European and North American perceptions of the Caribbean Sea and its many islands seem to revolve around the "sun, fun and rum" equation at best, or "sand, sea and sex" at worst. This is not surprising given the promotion of the Caribbean as a major holiday destination by tour operators, the media, international agencies and national governments alike. Such an image is reinforced by advertisements and publication of a quarterly lifestyle magazine under the title Caribbean World, which provides articles on these "seductive" islands, the visits of the rich and famous, and fashion tips for the beach.

Other views of the region are dominated by images of the exotic, and as geographer David Lowenthal stressed in his book West Indian Societies (1972), there is the false homogenization which is born of a unified cricket team, and a sea parading as a landmass. The vibrant culture of the Caribbean, as portrayed through its music, evokes images of a carefree, fun-loving society, but the reality is somewhat different. Beneath a a contemporary surface shaped by the dictates of international tourism, the realities of political struggle, oppression and the daily round of poverty are all too clear to see.

Although the wider Caribbean region is home to 35 million residents, it is also the vacation playground for over eight million North American and European tourists a year, accounting for an estimated three percent of total world tourism. The majority of tourists are attracted by the promise of a brief visit to paradise, where their every need will be catered to in secluded luxury resorts. Only a minority of visitors venture out of this contrived environment to observe the reality of the lives of the people who serve them rum punch with a smile. Fewer still are witness to the underlying cultural, economic and societal complexities which make each island unique in detail, while at the same time sharing many common features and challenges. The Carribean is seen by many as lacking its own unique cultural identify, and as not possessing a coherent self-image. A parallel economic view suggests that the Caribbean should become a series of service stations for tourism, export processing, and offshore (tax-avoiding) banking.

The Carribean region has always been highly fractionated and is culturally pluralistic, home to many ethnic and cultural groups (see box, "Caribbean History in Brief"). This diversity belies the common heritage that colonial development imposed, making the present-day Caribbean a European creation. According to the acclaimed Trinidad writer V.S. Naipaul, the Caribbean can be described as Europe's "Other Sea," the Mediterranean of the New World. Indeed, the Caribbean was one of the regions which economist Andre Gunder Frank specifically cited in outlining his ideas on dependency theory, in which he argued that the longer a developing country was part of the European economic system, the more underdeveloped it would become. From a cultural point of view, the writer C.L.R. James made a similar point when he wrote of a Caribbean still in the process of being born.

Colonial cultures tend to be hybrid-syncretic, that is, admixtures of diverse elements. This is the result of centuries of cultural penetration, control and manipulation by outsiders. In the Caribbean, these outside-imposed forces were extreme and resulted in a high level of westernization, evident today in the areas of cricket, literature, and ideology. Politically, for the majority of the islands in the decades since gaining independence from their European rulers, governments have generally been led by center-right political parties. In this respect, the islands can be seen as capitalist states, peripheral to the US/European capitalist core. Culturally, though, the Caribbean is a product of an amazingly complex mixture of European, African, Asian and American influences, representing one of the true socio-cultural melting pots of the world.

The following pages present the reader with an examination of socio-economic change in the region, together with the common bonds and differences that characterize the Caribbean islands. We suggest that the region is open to misrepresentation by outsiders, and we identify the importance of basic needs in the wake of this, the western hemisphere's longest history of slavery and colonialism, in the Caribbean Sea. Although our discussion focuses on the Commonwealth Caribbean, -- those islands once or still under British rule and influence -- the maps and tables include all significant Caribbean islands.

The basic characteristics of Caribbean states: commonalities and diversity in development

In addition to the historical bonds of slavery and colonialism, the second major commonality shared by Caribbean states is poverty: by world standards, the Caribbean islands are poor. Within the Commonwealth Caribbean, the Windward Islands, including St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Dominica, are generally regarded as being the poorest. In a global context however, Haiti ranks as one of the poorest countries in the world. These facts can be seen in the data shown graphically on the map. In the early 1990s, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of the Windward Islands stood somewhere between US $2,300 and 2,700 as shown in Table 1, "Gross Domestic Product and Urban Development." In much of the region, rural households still lack electricity, and a large proportion of the population is living without access to the basic needs of adequate shelter, health-care and employment.

