had changed to suspicion and fear.

The first proper European settlement in the Caribbean began when Nicolás de Ovando, a faithful soldier from western Spain, settled about 2,500 Spanish colonists in eastern Hispaniola in 1502. Unlike Columbus' earlier settlements, this group was an organized cross-section of Spanish society brought with the intention of developing the Indies economically and expanding Spanish political, religious, and administrative influence. In its religious and military motivation, it continued the reconquista (reconquest), which had expelled the Moors from Grenada and the rest of southern Spain.

From this base in Santo Domingo, as the new colony was called, the Spanish quickly fanned out throughout the Caribbean and onto the mainland. Jamaica was settled in 1509 and Trinidad the following year. By 1511 Spanish explorers had established themselves as far as Florida. However, in the eastern Caribbean, the Caribs resisted the penetration of Europeans until well into the seventeenth century and succumbed only in the eighteenth century.

With the conquest of Mexico in 1519 and the subsequent discovery of gold there, interest in working the gold deposits of the islands decreased. Moreover, by that time the Indian population of the Caribbean had dwindled considerably, creating a scarcity of workers for the mines and pearl fisheries. In 1518 the first African slaves, called ladinos because they had lived in Spain and spoke the Castilian language, were introduced to the Caribbean to help mitigate the labor shortage.

The Spanish administrative structure that prevailed for the 132 years of Spanish monopoly in the Caribbean was simple. At the imperial level were two central agencies, the Casa de Contratación, or House of Trade, which licensed all ships sailing to or returning from the Indies and supervised commerce, and the Consejo de Indias, the royal Advisory Council, which attended to imperial legislation. At the local level in the Caribbean were the governors, appointed by the monarchs of Castile, who supervised local municipal councils. The governors were regulated by audiencias, or appellate courts. A parallel structure regulated the religious organizations. Despite the theoretical hierarchy and clear divisions of authority, in practice each agency reported directly to the monarch. As set out in the original instructions to Ovando in 1502, the Spanish New World was to be orthodox and unified under the Roman Catholic religion and Castilian and Spanish in culture and nationality. Moors, Jews, recent converts to Roman Catholicism, Protestants, and gypsies were legally excluded from sailing to the Indies, although this exclusiveness could not be maintained and was frequently violated.

By the early seventeenth century, Spain's European enemies, no longer disunited and internally weak, were beginning to breach the perimeters of Spain's American empire. The French and the English established trading forts along the St. Lawrence and the Hudson Rivers in North America. These were followed by permanent settlements on the mid-Atlantic coast (Jamestown) and in New England (Massachusetts Bay colony).

Between 1595 and 1620, the English, French, and Dutch made many unsuccessful attempts to settle along the Guiana coastlands of South America. The Dutch finally prevailed, with one permanent colony along the Essequibo River in 1616, and another, in 1624, along the neighboring Berbice River. As in North America, initial loss of life in the colonies was discouragingly high. In 1624 the English and French gave up in the Guianas and jointly created a colony on St. Kitts in the northern Leeward Islands. At that time, St. Kitts was occupied only by Caribs. With the Spanish deeply involved in the Thirty Years War in Europe, conditions were propitious for colonial exploits in what until then had been reluctantly conceded to be a Spanish domain.

In 1621, the Dutch began to move aggressively against Spanish territory in the Americas--including Brazil, temporarily under Spanish control between 1580 and 1640. In the Caribbean, they joined the English in settling St. Croix in 1625 and then seized the minuscule, unoccupied islands of Curaçao, St. Eustatius, St. Martin, and Saba, thereby expanding their former holdings in the Guianas, as well as those at Araya and Cumana on the Venezuelan coast.

The English and the French also moved rapidly to take advantage of Spanish weakness in the Americas and overcommitment in Europe. In 1625, the English settled Barbados and tried an unsuccessful settlement on Tobago. They took possession of Nevis in 1628 and Antigua and Montserrat in 1632. They planted a colony on St. Lucia in 1638, but it was destroyed within four years by the Caribs. The French, under the auspices of the Compagnie des Iles d'Amerique, chartered by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635, successfully settled Martinique and Guadeloupe, laying the base for later expansion to St. Bartholomé, St. Martin, Grenada, St. Lucia, and western Hispaniola, which was formally ceded by Spain in 1697 at the Treaty of Ryswick (signed between France and the alliance of Spain, the Netherlands, and England, and ending the War of the Grand Alliance). Meanwhile, an expedition sent out by Oliver Cromwell (Protector of the English Commonwealth, 1649-58) under Admiral William Penn (the father of the founder of Pennsylvania) and General Robert Venables in 1655 seized Jamaica, the first territory captured from the Spanish. (Trinidad, the only other British colony taken from the Spanish, fell in 1797 and was ceded in 1802.) At that time Jamaica had a population of about 3,000, equally divided between Spaniards and their slaves--the Indian population having been eliminated. Although Jamaica was a disappointing consolation for the failure to capture either of the major colonies of Hispaniola or Cuba, the island was retained at the Treaty of Madrid in 1670, thereby more than doubling the land area for potential British colonization in the Caribbean. By 1750 Jamaica was the most important of Britian's Caribbean colonies, having eclipsed Barbados in economic significane.

The first colonists in the Caribbean were trying to recreate their metropolitan European societies in the region. In this respect, the goals and the world view of the early colonists in the Caribbean did not vary significantly from those of the colonists on the North American mainland. "The Caribbee planters," wrote the historian Richard Dunn, "began as peasant farmers not unlike the peasant farmers of Wigston Magna, Leicestershire, or Sudbury, Massachusetts. They cultivated the same staple crop--tobacco--as their cousins in Virginia and Maryland. They brought to the tropics the English common law, English political institutions, the English parish [local administrative unit], and the English church." These institutions survived for a very long time, but the social context in which they were introduced was rapidly altered by time and circumstances. Attempts to recreate microcosms of Europe were slowly abandoned in favor of a series of plantation societies using slave labor to produce large quantities of tropical staples for the European market. In the process of this transformation, complicated by war and trade, much was changed in the Caribbean.

Caribbean Islands

Caribbean Islands - THE COLONIAL PERIOD

Caribbean Islands

Evolution around the middle of the seventeenth century of a sugar plantation society based on slave labor was an important watershed in Caribbean history. Introduced by the Dutch when they were expelled from Brazil in 1640, the sugar plantation system arrived at an opportune time for the fledgling non-Spanish colonists with their precarious economies. The English yeoman farming economy based mainly on cultivation of tobacco was facing a severe crisis. Caribbean tobacco could compete neither in quality nor in quantity with that produced in the mid-Atlantic colonies. Because tobacco farming had been basis of the economy, its end threatened the economic viability of the islands. As a result, the colonies were losing population to the mainland. Economic salvation came from what has been called in historical literature the Caribbean "sugar revolutions," a series of interrelated changes that altered the entire agriculture, demography, society, and culture of the Caribbean, thereby transforming the political and economic importance of the region.

In terms of agriculture, the islands changed from small farms producing cash crops of tobacco and cotton with the labor of a few servants and slaves--often indistinguishable--to large plantations requiring vast expanses of land and enormous capital outlays to create sugarcane fields and factories. Sugar, which had become increasingly popular on the European market throughout the seventeenth century, provided an efficacious balance between bulk and value--a relationship of great importance in the days of relatively small sailing ships and distant sea voyages. Hence, the conversion to sugar transformed the landholding pattern of the islands.

