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Caribbean - Region facts


The Caribbean, (Spanish: Caribe) or the West Indies, is a group of islands and countries which are in or border the Caribbean Sea which lies on the Caribbean Plate. The countries and islands of the Caribbean are located to the south and east of Mexico and to the north and west of Venezuela, South America. There are at least 7,000 islands, islets, reefs, and cayes in the region. They are organized into 25 territories including sovereign states, overseas departments, and dependencies.
The name "West Indies" originates from Christopher Columbus' idea that he had landed in the Indies (then meaning all of south and east Asia) when he had in fact reached the Americas. The name "Caribbean" is named after the Caribs, one of the dominant Amerindian groups in the region at the time of European contact. The Caribbean consists of the Greater and Lesser Antilles, and is often considered part of North America.
At one time, there was a short-lived country called the Federation of the West Indies composed of the English-speaking Caribbean islands of the region.
The Caribbean area is also famous for its sea pirates. See the article piracy in the Caribbean.
The region known as "Caribbean" is usually restricted to the islands of the Caribbean Sea, although sometimes the continental American coastline is included.


Most islands at some point were, or still are, colonies of European nations:
British West Indies / Anglophone_Caribbean - Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and the Turks and Caicos Islands, Danish West Indies - present-day United States Virgin Islands, Dutch West Indies - present-day Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, French West Indies - Haiti and the French overseas départements of Guadeloupe and Martinique, Spain - Cuba, Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic and Haiti), Puerto Rico
The British West Indies were formerly united by the United Kingdom into a West Indies Federation. The independent countries which were once a part of the B.W.I. still have a unified composite cricket team that successfully competes in test matches and one-day internationals. The West Indian cricket team includes the South American nation of Guyana, the only former British colony on that continent.
In addition, these countries share the University of the West Indies as a regional entity. The university consists of three main campuses in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, a smaller campus in the Bahamas and Resident Tutors in other contributing territories.


The History of the Caribbean reveals the significant role the region played in the colonial struggles of the European powers between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the twentieth century the Caribbean was again important during World War II, in the decolonisation wave in the post-war period, and in the tension between Communist Cuba and the United States (US). Genocide, slavery, immigration and rivalry between world powers have given Caribbean history an impact disproportionate to the size of this small region.
The oldest evidence of humans in the Caribbean is in southern Trinidad at Banwari Trace where 7000-year-old remains have been found. These pre-ceramic sites have been termed Archaic or Ortoiroid. The earliest archaeological evidence of human settlement in Hispaniola dates to about 3600 BCE, but the reliability of these finds is questioned. Consistent dates of 3100 BCE appear in Cuba. The earliest dates in the Lesser Antilles are from 2000 BCE in Antigua. A lack of pre-ceramic sites in the Windward Islands and differences in technology suggest that these Archaic settlers may have Central American origins. Whether an Ortoiroid colonisation of the islands took place is uncertain, but there is little evidence of one.
Between 400 BCE and 200 BCE the first ceramic-using agriculturalists, the Saladoid culture, entered Trinidad from South America. They expanded up the Orinoco River to Trinidad, and then spread rapidly up the islands of the Caribbean. Some time after 250 CE another group, the Barrancoid entered Trinidad. The Barancoid society collapsed along the Orinoco around 650 and another group, the Arauquinoid, expanded into these areas and up the Caribbean chain. Around 1300 a new group, the Mayoid entered Trinidad and remained the dominant culture until Spanish settlement.
At the time of the European discovery of the islands of the Caribbean, three major Amerindian indigenous peoples lived on the islands: the Taino in the Greater Antilles and The Bahamas, the Island Caribs and Galibi in the Lesser Antilles and the Ciboney in western Cuba. Trinidad was inhabited by both Carib speaking and Arawak-speaking groups.
During the first voyage of the explorer Christopher Columbus (mandated by the Spanish crown to conquer) contact was made with the Lucayans in the Bahamas and the Taíno in Cuba and the northern coast of Hispaniola, and a few of the native people were taken back to Spain. Small amounts of gold were found in their personal ornaments and other objects such as masks and belts. The Spanish, who came seeking wealth, enslaved the native population and rapidly drove them to near-extinction. To supplement the Amerindian labour, the Spanish imported African slaves. Although Spain claimed the entire Caribbean, they settled only the larger islands of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica and Trinidad.
Other European powers such as the French, Dutch and British established a presence in the Caribbean after the Spanish Empire declined, partly due to the reduced native population of the area from European diseases.
Francis Drake was an English privateer who attacked many Spanish ships and forts in the Caribbean, including San Juan harbor in 1595. His most celebrated Caribbean exploit was the capture of the Spanish Silver Train at Nombre de Dios in March, 1573.
The British admiral William Penn seized Jamaica in 1655, and it remained under British rule for almost 200 years. The English eventually also held Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua, Montserrat, and Bermuda.
The Caribbean was known for pirates, especially between 1640 and 1680; see piracy in the Caribbean. The term "buccaneer" describes a pirate operating in this region. In 1697 the Spanish ceded the western third of Haiti to France. France also had control of Guadeloupe, Hispaniola and Martinique and Tortuga.
The Dutch took over the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, called the Dutch West Indies, in the 17th century. The Danish ruled first part, then all of the present US Virgin Islands since 1672, selling sovereignty over these Danish West Indies in 1916 to the United States which still administers them.
Haiti, the former French colony of Saint-Domingue on Hispaniola was the first Caribbean nation to gain independence from European powers when in 1791, a slave rebellion of the Black Jacobins led by Toussaint l'Ouverture started the Haitian Revolution establishing Haiti as a free, black republic by 1804. Haiti became the world's oldest black republic, and the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States. The remaining two-thirds of Hispaniola were conquered by Haitian forces in 1821. In 1844, the newly-formed Dominican Republic declared its independence from Haiti.
Some Caribbean nations gained independence from European powers in the nineteenth century. Some smaller states are still colonies of European powers today. Cuba remained a Spanish colony until the Spanish American War.
Between 1958 and 1962 most of the British-controlled Caribbean became the West Indies Federation before it became many separate nations.
During the American Civil War the Bahamas was a centre of trade between the British and the Confederate south, trading cotton for weapons.
Since the Monroe Doctrine, the United States has intervened several times in Caribbean nations, even in the 20th century, such as in the invasion of Grenada in 1983. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, US ships blockaded Cuba so that the Soviet Union would not be able to deploy nuclear missiles there. The US also maintains bases in the region, such as the one in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay.