Although difficult to estimate, unemployment in Caribbean countries currently ranges from 20 to 50 percent of the male workforce, and is much higher among women and the young. The jobs that are available, such as those in the tourist industry, tend to pay wages insufficient to support a family. Women who assemble electronic goods for export, or who labor on plantation estates, for example, typically earn less than US $5 a day. As a result most households rely on multiple-income earning strategies in order to, as they say in the region, "make do." Others are forced to earn a living by whatever means possible within the informal -- small-scale and unregulated -- sector of the local economy.

The Caribbean's struggle has been dominated by the fact that the islands entered the world economy, not as independent communities, but as plantation economies, similar to the situation that prevailed in the American South before the American Civil War (1860-1865). Cash crops such as sugar, bananas and cocoa have been exported since the seventeenth century to serve foreign markets, and this set the pattern, with each island having its own single-crop economy. Control of agriculture by distant landowners led to the neglect of crops for consumption by island residents, a problem which has gotten worse in recent years. The economies of the Windward Islands, for example, rely on the export of bananas through multinational distributors such as Geest Ltd. Cash crop exports make up between 60 and 85 percent of the area's total exports and account for between 20 and 40 percent of its GDP. Without the capacity to feed themselves, the islands are heavily dependent on imports, particularly of food. For the Windwards, data show that the total value of imports is approximately two times greater than the value of exports. In 1973 economist Norman Girvan observed that Caribbean nations produce what they do not need, and import most of what they consume (producing bananas, sugar and coconuts and consuming all manner of foods and consumer goods).

Industry is in its infancy on most islands, currently accounting for less than 10 percent of Caribbean GDP. One exception to this is Trinidad and Tobago, industrially more advanced because of its role as an oil producer. Tourism has been one of the few growth industries in the Caribbean, and for many has become the main source of hard currency earnings, accounting for 50 to 70 percent of the area's foreign exchange earnings. As the main source of hard currency for Jamaica, tourist spending there has exceeded US $400 million annually since 1985. Other smaller islands have become even more dependent; for example, a quarter of the labor force in Antigua-Barbuda is employed in tourism. As is the case with agriculture, foreign investment dominates the tourism industry; over half the hotels of both Barbados and Jamaica are in foreign hands. Much of the money spent by tourists leaves the Caribbean -- it is not reinvested locally. In addition to the profits flowing back to North American and European interests, the social effect in the islands has been the creation of predominantly white, rich enclaves, set within an overall background of poverty.

Even with careful consideration, it is unlikely that tourism, heralded as the current development strategy, will make any significant contribution to improving the basic needs of the majority of the population. Much evidence exists to show how the flow of workers to the tourist sector dampens the availability of labor for farming, and as a result may lead directly to the abandonment of farmland. This clear antipathy between agriculture and tourism in the minds of Caribbean residents is starkly apparent in a wide variety of contexts.

In Grenada, external debt amounted to US $69.4 million in 1989, almost half of that nation's Gross National Product (GNP); and in St. Vincent it amounted to 38 percent of GNP. Jamaica, which has experienced the greatest problems associated with international debt and International Monetary Fund (IMF) restructuring policies, has a total external debt of US $3,569 million, a figure which is 141.2 percent of its GNP. In other words, the country owes one-and-a-half times as much as it makes. The twin-island state of Trinidad and Tobago is following the path of Jamaica with its current level of debt accounting for 54 percent of GNP. During the 1980s, Caribbean economies became weaker and more vulnerable to fluctuations in the international arena, as well as to natural disasters. Caribbean citizens are now poorer in relative terms than they were in 1980. A 1991 report from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) recorded that widespread malnutrition, illiteracy, deficient educational, training and health conditions, and inadequate housing all threaten to erode the foundations of the Caribbean, and limit prospects for growth in the long term.

Contemporary patterns of production and economic change in the Caribbean

Since independence, Commonwealth Caribbean states have followed a passive path toward development. The smaller islands of the eastern Caribbean have unquestioningly adopted the same policies as their larger More Developed Country (MDC) neighbors such as Jamaica, Trinidad/Tobago and Barbados: and evolutionary, nor revolutionary, development strategy.