The case of Barbados illustrates the point. In 1640 this island of 430 square kilometers had about 10,000 settlers, predominantly white; 764 of them owned 4 or more hectares of land, and virtually every white was a landholder. By 1680, when the sugar revolution was underway, the wealthiest 175 planters owned 54 percent of the land and an equal proportion of the servants and slaves. More important, Barbados had a population of about 38,000 African slaves and more than 2,000 English servants who owned no land. Fortunes, however, depended on access to land and slaves. Thomas Rous, who arrived in Barbados in 1638, had a farm of 24 hectares in 1645. By 1680 the Rous family owned 3 sugar works, 266 hectares of land, and 310 slaves and were counted among the great planters of the island.

Caribbean Islands

Caribbean Islands - The Sugar Revolutions and Slavery

Caribbean Islands

The sugar revolutions were both cause and consequence of the demographic revolution. Sugar production required a greater labor supply than was available through the importation of European servants and irregularly supplied African slaves. At first the Dutch supplied the slaves, as well as the credit, capital, technological expertise, and marketing arrangements. After the restoration of the English monarch following the Commonwealth (1642-60), the King and other members of the royal family invested in the Company of Royal Adventurers, chartered in 1663, to pursue of the lucrative African slave trade. That company was succeeded by the Royal Africa Company in 1672, but the supply still failed to meet the demand, and all types of private traders entered the transatlantic commerce.

Between 1518 and 1870, the transatlantic slave trade supplied the greatest proportion of the Caribbean population. As sugarcane cultivation increased and spread from island to island--and to the neighboring mainland as well--more Africans were brought to replace those who died rapidly and easily under the rigorous demands of labor on the plantations, in the sugar factories, and in the mines. Acquiring and transporting Africans to the New World became a big and extremely lucrative business. From a modest trickle in the early sixteenth century, the trade increased to an annual import rate of about 2,000 in 1600, 13,000 in 1700, and 55,000 in 1810. Between 1811 and 1870, about 32,000 slaves per year were imported. As with all trade, the operation fluctuated widely, affected by regular market factors of supply and demand as well as the irregular and often unexpected interruptions of international war.

The eighteenth century represented the apogee of the system, and before the century had ended, the signs of its demise were clear. About 60 percent of all the Africans who arrived as slaves in the New World came between 1700 and 1810, the time period during which Jamaica, Barbados, and the Leeward Islands peaked as sugar producers. Antislavery societies sprang up in Britain and France, using the secular, rationalist arguments of the Enlightenment--the intellectual movement centered in France in the eighteenth century- -to challenge the moral and legal basis for slavery. A significant moral victory was achieved when the British Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield, ruled in 1772 that slavery was illegal in Britain, thereby freeing about 15,000 slaves who had accompanied their masters there--and abruptly terminating the practice of black slaves ostentatiously escorting their masters about the kingdom. In the British Parliament, antislavery voices grew stronger until eventually a bill to abolish the slave trade passed both houses in 1807. The British, being the major carriers of slaves and having abolished the trade themselves, energetically set about discouraging other states from continuing. The abolition of the slave trade was a blow from which the slave system in the Caribbean could not recover.

Before the slave trade ended, the Caribbean had taken approximately 47 percent of the 10 million African slaves brought to the Americas. Of this number, about 17 percent came to the British Caribbean. Although the white populations maintained their superior social positions, they became a numerical minority in all the islands. In the early nineteenth century, fewer than 5 percent of the total population of Jamaica, Grenada, Nevis, St. Vincent, and Tobago was white, fewer than 10 percent of the population of Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, and the Virgin Islands. Only in the Bahamas, Barbados, and Trinidad was more than 10 percent of the total population white. By sharp contrast, Trinidad was the only colony in the British Caribbean to have fewer than 80 percent of its population enslaved. Sugar and slavery gave to the region a predominantly African population.

This demographic revolution had important social consequences. Rather than being a relatively homogeneous ethnic group divided into categories based on economic criteria, Caribbean society had complex overlapping divisions of class and caste. The three basic divisions were free white persons, free nonwhite persons, and slaves.

Whites were divided along status lines based on wealth. In the British colonies these were called "principal whites" and "poor whites." In reality they formed three ranks. At the top, forming an elite, were families who owned slaves and successful plantations. Some of their names became important in the history of one or more islands, names such as Guy, Modyford, Drax, Sutton, Price, Bannington, Needham, Tharp, and Beckford in Jamaica; Drax, Hallet, Littleton, Codrington, and Middleton in Barbados; and Warner, Winthrop, Pinney, and Jeaffreson in the Leeward Islands. Next in rank came the merchants, officials, and such professionals as doctors and clergymen, who were just a shade below the big planters.

At the bottom of the white ranks came the so-called "poor whites," often given such pejorative names as "red legs" in Barbados, or "walking buckras" in Jamaica. This group included small independent farmers, servants, day laborers, and all the service individuals from policemen to smiths, as well as the various hangers-on required by the curious "Deficiency Laws." These were laws designed to retain a minimum number of whites on each plantation to safeguard against slave revolts. A Jamaica law of 1703 stipulated that there must be one white person for each ten slaves up to the first twenty slaves and one for each twenty slaves thereafter as well as one white person for the first sixty head of cattle and one for each one hundred head after the first sixty head. The law was modified in 1720, raising the ratios and lowering the fines for noncompliance, but the planters seemed more prepared to pay the fines for noncompliance than to recruit and maintain white servants, so the law degenerated to another simple revenue measure for the state. This was true throughout the British islands during the eighteenth century.

Regardless of rank, skin color gave each person of European descent a privileged position within plantation society. The importance of race and color was a significant variation from the norms of typical European society and accentuated the divergence between the society "at home" and that overseas.

Each slave society in the colonies had an intermediate group, called the "free persons of color," an ambiguous position. Governor Francis Seaforth of Barbados colorfully expressed this dilemma in 1802: "There is, however, a third description of people from whom I am more suspicious of evil than from either the whites or the slaves: these are the Black and Colored people who are not slaves, and yet whom I cannot bring myself to call free. I think unappropriated people would be a more proper denomination for them, for though not the property of other individuals they do not enjoy the shadow of any civil right." This group originated in the miscegenation of European masters and their African slaves. By the nineteenth century, the group could be divided into blacks who had gained their freedom or were the descendants of slaves, and the mixed, or mulatto, descendants of the associations between Europeans and non-Europeans. By the time of the abolition of slavery in the 1830s, the heterogeneous free nonwhite population represented about 10 percent of the population of Jamaica, 12 percent of the population of Barbados, and about 20 percent of the population of Trinidad. A number of these free nonwhites had been free for generations, if not centuries, and had carved a niche in the local societies as successful merchants, planters, professionals, and slave owners.

Throughout the British Caribbean the free nonwhites manifested a number of common traits. They were predominantly female, largely urban, and clearly differentiated from the slaves both by law and by custom. Although adult females outnumbered males, the free nonwhite population tended to be the most sexually balanced overall and was the only group that consistently reproduced itself in the British colonies during the era of the slave trade. Moreover, with the exception of Trinidad, where, as Bridget Brereton indicates, just as many free nonwhites lived in the rural parishes as in the towns of Port of Spain, San Fernando, and St. Joseph, the free nonwhites were strongly urban. After 1809, about 61 percent of all the free nonwhites in Barbados lived in the parish of St. Michael in the capital city, Bridgetown. More free nonwhites lived in Kingston, Jamaica, than in all the other parishes combined.

The free nonwhite population faced competition from both ends of the spectrum. At the lower end of the economic scale they had to compete with jobbing slaves, who were often working arduously to get enough money to purchase their freedom and so join the free group. At the upper end they competed with the artisan, commercial, and semi-skilled service sector of the lower orders of whites. The whites often used their political power--or in some cases their access to political power in Britain--to circumscribe the free nonwhites as much as possible. Laws distinguishing comportment, dress, and residence, denying nonwhites the right to practice certain professions, or limiting the material legacy of individual free nonwhites were common throughout the Caribbean. But at the time of the abolition of slavery, nonwhites were aggressively challenging the political hegemony of the whites, and their successes were very important in the subsequent development of British Caribbean society.