The politics of the Caribbean are diverse for such a relatively small area. These systems can be related to their colonial history. The major political system is democracy, with many different party systems within many of the countries. Party systems are a variety of political parties combined together.
These systems can be divided into a one party system, multi party systems and two party systems. The one party system can be found in Cuba. It is a revolutionary socialist democracy adopted from communism. Other parties do exist in this environment but are viewed as illegal. Although the word democracy is in the name of the party system, it is by far not democratic. Cuba suggests that democracy is about power and how many have access to it, whereas they believe their system is about how many people have access to basic goods.
Multi-party systems are political parties of three or more groups. Seats are awarded in legislature according to how many votes are received; therefore small parties can win seats. This encourages many small parties to form. Haiti, Suriname and Guyana are all good examples of this practice. Haiti has approximately 28 parties. Suriname contains about 26 parties and Guyana has 15 parties.
Two party systems are found primarily in the Anglophone countries. Although there are some smaller parties found the two main parties have the greatest chance of winning. Many times these two parties can be found alternating running the government. The classic two party systems can be found in Jamaica and Barbados. Jamaica is a classic representation of the British government. It is the only country in the region to have had two parties in the first elections. From 1944 until 1980 there was a perfect record of the parties alternating running the government.
Variations can be found in the two party systems, a one party dominant system. Although there are two parties, one continues to rule. In Trinidad and Tobago, the People's National Movement remained in power from 1956 to 1986. In Antigua, the Antigua Labour Party has remained dominant for the majority of the time since 1951. Grenada’s dominant party was the Grenada United Labour Party in from 1951 until 1979 when it was overthrown in a Marxist coup d'etat led by Maurice Bishop.
Several of the island in the Caribbean remain under the control of colonial powers. The French islands are départements of France and elect representatives to the French National Assembly. The remaining British have elected governments, as do the Dutch West Indies and the American possessions. The Caribbean is a diverse poliical melting pot, mainly influenced by the variety of colonial history.


Caribbean English is a dialect of the English language spoken in the Caribbean. In the Caribbean, there is a great deal of variation in the way English is spoken. Scholars generally agree that although the dialects themselves vary from island to island, like African American Vernacular English, they are largely influenced by a single source- the African continent.
Examples of the English in daily use in the Caribbean include a reduced set of pronouns, typically, me, we, he, she, and they (pronounced "day" or "deh").
A simple statement, "I don't know" could be stated, "I ain' know" in the case of Barbados, "Me na' know" in the case of Jamaica, "Me eh' know" or "I 'eh know" in Trinidad and Tobago or "Me'en know" in the case of the Virgin Islands. Caribbean countries where English is an official language or where English-based Creoles are widespread include:

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