Thus, despite a lot of talk about the need for greater self-sufficiency and the better use of domestic resources, very little has actually been accomplished. It is far easier to plan for new hotels than it is to meet basic needs, which would require income and land redistribution, together with growth. As long as Caribbean countries remain dependent on the outside world, due to debt repayments and high levels of imports, the region has little chance of acting on a radical program for basic needs. That would require a complete overhaul of present economic and social systems. Instead, international attention is focused on "assisting" the islands in their debt repayments by providing strategies for economic growth. Structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have led to reduced public employment and social spending, and deregulation. These developments have adversely affected the poor and benefited the rich. Grenada and Cuba, however, stand as notable exceptions, both countries having followed paths towards self-reliance and self-sufficiency.

In the 1970s, outside experts from the World Bank advocated crop agricultural diversification -- more varied crops -- as the region's best hope for economic growth. Also actively promoted during this era were the abundance of cheap labor, particularly among young women, and the growth of export processing zones -- producing goods cheaply for overseas markets. Since 1990 tourism appears to have become the favorite approach, giving little consideration to the vulnerability of the human and natural ecosystems of these islands. The government of Trinidad and Tobago is being encouraged to sell large coastal strips of Tobago to foreign hotel chains in order to improve the economy. It may not be long before southern Tobago starts to resemble St. Lawrence Gap in Barbados, or Grand Anse Beach in Grenada, overdeveloped and commercialized. The Jalousie Plantation: near the twin volcanic Pitons in St. Lucia was sold to Lord Glenconner (also known as Colin Tennant) in 1989, and his development of a 326-acre luxury resort and watersports complex was permitted, despite vociferous environmental outcry. In eyes of many Barbados has come to exemplify the development of tourism without a clear environmental balance sheet being maintained.

As a corollary of these internationally oriented policies, relatively little attention has been given to agriculture for domestic purposes. The 300-year-old plantation system, associated with persistent poverty and psychological dependency, still dominates today through export of a few staple crops. The decline of plantation-produced sugar and the introduction of the replacement staple, banana, has given rise to a number of land redistribution plans in St. Vincent and St. Lucia. Since the end of slavery well over a century ago, a substantial smallholder farming sector has developed in many islands. Indeed, local small-scale farmers are making significant contributions to the domestic food supply in Trinidad and Jamaica, principally by growing vegetables. In Trinidad, following emancipation, the offering of land to indentured laborers in place of their return passage to India has resulted in a substantial small-scale, informal farming sector. However it is generally recognized that agricultural activity has decreased in the region as a whole, and food imports currently account for around 30 percent of all imports to the region. Around 1990, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica each imported approximately 290,000 metric tons of cereals.

Farming has been neglected in favor of light manufacturing partly on the advice of St. Lucia-born, Nobel-prize winning economist Sir Arthur Lewis, involving what he termed industrialization by invitation. Lewis argued that Caribbean economies would develop by following a program of industrial modernization, a favorite global model in the 1950s and 1960s. He suggested that governments should attract investment by foreign companies in light manufacturing plants by promoting advantages such as cheap labor. A local model was provided by Barbados and its Operation Beehive, launched in 1969 and partly based on Puerto Rico's earlier Operation Bootstrap. Since that time, many foreign companies have invested in the Caribbean, mainly adding to the growing sector of export processing zones (EPZs) and free trade zones (FTZs), where garments, electrical items, and other goods are assembled in sweatshop-like establishments. A more recent growth area is in the data-processing industry, with major airlines and financial companies relocating to the region. American Airlines, for instance, set up a data-entry operation in Barbados as early as 1984 and this is now a wholly-owned subsidiary company, Caribbean Data Services Inc. There are currently five data entry firms operating on the Harbour Industrial Estate. There are 25 such firms operating in Jamaica, although many are locally owned. Approximately 90 percent of the employees are women.