Caribbean Islands

Caribbean Islands - The Post-Emancipation Societies

Caribbean Islands

The second great watershed in Caribbean history resulted from the abolition of slavery in the nineteenth century. In the British Caribbean this came between 1834, when a law was passed by the British Parliament to abolish slavery throughout the empire, and 1838, when the apprenticeship system collapsed prematurely. The apprenticeship system was designed to ease the transition from slavery to freedom by forcing the ex-slaves to remain on their plantations for a period of six years. Its main purpose was to prevent the immediate large-scale abandonment of estates by the workers, although, with cruel irony, it was the masters and not the slaves who were awarded compensation for the loss of their "property." The system proved too cumbersome to administer and was prematurely terminated in 1838. Barbados and Antigua abolished slavery without an apprenticeship system in 1834.

Abolition of slavery was difficult for the colonies, which had to adjust to having a majority of new citizens who could not be denied the civil rights already grudgingly extended to the few. Extending those civil rights, then as now, was neither easily nor gracefully achieved because the political systems had existed for centuries as the narrow instruments of the small, white, landed elite, largely absentee, whose members were threatened by the removal of their special trade preferences. Above all, there were economic difficulties. Sugar prices were falling, and West Indian producers were facing severe competition not only from other producers in the British empire--such as India, South Africa, and Australia--and nonimperial cane sugar producers--such as Cuba and Brazil--but also from beet sugar producers in Europe and the United States. Falling prices coincided with rising labor costs, complicated by the urgent need to regard the ex-slaves as wage laborers able and willing to bargain for their pay.

To mitigate labor difficulties, the local assemblies were encouraged to import nominally free laborers from India, China, and Africa under contracts of indenture. Apart from the condition that they had a legally defined term of service and were guaranteed a set wage, these Asian indentured laborers were treated like the African slaves they partially replaced in the fields and factories. Between 1838 and 1917, nearly half a million East Indians (from British India) came to work on the British West Indian sugar plantations, the majority going to the new sugar producers with fertile lands. Trinidad imported 145,000; Jamaica, 21,500; Grenada, 2,570; St. Vincent, 1,820; and St. Lucia, 1,550. Between 1853 and 1879, British Guiana imported more than 14,000 Chinese workers, with a few going to some of the other colonies. Between 1841 and 1867, about 32,000 indentured Africans arrived in the British West Indies, with the greater number going to Jamaica and British Guiana. With important British politicians such as Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone (1809-98) owning sugar estates in British Guiana, that colony, directly administered by the crown, assumed great importance in the Caribbean.

Indentured labor did not resolve the problems of the plantations and the local governments in the Caribbean during the nineteenth century, but it enabled the sugar plantations to weather the difficulties of the transition from slave labor. The new immigrants further pluralized the culture, the economy, and the societies. The East Indians introduced rice and boosted the local production of cacao (the bean from which cocoa is derived) and ground provisions (tubers, fruits, and vegetables). Although some East Indians eventually converted to Christianity and intermarried with other ethnic groups, the majority remained faithful to their original Hindu and Muslim beliefs, adding temples and mosques to the religious architecture of the territories. The Chinese moved into local commerce, and, by the beginning of the twentieth century, the corner Chinese grocery store and the Chinese restaurant had become commonplace in all the colonies.

Emancipation of the slaves provided the catalyst for the rise of an energetic, dynamic peasantry throughout the Caribbean. A large proportion of the ex-slaves settled in free villages, often forming cooperatives to buy bankrupt or abandoned sugar estates. Where they lacked the capital, they simply squatted on vacant lands and continued the cultivation of many of the food crops that the planters and the colonial government had exported during the days of slavery.

The villages, although largely independent, provided a potential labor pool that could be attracted to the plantations. The growth of these free villages immediately after the emancipation of the slaves was astonishing. In Jamaica, black freeholders increased from 2,014 in 1838 to more than 7,800 in 1840 and more than 50,000 in 1859. In Barbados, where land was scarcer and prices higher, freeholders of less than 2 hectares each increased from 1,110 in 1844 to 3,537 in 1859. In St. Vincent, about 8,209 persons built their own homes and bought and brought under cultivation over 5,000 hectares between 1838 and 1857. In Antigua, 67 free villages with 5,187 houses and 15,644 inhabitants were established between 1833 and 1858. The free villages produced new crops such as coconuts, rice, bananas, arrowroot, honey, and beeswax, as well as the familiar plantation crops of sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, cacao, citrus limes, and ground provisions.

Caribbean Islands

The Windward Islands and Barbados

Caribbean Islands

THE WINDWARD ISLANDS consist of Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada. The name Windward dates back to the 1700s, to the time when English ships bound for Jamaica followed the trade-wind passage, stopping at islands along the way. The islands constitute a north-south chain in the southern section of the Lesser Antilles and share a volcanic rock formation. These nations also had highly similar political and economic systems in the late 1980s. Despite these parallels, the Windwards were much more heterogeneous than other Commonwealth Caribbean island groupings. These differences prevented the establishment in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of a common government along the lines found in the Leeward Islands.

A French legacy distinguished the Windward Islands from their Commonwealth Caribbean neighbors. The French established permanent settlements on the four islands in the 1600s and controlled them until the islands were seized by the British in the 1760s. Even after the British takeover, France continued to compete with Britain for authority over the Windwards, regaining control over St. Lucia, for example, on several occasions. France did not relinquish its claim to St. Lucia until 1815.

The islands varied widely in the degree to which they subsequently assimilated British culture and mores. The most extensive assimilation occurred in St. Vincent, where the population easily adopted the English language and Protestantism. In Grenada, on the other hand, the majority of the residents remained Roman Catholics even though English became the sole language of the island. Dominica and St. Lucia offered the greatest resistance to British influence. A French creole language called patois continued to be spoken in the late 1980s among much of the rural population of both islands. Dominicans and St. Lucians were also overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.

Beginning in the 1830s, the Windward Islands and Tobago ostensibly were under the authority of the governor of Barbados. In actuality, however, lieutenant governors on each of the islands exercised considerable autonomy. In 1875 the governor of Barbados attempted to implement a British proposal calling for a Windward Islands confederation. Fearing a loss of political and financial autonomy, Barbadian planters successfully defeated the measure. In 1885 Barbados withdrew from the government of the Windward Islands, leaving St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Grenada with a nominal governor (Dominica had left earlier). In 1940 Dominica rejoined the Windwards after being a reluctant member of the Leeward Islands Federation for the previous seventy years. The weak Windwards structure lasted until 1956; its members were absorbed the following year in the ill-fated West Indies Federation (see The West Indies Federation, 1957-62, ch. 1).

The newly independent nations of the Windward Islands shared common political and economic patterns. All were constitutional monarchies with a parliamentary system of government on the Westminster model. St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada each had a bicameral legislature consisting of an elected House and a non-elective Senate. The prime minister was the leader of the party that secured a majority of House seats. The pattern was similar in Dominica except that House and Senate members were part of a unicameral body. Agriculture was the leading component of the gross domestic product for each of the islands. In the case of Grenada, however, tourism had replaced agriculture as the primary earner of foreign exchange by the mid-1980s. All of the Windwards islands had high levels of unemployment and emigration.

In the late 1980s, following a tumultuous decade, national security remained an important consideration for the leaders of the Windward Islands. The overthrow in 1979 of the Grenadian government and its replacement by the People's Revolutionary Government (PRG), the temporary seizure the same year of Union Island in the Grenadines, the attempted coup in 1981 in Dominica, and the assassination in 1983 of PRG leader Maurice Bishop had shocked the Windward population. These events led to the creation of paramilitary Special Service Units within each of the national police organizations. At the same time, however, leaders generally continued to oppose the establishment of a regional army, fearing that such an institution could endanger democracy.