The benefits accrued from these developments are difficult to interpret and depend on the observer's economic and political persuasions. The World Bank, on the one hand, states that EPZs will create large numbers of much-needed jobs in the region, and provide additional sources of foreign exchange. The World Bank also argues that such developments will increase urban productivity, and points to the economic success of the Asian Tigers such as Hong Kong or Taiwan, or Newly Industrializing Countries, which include Brazil and Mexico. However it is notable that average wage rates are much lower in Asia, as shown by the World Bank data in Table 2, "Average Wage Rates in Selected Countries."

Another argument is that EPZs have simply replaced sugar as the means of perpetuating development by external control of an island's resources and money. According to this viewpoint, putting together a data processing and manufacturing industry may cost more in subsidies and foregone taxes than in gains. In many cases, EPZ investors are exempt from paying import duties, and are free to remove their profits from host countries. Secondly, this kind of industry favors the employment of young, single women who earn low wages. Anthropologist Carla Freeman has recently referred to this as "high tech in high heels." These jobs do not create the increased purchasing power that an island's economy requires, nor the substantial number of jobs needed. Many women work 10 hour days in cramped and unhealthy conditions performing repetitive tasks. It is well documented that the conditions under which these women toil are reminiscent of earlier forms of colonialism. In 1990, it was estimated that some 20,000 women worked in 750 garment factories in the English-speaking Caribbean, producing mainly for the United States market. These workers earned wages sometimes as low as US $20 per week; a 1988 study revealed weekly wages as low as US $15 in Jamaica. The average worker is a 22-year-old rural migrant who is the sole supporter of two or more children. Over and above her wages she enjoys very little in the way of family benefits or social security. The exploitation of many Caribbean women and the poor social conditions in which they are employed do not represent desirable forms of development, but rather new forms of slavery and servitude.

Multinational corporations promote the interests of elite groups, diverting attention away from the needs of the poor. in a well-documented case, two foreign firms actually persuaded the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to break its own minimum wage legislation with a "training rate" at 30 percent less than the minimum statutory wage then in force. Factory workers on St. Lucia hope to acquire skills which will enable them to emigrate to metropolitan countries. Unfortunately for many women the alternative to these low wages is unemployment. Development policies aimed at meeting basic needs must consider women, who have all too often been excluded development process. Within the Caribbean, it is women who hold society together, with a full-time job in addition to having the responsibility for their family's well-being. Edith Clark's 1976 book, My Mother Who Fathered Me, reflects this issue in her autobiographical story that takes place on Jamaica.

Increasing outside control and globalization (the internationalization of economic activities and cultures) can also be seen in the other growth sector of the economy, tourism. As much as 70 percent of all tourist expenditure in the Caribbean leaves the islands for the foreign bank accounts of hotel owners. The environmental impacts of tourism are only now being made part of the costs/benefits equation. In Barbados, it has been estimated that 80 percent or more of the coral reefs off the west coast are dead. On the main coastal road, the view is blocked by condos and resort hotels. The governments of the smaller islands such as Dominica and St. Vincent want to encourage more ecologically sensitive and sustainable forms of tourism development and much is hoped of ecotourism in promoting the natural bounty of countries. Another negative aspect is the impact of tourism upon these fledgling independent cultures: the importation of foreign lifestyles and tastes, the labor requirements for increased servitude, and the expanded presence of prostitution, drugs and crime.

Patterns of consumption and globalization as they relate to the Caribbean

All of these developments can be seen as part of the global process of divergence, in respect of the sphere of production, and the control of capital. Since the 1970s world recession, the locational and production decisions of transnational firms have become increasingly dominant. Just as the tendency toward Fordist (assembly line) production has characterized the Newly Industrializing Countries (NICs), and flexible (small, short-run) systems of production and accumulation in developed countries, so related contrasts are discernible in the Caribbean region. This all boils down to the fact that the places and spaces of the Caribbean are increasingly coming to be highly differentiated between the urban and the rural, the rich and the poor, the developed and the less developed. The following discussion will illuminate this much-reduced summary.

Present-day Caribbean societies are strongly urban in character (see Table 1, "GDP and Urban Development"). These densely-settled areas within farming-oriented countries originated during the mercantile and colonial periods well after the first settlements, which were established along the coasts as points of colonial administration and commercial control.