Despite its nineteenth-century ties to the Windward Islands, Barbados differed from its neighbors in several ways. Barbados lies east of the Windwards and is characterized by lowlands, plains, and rolling hills rather than the mountainous terrain of the Windwards. The island also followed a distinct historical path. Barbados was regarded as the most British nation in the Commonwealth Caribbean, a reflection undoubtedly of the uncontested control exercised by the British from 1625 until the granting of independence in 1966. The economic base was different from most of the Windward nations also; tourism had replaced agriculture as the primary foreign exchange earner by the 1970s. Barbados was also distinguished from its neighbors by the maintenance of a standing army. Barbados' political structure, however, was identical to that found in St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada.

Caribbean Islands

Caribbean Islands - The Leeward Islands

Caribbean Islands

LIKE THE REST OF THE INSULAR CARIBBEAN, the Leeward islands were discovered and named by the Spanish, only to have their control contested by the British and French. The term leeward islands is derived from the course taken by most of the sailing ships that voyaged from Britain to the Caribbean. Impelled by the trade winds, these vessels normally encountered Barbados, the island most to windward, as their first port of call. After progressing through the islands most to windward, which came to be known as the Windwards, these ships rounded off their voyages with the islands most to leeward--Montserrat, Antigua, Barbuda, St. Christopher (hereafter, St. Kitts), Nevis, Anguilla, and the Virgin Islands, among others.

Historically, the Leewards and Windwards have followed somewhat divergent paths despite their common colonial bond. The Leewards were settled earlier and were not, with the possible exception of St. Kitts, as rigorously disputed over as were the Windwards. Consequently, the period of uninterrupted British rule was longer in the Leewards. One legacy of this is the absence of Frenchinfluenced creole languages among the inhabitants of the Leewards. Despite colloquial forms of expression, English is the common tongue. In regard to religion, Roman Catholicism did not take root in the Leewards as it did in the Windwards. A number of Protestant denominations, predominantly the Anglican, Methodist, and Moravian churches, account for most of the Leewards faithful.

As a political entity, the Leewards experienced two extended periods of federation during the colonial period. The first of these, the Leeward Caribbee Islands Government, was established in 1671 and united the islands under the direction of a British governor. For a brief period in the early nineteenth century (1806- 32), this grouping was divided into two separate governments. In 1871 Dominica, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, St. KittsNevis -Anguilla, and Antigua (with Barbuda and Redonda) became the Leeward Islands Federation. Except for Dominica, which withdrew in 1940, these islands remained joined until the British dissolved the federation in 1956. Following a brief period in which they were administered as separate colonies, the former members of the Leeward Islands Federation were absorbed into the West Indies Federation in 1958 (see The West Indies Federation, 1958-62, ch. 1). The islands assumed associated statehood (see Glossary) in 1967, five years after the dissolution of the West Indies Federation. By the end of 1983, all but the dependencies (Anguilla, Montserrat, and the British Virgin Islands) had acquired full independence.

One phenomenon that binds the two island groupings together in a political and perhaps sociological and even psychological sense is the "small-island complex." Caribbean scholar Gordon K. Lewis has blamed this mind-set, which is a general feeling of inferiority suffered by the residents of small islands in relation to the residents of larger islands such as Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, for the failure of the West Indies Federation and other even less successful efforts at unification. Others have noted the "push and pull" effect on migration from the smaller islands to the larger islands, although these patterns are probably best examined and explained from an economic rather than a sociologicalpsychological point of view.

The Leewards generally have shared a similar pattern of economic development. The plantation system, characterized by production of one or possibly two major export products on land often held by absentee owners, has been another legacy of the enduring but largely static and unresponsive British control of the islands. What the system produced for Britain was sugar. Its byproducts --labor strife, migration, landlessness, and poverty--were bequeathed to the workers. Thus it was that labor unions became the first vehicles for mass-based political expression in the islands. The political parties that grew out of unionism came to dominate government in the Leewards, especially after the granting of universal adult suffrage in 1951. Although the power of the laborbased parties was eventually diminished by factionalism and the rise of middle-class opposition groups (especially in St. Kitts and Nevis), their political influence has endured.

One notable political aspect of the Leewards is the high incidence of multi-island states--Antigua and Barbuda, St. KittsNevis -Anguilla, and the British Virgin Islands. Such associations were encouraged by the British, who thought to enhance the economic and political viability of these small states by broadening their productive and electoral bases. The British did not sufficiently account for the small-island complex, however, and the seemingly inherent resentment it generated among the residents of the smaller islands. Thus, the grouping of unequal partners promoted unrest more than unity, particularly in the case of Anguilla. Eventually, a more positive approach to the question of multi-island federation, based on the concept of enhanced and assured autonomy for the smaller island, was achieved in Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis.

Caribbean Islands

Trinidad and Tobago - The Northern Islands

Caribbean Islands

THE NORTHERN ISLANDS is a term of convenience used in this study to refer to the independent Commonwealth of the Bahamas and the two British dependent territories, the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands. All three are located in the northern Caribbean Basin. Both the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands form part of the Bahamas archipelago, which extends 80 kilometers southeast of Florida to approximately 150 kilometers north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Cayman Islands lie approximately 150 kilometers south of Cuba and 290 kilometers northwest of Jamaica.

All three island groupings share a similar historical development. Christopher Columbus most likely made his first landfall in the New World on a Bahamian island, although exactly where has been debated for years. He discovered the Cayman Islands on his third voyage in 1503. Although Ponce de Leon is said to have discovered the Turks and Caicos in 1512, some historians still speculate that Columbus landed on one of these islands during his first voyage in 1492. In mid-1987 preparations were underway for the celebration of the quincentenary of the discovery of the New World; replicas of Columbus's ships were being constructed in Spain to recreate the historic transatlantic voyage in 1992. The ships were scheduled to drop anchor in the Bahamas on October 12 of that year, focusing world attention on the small Caribbean nation.

The islands shared common political linkages at various times in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Turks and Caicos formed part of the Bahamas in the first half of the nineteenth century. By the second half of the nineteenth century, both the Turks and Caicos and the Caymans were Jamaican dependencies and remained so until Jamaican independence in 1962. At that time, both sets of islands became separate British colonies, a status that they retained as of the late 1980s. The Bahamas, which became a British colony in the mid-seventeenth century, attained independence as a sovereign nation in 1973. In the late 1980s, all three island groupings maintained membership in the British Commonwealth of Nations (see Appendix B).

The Bahamas dwarfs both the Caymans and the Turks and Caicos in area, population, and gross domestic product (GDP--see Glossary). Despite differences, these three societies shared several common social and economic characteristics in the late 1980s. The populations of all three groupings had a strong African heritage. Tourism and financial services were major elements of the domestic economies in all three island groupings. The Bahamian and Caymanian economies were particularly developed in these two sectors, resulting in relatively high per capita income for the region and for the developing world in general. The economy of the Turks and Caicos lacked the necessary infrastructure to exploit these activities fully; however, it was steadily establishing important tourist and financial service sectors in the mid-1980s with the help of British investments.

Finally, all three island groupings were affected in the 1980s by drug trafficking. Both the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos became transit points for traffickers from South America; in addition, both societies experienced severe social and political crises resulting from drug-related corruption. Traffickers were also believed to have laundered funds in Caymanian banks. This major international problem was being addressed throughout the area under pressure and with assistance from the United States.