The growth of densely-settled areas has intensified in the present post-colonial era as tourism and industrialization have taken over from farming. Plantopolis -- the settlement pattern that dominated during the era of the plantation system -- has given way to the present-day Caribbean metropolis, with its residential and tourist-focused suburbs. By the year 2000, the Caribbean's population will show an overall urbanization level of 64.6 percent, higher than the world as a whole at 51.3 percent. In fact, by 2025 it is predicted that the Caribbean will be almost as highly urbanized as the more developed regions of the world.

As in other world regions, present-day towns and cities in the Caribbean are nodes and centers from which the complex processes of global economic, social and environmental change flow outward to affect the more rural areas. These cities are key agents in globalization, which simultaneously is leading to a global homogenization, yet also to the emergence of growing differences between and within world regions. Tourism and the mass media are influencing the Caribbean in this divided fashion.

Caribbean islanders want what tourists have. This is the so-called "international demonstration effect:" locals take up affluent North American and European tastes, lifestyles and patterns of consumption. Is this imitation flattering, or is it neo-dependency, as Caribbean locals abandon their culture for that of Los Angeles, USA or Manchester, England? Workers who would rather aspire to the modern culture brought in by foreign visitors see farming as a low-status and backward occupation. It is likely that people will crave new things in advance of the jobs needed to pay for those things. Given the limited resources available to these small countries, a totally inappropriate level of imitative lifestyle may be taking place. If demand for such goods and services rises faster than their production locally, the result will have to be a rise in imports as well as quick growth in the informal sector of the economy, in order to meet the challenge.

The mass media, television in particular, affect the aspirations of those who watch. Island viewing of such North American soap operas as "Dallas," "Dynasty," "The Young and the Restless" and the appallingly vacuous "Baywatch" -- the latter with an estimated weekly global viewing audience of over 2 billion people -- may have significant impacts on material, if not spiritual, aspirations. Identifying with, and desiring, the lifestyles portrayed in such serials by those with annual incomes of US $1,300 is likely to be particularly frustrating. The rapid spread of cable television in the Caribbean is intensifying this process. In certain high-income residential areas of Trinidad's Port of Spain, such as Ellerslie Park and West Moorings, up to 25 percent of households now have cable television. The 1990 Census for Barbados showed that ownership of television sets is nearly universal, while a surprisingly high proportion of households, even those on low incomes, have a video cassette recorder/player.

Changing too are dietary habits and food preferences, leading to the so-called industrial palate: a larger proportion of food is consumed by non-producers. Of course, this change is closely related to the international demonstration effect and the activities of multinational food companies as witnessed in the ubiquitous spread of fast food chains within the region (as shown in the accompanying photos). By now most capital cities in the region, even small ones like Kingstown on St. Vincent, have their highstreet Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). An interesting exception is offered by Barbados, where after a great deal of debate and controversy, a McDonald's outlet was opened on the south coast in 1990. However, Barbadians have for some time shown a strong preference for white meat as opposed to red, and a little over a year later, the outlet closed down.

These socio-cultural shifts are on a path of convergence with the patterns of consumption found in the rich developed countries. At the same time as divergence characterizes those changes relating to production and ownership of capital, so a pattern of similarity and convergence characterizes demand and consumption. It is the combination of these two sets of forces that helps explain why places around the world are, at one and the same time, becoming more similar, and yet more differentiated.

But of course this process is highly uneven, both in time and space. Good examples are: provided by the development supermarkets, shopping malls and high-status residential areas. Modern Euro-American styles are increasingly popular, side-by-side with traditional, small-scale neighborhood.

Supermarkets have become an important part of urban and tourist areas on many of the larger Caribbean islands. In Trinidad, for instance, American-style shopping malls attract large numbers of the nation's young to spend and entire day shopping, eating fast foods, and watching large-screen cable television. In particular, West Mall in the suburbs of Port of Spain, and Gulf City located just outside San Fernando, are diffusers of imported American culture to both the young and the wealthy. By contrast, the informal retail sector still provides goods and services to the majority of those in the lower-income communities of eastern Port of Spain. A recent move by the International Monetary fund to lift all bans on imported goods has served to increase the disparity between the rich and poor in Trinidad.

In Barbados, 97 percent of total retail floor space is located within the western and southern coastal urban strip. Ten new retail centers, owned and operated by members of the white business community, have been developed within this urban-suburban tourist zone to provide goods and services for tourists, expatriates and members of local elite groups. In the rural areas, the traditional informal rum shop and grocery remains the main point of retail supply, together with a few superette chains such as Basx, Ricks and Budg-Buy, run by members of the black community. However, multinational capital can be seen adorning the basic rum shop, as shown in the Pepsi-decorated photograph of a small neighborhood shop.

Similarly, while in many parts of the Caribbean modern middle- and upper-class residential areas have been developed, relatively few houses have been provided for those on lower incomes. In St. Vincent, for example, a substantial number of people live on the upper part of the beach, facing the full fetch of the Atlantic as shown in the photo of Byera. In the Windward Islands, with the exception of St. Lucia where 357 homes were provided during the 1960s, houses built by state agencies were sold at prices only affordable to middle-income residents. Similar situations are found throughout the Caribbean.

These same processes, that together create a widening gap between rich and poor, can be discerned at the wider scale of the development of wedges of high-status housing within cities. These may be seen as basically akin to those envisaged by land economist Homer Hoyt in his sectoral model of urban structure. This has been well-documented in the case of large Latin American cities such as Lima, Caracas and Bogota, and has been graphically represented in a general model of Latin American city structure. There is considerable evidence that within many Caribbean cities, affluent groups are moving out of the central area, forming high-status suburbs, in a basically sectoral or Hoytian-manner. This is true, for example, of the strong suburbanization taking place towards the south-east of Kingston in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It is also occurring in a northerly and south-easterly direction out of Bridgetown in Barbados. In Trinidad, middle- to high-income groups have moved towards the valleys which lie to the north and north-west, and have also leapfrogged to the eastern extremity of the city, across the large swath of low-income areas in the central and eastern sections.

Conclusions: variety versus uniformity in the Caribbean and elsewhere

It is the juxtaposition of the processes of divergence and convergence that is giving rise to distinctive, locality-based development and change in the contemporary Caribbean, as elsewhere in the developing world. Places are becoming highly varied in terms of their patterns of economic production. And, while a Euro-US pattern of consumption is becoming the norm for the Caribbean as a whole, the participation of different social groups in this process is also highly uneven. The poor remain dependent upon traditional facilities, and members of the elite participate more fully in the up-market, modern and exogenous sectors of the island economy. This process is all too frequently etched in terms of color and gender as well as class.

The path toward development in the small states of the Caribbean remains a hard one. Small states may face many difficulties in reducing their reliance on large metropolitan powers. The use of indigenous resources, requirements and ways of doing things is necessary for real development. A move toward forms of tourism, industrial and other types of development which are more sustainable, and both locally and environmentally sensitive, is of paramount importance. Otherwise, the real position for much of the Caribbean will not be "sun, fun and rum"; rather, it will remain as it has been for centuries: plenty of sun, some fun, and all too frequently, a rum deal.


Congratulations on the birth of Sally Lloyd-Evans'son, Sam, who arrived during the final editing of this article.


For at least 3000 years B.P. (Before Present) various peoples, including the Ciboney, Arawak and Carib, migrated across the Caribbean's islands from the South American mainland. By the time of Christopher Columbus' first voyage in 1492, the Caribs were dominant. In 1493 Pope Alexander VI divided the New World between Spain and Portugal, assigning all of the Caribbean to Spain; by 1504 Columbus had made a total of four voyages, naming and claiming most all of the major islands.

However, Carib and Spanish dominance were temporary. From the 16th into the 19th centuries, the Caribbean islands were fought over by, and changed hands among, the Dutch. Danes, Swedes, English, French, Irish, and Spanish. An estimated two to five million Africans were imported as slaves to work the vast sugar plantations, making possible the Triangular Trade. On the first leg of the triangle, ships carrying cloth, whisky, and cheap manufactured goods voyaged from northern Europe and the northeastern U.S. to the west coast of Africa. There, these goods were exchanged for slaves who had been collected for Portuguese and Dutch traders. On the second leg, shiploads of slaves were brought to the Caribbean for sale to the plantation owners. To close the triangle, ships would return to Europe and the Yankee states with loads of sugar, rum and other tropical products.