Caribbean Islands


Caribbean Islands

The political traditions of the Commonwealth Caribbean islands reflect the diverse ways in which they were brought into the British Empire and administered, as well as the dominant political views in London at the time of their incorporation. Some of these traditions can still be observed in the operation of contemporary politics in the region. Three patterns emerged: one for colonies settled or acquired before the eighteenth century; another for colonies taken during the Seven Years War (1756-63) and ceded by France in 1784; and a third for colonies conquered in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The first group--Barbados, the Bahamas, the Leeward Islands, and Jamaica--developed during the early attempts to found colonies. Like the mainland North American colonies (and Bermuda), these territories had representative assemblies based on the bicameral system of the mother country. Each colony had a governor who represented the monarch, an appointed upper house, and an elected lower house. The electoral franchise, however, was extremely restricted, being vested in a few wealthy male property holders. Power was divided between the governor, who executed the laws, and the assembly, which made them. However, the assembly retained the right to pass all money bills--including the pay for the governor-- and so used this right to obstruct legislation or simply control new officials.

These older colonies also had an effective system of local government based on parish vestries. The vestries were elected annually by the freeholders and met frequently to levy local revenues for the maintenance of the poor, the support of the clergy, the construction of roads, and other local business, such as the licensing of teachers.

Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, Tobago, and St. Lucia were brought into the British Empire between 1763 and 1814. Grenada and the Grenadines were captured during the Seven Years War and ceded by France at the end of the war. St. Vincent came as part of the settlement of 1783 between France and Britain. Tobago, Dominica, and St. Lucia, won during the Napoleonic Wars, were ceded in 1803, 1805, and 1814, respectively. They were referred to as "ceded islands" and also had assemblies, which sometimes functioned like those in the older territories. However, the small size of the free landholding population in these islands vitiated the functions of these assemblies and precluded development of a viable system of local government such as had developed in Jamaica and Barbados. The British administered these islands in two units: the British Leeward Islands (St. Kitts, Nevis, Barbuda, Anguilla, Antigua, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands, and also Dominica from 1871 to 1940) and the British Windward Islands (St. Lucia, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and Grenada as well as Dominica between 1940 and 1956).

When Trinidad and St. Lucia were brought into the empire in 1797 and 1814, respectively, the British government, cognizant of the difficulty that it had had with the various local planters' assemblies, vested the royal governors with virtually autocratic powers. This system of direct British rule through appointed officials rather than elected representatives was known as "crown colony" government. At the same time, the British retained the previous Spanish, French, and Dutch forms of government, gradually altering them through time. No sustained attempt was made to foster local government in these newer colonies, although the leading cities--Port of Spain and Castries--had municipal councils. Perhaps as a result, a strong grass-roots democracy failed to develop early in the latter territories.

Colonial acquisition and administration were not neatly and easily accomplished. St. Lucia, having changed possession fourteen times, was administered as a British crown colony between 1814 and 1871, when it joined the Leeward Islands group. Tobago changed imperial masters more than a dozen times before finally being acquired by Britain in 1802--a position ratified by the French in 1814. It experienced many forms of administration before being confirmed as a ward of Trinidad in 1889. The Bahamas, irregularly colonized by the British beginning in 1629, had a representative assembly in 1728, but settled into a dull routine as a minor crown colony until the granting of complete internal self-government in January 1964. The British Virgin Islands, annexed in 1672, entered the sugar revolution with the rest of the region, but declined economically during the nineteenth century. Between 1871 and 1956, they formed part of the British Leeward Islands administration, and, having opted not to join the West Indies Federation, became crown colonies (see the West Indies Federation, 1958-62, this ch., and Postwar Federation Attempts, ch. 7). The Cayman Islands, erratically settled by the British, until 1848 were administered by the Bahamas. After a short period of legislative government (1848- 63), they reverted to the administration of Jamaica until 1962, when they became a crown colony.

Emancipation of the slaves placed great strains on the representation system. Designed originally for colonies of British settlers, the assemblies no longer represented the majority of citizens but merely a small minority of the oligarchy. Sometimes these oligarchies were too small to provide the necessary administrative apparatus, which explains the shifting nature of colonial government in some of the smaller islands, and the constant quest of the British government to reduce government costs. The power of the purse, once astutely wielded by the planter class, declined along with the value of the export economy, denying to the assemblies their former intimidating power over governors. The British government had always been uneasy about the colonial representative assemblies, especially given the increasing number of non-Europeans in the population. In Jamaica, just before the collapse of the system in 1865, the assembly had 49 members representing 28 constituencies elected by 1,457 voters. Only 1,903 registered voters existed in a population of 400,000--nearly half of whom were adult males.

The Morant Bay Rebellion of October 1865 brought about the end of the old representative assemblies. The "rebellion" was really a protest of rural black peasants in the southeastern parish of St. Thomas. The conflict had unmistakable racial and religious overtones, pitting George William Gordon and Paul Bogle, who were black Baptists, against the custos (the senior vestryman), a German immigrant named Baron Maximilian von Ketelholdt; the rector of the established church, the Reverend S.H. Cooke; and the governor of the island, Edward John Frye, a hostile incompetent with limited intelligence but long service in minor colonial posts. The original demonstrators were protesting what they believed to be unjust arrests at the courthouse in Morant Bay when, failing to obey an order to disperse, they were fired on by the militia, and seven protesters were killed. The crowd then rioted, burning the courthouse and killing fourteen vestrymen, one of whom was black. Bogle and Gordon, arrested in Kingston, were tried by court-martial in Morant Bay and hanged. (In 1965 the Jamaican government--an independent and representative entity--declared the two to be its first "national heroes.") Altogether, Governor Eyre ordered nearly 500 peasants executed, 600 brutally flogged, and 1,000 houses burned by the troops and the Maroons, descendants of former runaway slaves with whom the government had a legal treaty. In December the Jamaica Assembly abolished itself, making way for crown colony government. The act was the final gesture of the old planter oligarchy, symbolizing that it did not wish to share political power in a democratic way with the new groups.

Crown colony rule was soon established in other colonies. In the constitutional reorganization of the later nineteenth century, only Barbados managed to retain its representative assembly. Jamaica and the Windward Islands joined Trinidad as colonies fully administered by the crown while the Leeward Islands experimented with a federal system. With periodic adjustments, crown colony government endured until the middle of the twentieth century. Despite its paternalistic rhetoric, and many practical reforms in the social, educational, and economic arena, it retarded political development in the West Indies by consistently denying the legitimacy of political organizations while elevating the opinions of selected individuals. By so doing, it narrowed rather than broadened the social base of political power.

The limited political opportunities offered by service in the various municipal councils and parish vestries emphasized the inadequacies of the system of appointed councils in which social considerations overrode merit as the primary basis for selection. Appointed members had no political constituency--the basis on which they were chosen--and therefore no responsibility to the majority of people. Because there were no elected assemblies to represent the islands' interests, opposition to the crown colony system of government came more often from the local level alone.

Caribbean Islands

Caribbean Islands - SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENTS, 1800-1960

Caribbean Islands Education

Before the middle of the nineteenth century, education throughout the British Caribbean consisted of three types: education abroad on private initiative; education in the islands in exclusive schools designed for local whites lacking the resources for a foreign education; and education for the academically able of the intermediate group of nonwhites.

The wealthy planters generally sent their children abroad, mainly to Britain, but a surprisingly large number went to study in British North America. As early as 1720, Judah Morris, a Jew born in Jamaica, was a lecturer in Hebrew at Harvard College. Alexander Hamilton, born in Nevis in 1755, attended King's College (later Columbia University), where his political tracts attracted the attention of George Washington. Other students attended such colleges as the College of William and Mary in Virginia and the College of Philadelphia.

Indigent whites attended local grammar schools founded by charitable bequests in the eighteenth century, such as Codrington College and Harrison College in Barbados and Wolmer's, Rusea's, Beckford and Smith's, and Manning's schools in Jamaica.