Although this system built great fortunes for some and an adequate living for many more, an abhorrence for human slavery was also gradually developing. The human cost eventually outweighed the economic benefits and between 1838 and 1886, European countries and the U.S. abolished slavery. Plantation owners partially replaced their black workforce with indentured laborers from India, and some from China. Over the next 100 years, European dominance was eclipsed by three trends: the growth of U.S. power in the region, population movement and communication among the islands as a result of the two world wars, and a compelling desire for independence by those on many islands, from the largest to the very small. Today each island has its own unique mix of skin colors and cultures from Europe, India, China and Africa. Sometimes the ethnic roots of a building type or a particular meal are clearly West African, or Dutch, or French; but often, they have blended to become --Caribbean.

Geographic complexity and confusion

Spatially, the Caribbean consists of three groupings: the islands --tips of submerged mountains -- that stretch from Florida to the coast of Venezuela; three nations on the South American mainland south of Venezuela: Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname; and the Central American country of Belize. All share a common history of European colonization, plantation-based economy, slavery, and an Afro-European heritage.

Geographic misunderstanding has led to a confusion of names for the 7000-odd islands and reefs of the region. For example, Columbus believed that he had reached India, naming the people he met Indians. That he had in fact found new continents was soon realized, but the name stuck and spread eventually to include all of the pre-European inhabitants of North, Central, and South America. Geographically the damage was ameliorated by amending the region's name to the West Indies, when the Caribbees, or Caribbean -- land of the Caribs -- wouldn't suffice. The ramifications of this mistake intensified with the 19th century arrival of indentured workers from India, who became known as East Indians, to differentiate them from the locals.

The complexity does not end there, of course. Some of Columbus' contemporaries believed that he had found a legendary island, Antillia, and so the area also came to be known as the Antilles. The Greater Antilles are the larger islands; the Lesser Antilles are the smaller ones. The Lesser Antilles are further subdivided, according to the requirements of sailing and politics, into the Leeward and Windward Islands. Windward means the direction from which the wind is coming; leeward is the direction toward which it is blowing. The trade winds blow across the islands from an easterly direction. So it was that the northern British-held islands became the Leewards because they lay to leeward of Barbados; and the southern arc of islands became the Windwards because they lay to windward of the Spanish-held mainland. A third group, those islands just off the South American mainland, makes up the rest of the Lesser Antilles.

TABLE 1 Gross Domestic Product Per Capita and Urban Development in the Caribbean (Caribbean Members of the British Commonwealth)

Legend for Table:
A - Gross Domestic Product
    per Capita $US 1991[*]
B - Percentage of
    Total Population Urban
C - Percentage Growth of Urban
    Population per annum
    1990-95 (estimated)[**]
Country                             A         B        C
Anguilla                          6,778        --      --
Antigua/Barbuda                   6,591      30.8    2.90
Bahamas                              --      57.5    2.14
Barbados                          6,572      42.2    2.12
British Virgin Islands           10,479        --      --
Cayman Islands                   28,270    100.00    1.27
Dominica                          2,491        --      --
Grenada                           2,319        --      --
Jamaica                           1,442      49.4    2.55
Montserrat                        5,387      11.5    3.34
St. Kitts and Nevis               3,974      45.0    2.81
St. Lucia                         2,730      43.8    2.67
St. Vincent and the Grenadines    2,630      18.4    3.90
Trinidad and Tobago               4,266      63.9    2.56
Turks and Caicos                  5,975      48.2    2.53
Guyana                              454      32.2    3.24
Sources: [*] Caribbean Development Bank, 1992;
[**] United Nations, 1990.