Slaves and their offspring were given little more than religious instruction. Indeed, in 1797 a law in Barbados made it illegal to teach reading and writing to slaves. In the early nineteenth century, the endowment from the Mico Trust--originally established in 1670 to redeem Christian slaves in the Barbary States of North Africa--opened a series of schools for blacks and free nonwhite pupils throughout the Caribbean and three teachertraining colleges--Mico in Antigua and Jamaica and Codrington in Barbados.

After 1870 there was a mini-revolution in public education throughout the Caribbean. This coincided with the establishment of free compulsory public elementary education in Britain and in individual states of the United States. A system of free public primary education and limited secondary education became generally available in every territory, and an organized system of teacher training and examinations was established.

Nevertheless, the main thrust of public education in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did not come from the local government, but rather, from the religious community. Competing Protestant denominations--the Church of England, the Baptists, the Moravians, the Wesleyans, and the Presbyterians--and the Jesuits operated a vast system of elementary and secondary schools. At the end of the nineteenth century, the churches monopolized elementary education in Jamaica and Barbados and ran a majority of the primary schools in Trinidad, Grenada, and Antigua. The most outstanding secondary schools--St. George's College, Kingston College, Jamaica College, Calabar High School, and the York Castle High School in Jamaica; Harrison College, Codrington College, the Lodge School, and the Queens College in Barbados; and Queen's College, St. Mary's, and Naparima in Trinidad--as well as the principal grammar schools in the Bahamas, Antigua, St. Kitts, and Grenada owe their origins to the religious denominations. Each territory had a board of education, which supervised both government and religious schools. Government assistance slowly increased until by the middle of the twentieth century the state eventually gained control over all forms of education. Although far from perfect--most colonies still spent more on prisons than on schools--public education fired the ambitions of the urban poor.

Based on the British system--even to the use of British textbooks and examinations--the colonial Caribbean educational system was never modified to local circumstances. Nevertheless, it created a cadre of leaders throughout the region whose strong sense of local identity and acute knowledge of British political institutions served the region well in the twentieth century.

Caribbean Islands

Caribbean Islands - Precursors of Independence

Caribbean Islands

Education produced two groups in the British West Indies. The first identified closely with the British system--especially with the Fabian Society of radical thinkers within the newly formed British Labour Party--and sought political reforms through conventional parliamentary channels. The most ardent representatives of this group were individuals in the local legislatures such as Sandy Cox and J.A.G. Smith in Jamaica, T. Albert Marryshow in Grenada, and Andrew A. Cipriani in Trinidad. Although they did not depend on the masses for political support (because the masses did not yet have the vote), they knew how to draw the masses into political action. They joined the municipal and parish councils in urging a reduction in the privileges of the old planter classes and more local representation in local affairs. They also advocated legal recognition of the fledgling trade union movement in the Caribbean.

The second group, inspired by the idea of a spiritual return to Africa, was more populist and more independent than the first group. From this group came individuals such as John J. Thomas (an articulate socio-linguist), Claude MacKay, H.S. Williams (founder of the Pan-African Association in London in 1897), George Padmore (the gray eminence of Ghanaian leader, Kwame Nkrumah), Richard B. Moore, W.A. Domingo, and Marcus Mosiah Garvey, founder of the United Negro Improvement Association in Jamaica (1914) and Harlem (1916). Thomas, Williams, and Padmore came from Trinidad; MacKay, Garvey, and Domingo, from Jamaica; and Moore, from Barbados.

In addition to these organizers, there were a number of individuals from all the colonies who had served abroad in World War I in the West India Regiments of the British Army. Some of these individuals were of African birth, and after the war were given land and pensions in several West Indian territories, where they formed the nucleus of an early pan-Caribbean movement. Their war experiences left them critical of the British government and British society, and they tended to agitate for political reforms to bring self-government to the Caribbean colonies.

The political agitation of these groups laid the groundwork for the generation of politicians who later dismantled colonialism in the British Caribbean: Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante in Jamaica; Robert Bradshaw in St. Kitts; Vere Bird, Sr., in Antigua; Eric Matthew Gairy in Grenada; Grantley Adams in Barbados; and Uriah Butler, Albert Gomes, and Eric Williams in Trinidad.

The political agitation that periodically enveloped the British Caribbean had roots in its dismal economic situation. The colonial government had placed its faith in sugar and large plantations, but sugar was not doing well economically. Increased productivity in Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad could not mask the difficulties of price and marketing. Unemployment was rife. Wages on sugar estates were one-quarter to one-half of those paid on Cuban sugar estates during the same period. Many of the smaller islands had abandoned sugar production altogether. Not surprisingly, large numbers of West Indians emigrated for economic reasons to Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Cuba, Mexico, and the United States. When economic opportunities abroad ended with the Great Depression, the discontent of the returning migrants and frustrated laborers erupted into violence throughout the region from 1935 to 1937.

Caribbean Islands


Caribbean Islands Changes in the Social Base of Political Power

Although the riots of the 1930s brought swift political changes, the conditions that precipitated the explosion had been building slowly for more than half a century. The long period of direct and modified crown colony government after the Morant Bay disturbances produced two political patterns throughout the British Antilles. The first, to which allusion has already been made, was based on strong executive power in the hands of a governor. Whereas this undoubtedly made administration easier for governors, it had negative effects on the social basis of political power and political development. As Carl Campbell so eloquently put it, "[Crown colony government] sought constantly to increase the area of government and decrease the area of politics." Harris, was, of course, describing the situation in Trinidad in the middle of the nineteenth century, but his portrayal would have been apt for any British colony at the beginning of the twentieth. Colonial governors were not inhibited by the threat of legislative council vetoes of their decisions nor by the type of obstructionism that had characterized the assemblies before 1865. Colonial governors were responsible only to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in London. By appointing to the legislature members whose views were compatible with the goals of empire, the governors reduced the range of experience and advice available to them. They were not interested in local opinion and local advice. If they had been, they would not have stifled public opinion by consistently discouraging political organizations and insisting that only individuals could express their views.

Not surprisingly, the dominant views of the local governments were those of the planter classes, especially the older, more established planter classes. Nevertheless, by the end of the nineteenth century, the planter class not only was divided but also was being challenged by the popular classes. This challenge created a series of recurring political crises among the governors, the legislatures, and the Colonial Office, leading to some modest reforms in the system in the early twentieth century.

After emancipation, dissolution of the old caste structure of the Caribbean slave society, which was based on the confusing divisions of race, occupation, and status, gave rise to a new, more complex class society. Class divisions within the declining castes generated new groups and produced new tensions. For example, the planter class, which had never been homogeneous either within territories or across the British colonies, became even more variegated.

In the nineteenth century a new petty bourgeois class emerged consisting of merchants, successful estate owners without the ancestry and traditions of the older landed class, members of the professions, and an expanding managerial sector. This class was far more heterogeneous than the class it was surreptitiously displacing in economic and political affairs. In Jamaica, a very large number of Jews were given the franchise and participated actively in politics. Remarkably, Jews obtained equality in Jamaica and sat in the House of Assembly long before they secured such privileges in Britain. In Barbados, a small number of free nonwhites and Jews moved up, but the resilience of the planter aristocracy inhibited the opening of opportunities found elsewhere. In Trinidad, the white elites included English, French, Scots, and Spanish, and the religious division along Catholic and Protestant lines was as great as along political and social lines. Although governors might prefer the older planter families, especially those of English ancestry, the new reality was inescapable, and gradually the appointments to high political office reflected the social arrival of these new men. They tended to be politically conservative, but theirs was a less rigid conservatism than had prevailed for centuries in the Caribbean.

Although the small, predominantly planter and merchant elites retained political control until the 1940s, increasing social and political democratization of the Caribbean societies occurred. This democratization derived from four sources: economic diversification, which opened up economic opportunities; the expanded educational system, which produced a new professional class; the dynamic expansion of organized religion; and the rise of labor unions. Although not of equal weight, all these forces contributed to the formation of the strong tradition of democratic government that has characterized the British Caribbean during the twentieth century.