TABLE 2 Average Wage Rates in Selected Countries, Including Caribbean States

                                  Average Wage Rate
Country                           in US$ Per Hour
Antigua and Barbuda                    1.25
Barbados                          1.20-2.50
China                                  0.13
Costa Rica                             1.20
Dominica                               0.70
Dominican Republic                     0.50
Grenada                                0.73
Hong Kong                              0.80
Malaysia                               0.50
Montserrat                             1.00
St. Kitts and Nevis                    1.00
St. Lucia                              0.75
St. Vincent and the Grenadines         0.93
Sri Lanka                              0.20
Thailand                               0.30
Source: Wen, Y-K and J. Sengupta. 1991 (eds). Increasing the
International Competitiveness of Exports from Caribbean
Countries. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.


Name                               Population in 1996
Anguilla                                    8,000
Antigua and Barbuda                       100,000
Bahamas                                   300,000
Barbados                                  300,000
Belize                                    200,000
British Virgin Islands                     12,000
Cayman Islands                             36,000
Cuba                                   11 million
Dominica                                  100,000
Dominican Republic                    8.1 million
Guyane (French Guiana)                     73,000
Grenada                                   100,000
Guadeloupe                                400,000
Guyana                                    700,000
Haiti                                 7.3 million
Jamaica                               2.6 million
Martinique                                400,000
Montserrat                                100,000
Netherlands Antilles                      200,000
Puerto Rico                           3.8 million
St. Kitts and Nevis                        40,000
St. Lucia                                 100,000
St. Vincent and Grenadines                100,000
Trinidad and Tobago                   1.3 million
Turks and Caicos                           17,000
U.S. Virgin Islands                       108,000
Name                           Political Status
Anguilla                       U.K. dependency
Antigua and Barbuda            Independent of U.K. in 1981
Bahamas                        Independent of U.K. in 1973
Barbados                       independent of U.K. in 1966
Belize                         Independent of U.K. in 1981
British Virgin Islands         U.K. dependency
Cayman Islands                 U.K. dependency
Cuba                           Independent of U.S. in 1902
Dominica                       Independent of U.K. in 1978
Dominican Republic             Independent of Spain in 1844
Guyane (French Guiana)         French dependency
Grenada                        Independent of U.K. in 1974
Guadeloupe                     French region
Guyana                         Independent of U.K. in 1966
Haiti                          Independent of France in 1804
Jamaica                        Independent of U.K. in 1962
Martinique                     French region
Montserrat                     U.K. dependency
Netherlands Antilles           (Aruba - independent; Bonaire,
                               Curacao; Saba, St. Maarten,
                               St. Eustatius - Netherlands
                               self-governing integral units)
Puerto Rico                    U.S. citizens 1917;
                               U.S. Commonwealth 1952
St. Kitts and Nevis            Independent of U.K. in 1983
St. Lucia                      Independent of U.K. in 1979
St. Vincent and Grenadines     Independent of U.K. in 1979
Trinidad and Tobago            Independent of U.K. in 1962
Turks and Caicos               U.K. dependency
U.S. Virgin Islands            U.S. territory 1917; U.S.
                               citizens 1927
Population data: 1996 World Population Data Sheet. Population
Reference Bureau, Washington D.C.

PHOTO (COLOR): Youths playing beach cricket.

PHOTO (COLOR): Beach houses at Byera, St. Vincent.

PHOTO (COLOR): Agricultural workers take shade, Barbados.

PHOTO (COLOR): Pepsi-house.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): The highstreet KFC.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Beach dwelling, Georgetown, St. Vincent.

References and additional reading

Clark, E. 1976. My Mother Who Fathered Me: A Study of the Family in Selected Communities in Jamaica. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall.

Lowenthal, D. 1972. West Indian Societies. London: Oxford University Press.

McAfee, K. 1991. Storm Signals: Structural Adjustment and Development Alternatives in the Caribbean. London: Zed Books.

Potter, R. B. 1989 (ed). Urbanization, Planning and Development in the Caribbean. London and New York: Mansell Publishers.

Potter, R. B. and D. Conway. 1997 (eds). Self-Help Housing, the Poor, and the State in the Caribbean. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, and Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago: The University Press of the West Indies.

Thomas, C. Y. 1988. The Poor and the Powerless: Economic Policy and Change in the Caribbean. London: Latin American Bureau.


By Robert B. Potter and Sally Lloyd-Evans