Between 1880 and 1937, expanded economic opportunities helped create a new, broader-based middle class throughout the British Caribbean. Much of this middle class was non-European--formerly from the free nonwhite community of the days of slavery, reinforced by the more industrious East Indians and other new immigrant groups of the later nineteenth century. Thus, the black and colored middle class has as long antecedents in the Caribbean as the white class. This class expanded significantly during the post-slavery period.

The lower ranks of the civil service had always provided an opening for nonwhite talent because in a typical colony sufficient Europeans could not be found to fill all vacancies. In the larger islands local groups sufficed. In the other areas the lower civil servants were intercolonial immigrants. For example, the police force of Trinidad was composed mainly of immigrants from Barbados although the senior officers were always European. Bridget Brereton points out that in 1892 only 47 of 506 policemen in Trinidad were local (7.8 percent), compared with 292 from Barbados (57.7 percent) and 137 from the other islands (27 percent).

New exports, such as rice, bananas, limes, cacao, nutmeg, and arrowroot, provided the means for a few people to join the middle economic classes and for their offspring to rise even higher. Rice cultivation, although primarily a peasant activity in Trinidad, also helped propel a number of its black, East Indian, and Chinese producers into the ranks of the middle class. Wealth, of course, was not enough to endow middle-class status, but it often facilitated the upward social mobility of the sons of peasants, who with the requisite education could aspire to full status.

Education was the great social elevator of the British Caribbean masses. From the middle of the nineteenth century, public education, expanded rapidly. A primary education combined with some knowledge of languages was useful in commercial concerns because most of the British Caribbean states conducted much of their commerce with neighboring Spanish-speaking countries. A secondary education was helpful in getting into the lower ranks of the bureaucracy and essential for entering the professions. A system of scholarships enabled lower-class children with ability to move into secondary schools and into the professions. The number was never large, but the stream was constant, and the competition for scholarships was fierce. Studying for these scholarships was more than an individual effort--it was a family enterprise. Moreover, by the early decades of the twentieth century, this process of academic selection and rigorous preparation for the British examinations--uniform for both British and colonial students--was controlled by predominantly black schoolmasters, the foundation of the emerging "certificated masses."

As Guyanese political activist and historian Walter Rodney wrote, "The rise of the middle class can only be effectively chronicled and analyzed in relationship to the schools... The position of headmaster of a primary school must be viewed as constituting the cornerstone of the black and brown middle class." Eric Williams, a distinguished product of the system, wrote, "If there was a difference between the English public school and its Trinidadian imitation, it was this, that the Trinidad school provided a more thorough preparation for the university than the average English school, partly because the students stayed to the age of twenty rather than eighteen and took a higher examination, partly also because it was not even the cream of the crop, but the top individual from Trinidad who found himself competing with a large number of English students of varying ability." The fact that village primary school headmasters were also lay preachers and intellectual and quasi-legal arbiters of the community increased their importance both socially and politically.

The churches became important in molding the intellect and the political sophistication of the masses beginning in the nineteenth century. In the 1980s, churches continued to play an important role in the Caribbean. Even more interesting, the churches have managed to be both politically revolutionary and conservative, avant garde and reactionary, depending both on the issues involved and the denomination.

Whereas the mainstream churches--mainly Anglican and Roman Catholic--accompanied the expansion of imperialism with the expressed desire of converting "the heathens," their close identity with the established order was a severe handicap to their effective incorporation of the lower orders of society. They were especially ineffective with the Hindus and Muslims from India. As a result, what early religious conversion took place was most effectively accomplished by the so-called nonconformist groups--Baptists, Methodists, Moravians, Presbyterians, and Quakers. These essentially evangelical sects originated in the metropolitan countries with a mass, or working class, urban clientele in mind. Their strongest converts were among the poorer classes. In the Caribbean they were faced with a rather anomalous situation: the hostility or indifference of the planters and the established churches and no equivalent class structure. They had either to work among the slaves and free nonwhites or change their clientele. They chose the former course and so came into direct conflict with the local elites. Nonconformist missionaries, white and nonwhite, were some of the unsung heroes in the struggle for the disintegration of the Caribbean slave systems.

The nonconformist churches enjoyed phenomenal success among the nonwhites until the late nineteenth century, but they paid a price. Their practice and their preaching became syncretized with the rival Afro-Caribbean religions such as Kumina and Myal. When social practice blocked the upward mobility of nonwhite members within the hierarchy of the churches, they flocked to form their own congregations, much as occurred in the United States. Some of these congregations moved into a succession of charismatic religions beginning with the rise of Pocomania in the 1880s, Bedwardism in the early twentieth century, and Rastafarianism (see Glossary) in the 1930s. All of these religions espoused trances, public confessions, dreams, spirit possession, and exotic dancing. The churches provided experience in mass mobilization and grass-roots organization. More important, they provided the psychological support for the black masses and gave them comfort and a self- confidence rare among those of their color, class, and condition. Politicians such as Marcus Garvey successfully tapped this popular religious tradition for support.

Caribbean Islands

Caribbean Islands - Labor Organizations

Caribbean Islands

Political experience emerged directly from the difficult growth of labor organizations throughout the Caribbean. Trade unionization derived from the plethora of mutual aid and benevolent societies that existed from the period of slavery among the Afro-Caribbean population. Not having the vote or a representative in power, the lower classes used these societies for their mutual social and economic assistance. To obtain political leverage, the working and employed classes had only two recourses: the general strike and the riot.

From time to time some of these strikes were widespread enough to bring the plight of the masses to the attention of the Colonial Office and forced significant changes in the constitutional order. Such was the case with the so-called Water Riots of Trinidad in 1903, which began as middle-class dissatisfaction over the colonial government's attempt to install water meters and reduce wastage. The municipal Ratepayers Association, a solidly middle-class organization, appealed to the working and unemployed classes of the city of Port of Spain. An excited mob assembled outside the legislative council's office, resulting in an altercation in which sixteen people were killed and forty-three injured by reckless police shooting, and the office of the legislature was burned to the ground. After the usual official inquiry, the Colonial Office gradually agreed to the insistent demands of a number of middleand working-class organizations for the restoration of an elected city council which was put in place between 1914 and 1918.

Another such riot occurred in Demerara, British Guiana, in 1905. Starting as a localized dispute over wages by some stevedores in Georgetown, it quickly spread to sugarfield workers, factory workers, domestics, bakers, and porters, engulfing an ever-widening area beyond the city limits. The causes of the disturbance were essentially economic, and the workers--as opposed to their middleclass sympathizers--lacked any organizational structure. Nevertheless, the governor of the colony called out the military forces to put down the disturbances, causing seven deaths and a score of serious injuries. Although the riots failed to achieve their economic goals, for a few days they brought together a great number of the middle and lower classes. The middle-class leadership of some elements of the working classes which resulted gave some impetus to the development of a trade union movement. The coincidence of these riots throughout the British Caribbean created an impression in Britain that the political administration of the colonies required greater attention--an impression reinforced with each commission report issued thereafter.

Between 1880 and 1920, the Caribbean witnessed a proliferation of organizations, despite the authorities' marked coolness to them. A number represented middle-class workers such as teachers, banana growers, coconut growers, cacao farmers, cane farmers, rice farmers, lime growers, and arrowroot growers. Sometimes, as in the case of the Ratepayers Association in Trinidad, they had overtly middle-class political aspirations: a widening of the political franchise to allow more of their members access to political office. However, more and more workers were forming unions and agitating for improvements in their wages and working conditions. Furthermore, as in the cases of the 1905 riots, the two sets of organizations worked in concert--although the martyrs to the cause were singularly from the working and unemployed classes. One reason why the two sets of organizations--middle class and working class-- could work together was their common belief that political reform of the unjust and anachronistic colonial administrative system was the major element needed to achieve their divergent goals. They realized that historically the governors had worked with a small and unrepresentative segment of the old planter class serving their narrow economic ends. To the middle classes and the workers--and to a certain extent the masses of urban unemployed--social and economic justice would be possible only if they secured control of the political machinery, and there were only two ways to gain that control: through persuasion or by force.

To a great degree, this conviction still exists among the populations of the Caribbean. It was given further authenticity when the British Labour Party, especially the Fabian wing of the party, expressed sympathy with this view. But the Fabians did more. They actively sought to guide these fledgling political associations along a path of "responsible reform," thereby hoping to avert revolutionary changes. After World War I, the Fabians grew more influential--as did the British Labour Party--in British politics. The experience of both the Boer War and World War I strengthened the anti-imperialists within Britain and weakened Britain's faith in its ability to rule far-flung colonies of diverse peoples. There was even less enthusiasm for colonial domination when the administrative costs exceeded the economic returns. The result of this ambivalence about empire was a sincere attempt to rule constitutionally and openly. British critics of colonial rule expressed their opinions freely, and even the government reports (Blue Books) produced annually on each colony detailed shortcomings of bureaucrats and policies. Nevertheless, talking about West Indian problems was not the same as doing something about them, and by the 1930s, it was clear that British colonial policy was intellectually bankrupt.

Throughout the 1920s and the 1930s, British labor unions had sought to guide and encourage formation of West Indian affiliates. As a result, unionization was common throughout the region, with many of the unions formally or informally affiliated with the British Trade Union Congress. However, Fabian tutelage and reformist policies appeared to have failed when workers broke out in spontaneous demonstrations throughout the region, beginning in St. Kitts in 1935 and culminating with Jamaica (and British Guiana) in 1938. A hastily dispatched Royal Commission, dominated by Fabians and chaired by Lord Moyne (hence called the Moyne Commission), toured the region and reported on the dismal conditions, making strong recommendations for significant political reform. The Moyne Commission noted as causes of the riots increased politicization of workers in the region, deriving from the war experiences of West Indian soldiers, the spread of elementary education, and the influence of industrial labor unrest in the United States. After the riots, the reforms sought by the union of the middle classes and the workers were formalized. In 1940 the British Parliament passed the Colonial Development Welfare Act, the first foreign assistance program legislated specifically for the islands. The British government also extended the franchise to all adults over the age of twenty-one and set about building the apparatus for modified self-government with greater local participation.

Jamaica held its first general election under universal adult suffrage in 1944, and the other territories followed soon thereafter. The alliance of professionals and labor leaders easily captured the state apparatus from the old combination of planters and bureaucrats. Thus, in most colonies a very close bond developed between the political parties and the workers' unions. In Jamaica, the Jamaica Labour Party drew its basic support from the Bustamante Industrial Trades Unions. Its rival, the People's National Party, was at first affiliated with the Trades Union Council, and after the purge of the radicals in 1951, created the National Workers' Union--the popular base that catapulted Michael Manley to political eminence in 1972 (see Historical Setting, ch. 2). In Barbados, the Barbados Labour Party depended in the early days on the mass base of the members of the Barbados Workers' Union. Likewise, labor unions formed the catalyst for the successful political parties of Vere Bird in Antigua, Robert Bradshaw in St. Kitts, and Eric Gairy in Grenada (see Government and Politics on individual countries, ch. 4 and ch. 5). The notable exception was Eric Williams in Trinidad. His Peoples' National Movement, established in 1956, succeeded despite a constant struggle against a sharply divided collection of strong unions (see Historical Setting, ch. 3).

Beginning after World War II and lasting until the late 1960s, a sort of honeymoon existed between the political parties and the labor unions. Expanding domestic economies allowed substantial concessions of benefits to workers, whose real wages increased significantly as unionization flourished.

Caribbean Islands

Caribbean Islands - The West Indies Federation, 1957-62

Caribbean Islands

As part of its decision to push modified self-government, the British authorities encouraged the experiment in confederation. The idea had been discussed in the Colonial Office since the later nineteenth century, but it was brought to new life with a regional conference held at Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 1947. The British were interested in administrative efficiency and centralization. The West Indians talked about political independence. At the conference, a compromise was worked out. The West Indian Meteorological Services and the University of the West Indies, as a College of London University, were set up, and plans were made for the creation of a political federation that would unite the various territories and eventually culminate in the political independence of the region. These new regional organizations joined others already in existence, such as the Caribbean Union of Teachers, established in 1935; the Associated Chambers of Commerce, organized in 1917; and the Caribbean Labour Congress, inaugurated in 1945.

The federation began inauspiciously with the leading politicians in Jamaica--Norman Manley (then prime minister) and Alexander Bustamante--and in Trinidad and Tobago--Eric Williams-- refusing to contest the federal elections. This uneasy federation of ten island territories (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, and Montserrat) lasted from 1957 to 1961, when Jamaica opted to leave. Doomed from the start by lukewarm popular support, the federation quickly foundered on the islands' uncompromisingly parochial interests, especially those of the principal participants, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica. The former would not accept unrestricted freedom of movement; the latter would not accept a binding customs union. On September 19, 1961, some 54 percent of the Jamaican electorate voted to end their participation. It was the lowest popular vote in any Jamaican election, but the government accepted the decision and initiated the plans to request complete independence for the state. Attempts by Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados to salvage the federation after the withdrawal of Jamaica failed.

In 1962, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago became the first Anglophone Caribbean countries to achieve independence. Barbados gained its independence in 1966; the Bahamas in 1973; Grenada in 1974; Dominica in 1978; St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 1979; Antigua and Barbuda in 1981; and St. KittsNevis in 1983. In late 1987, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands remained crown colonies with limited internal self-government. Anguilla, having broken away unilaterally from St. Kitts-Nevis in 1967, became an Associated State of Great Britain in 1976. The proliferation of mini-states in the Caribbean will most likely continue. The five remaining British dependencies may yet seek independence. Moreover, it is not inconceivable that one or more multiple-island states, such as St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, or even Trinidad and Tobago, might split into separate entities.

Caribbean Islands

Caribbean Islands - Political Systems

Caribbean Islands

Despite generally similar political traditions throughout the region, there are marked differences among the political systems in the various countries. For example, in the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Barbados, a strong two-party political system has developed, and the performance of third parties has been dismal in elections. Trinidad and Tobago has a multiparty system, which, between 1956 and 1987, was dominated by the People's National Movement, first under the leadership of Eric Williams (party leader, 1956-81) and then under George Chambers (party leader, 1981-87). Furthermore, in Trinidad and Tobago, ethnic politics constitutes a significant part of the political equation, as Hindu and Muslim East Indians compete and form coalitions with black Trinidadians.

In the smaller islands, a number of factors have coincided to make dual-party, democratic politics a difficult achievement. In some cases the populations are simply too small to provide the critical mass of diversity and anonymity. Family and kin relations make secret balloting and privacy elusive. The associations and cooperative organizations that were so important in Jamaica, Barbados, or Trinidad did not exist in the smaller societies. As a result, political stability and coherence of the type found in the larger countries have been difficult to achieve in smaller countries. For example, between 1979 and 1983, the government of Grenada was taken over by a band of self-avowed Marxists led by Maurice Bishop and Unison Whiteman. The People's Revolutionary Government, as it called itself, tried to create a new type of politics in the British Caribbean--namely, a populist government ruling without the benefit of elections. The experiment, which went against a long, strong tradition of elections in the Commonwealth Caribbean, ended abruptly in confusion with the military intervention by troops from the United States and other Caribbean states in October 1983.

Caribbean Islands

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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