The Port of San Juan

The Port of San Juan

The economy in the Caribbean region is taking new directions in the new millennium. The economic structure of Antillean countries is based on three fundamental sectors: commercial and subsistence agriculture, cruise ship tourism, and manufacturing using raw materials obtained in the region.

Commercial agriculture on large landholdings is locally called latifundios in some areas. This type of agricultural organization has dominated the economic structure in most of the countries in the region, particularly in the Central American Caribbean. The large areas of mountainous terrain and different altitudes have been used to grow a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers for worldwide export.

There are four geographical zones in the agricultural economy of the region. The Hot Lands consist of low regions (less than 915 meters above sea level) and includes most of the Antilles and the coastal regions of the continents. They are used for planting sugar cane, tropical fruit, raising livestock and poultry. These products dominate in the islands. The agricultural regions between 915 and 1800 meters are called Temperate Lands. This is the region that has historically been dedicated to coffee, corn, vegetables, flowers and livestock that lives at higher altitudes.

The Cold Lands are a region in Latin America between 1800 and 3600 meters in altitude. They are located in the continental areas of the Caribbean and are used for commercial agriculture products such as wheat, barley, apples, pears and livestock that lives at higher altitudes. The highest parts of the Temperate Lands are dedicated to growing grains, potatoes and raising alpacas. This is also the region where most of the subsistence agriculture in the Central American Caribbean takes place today. Ongoing practices of deforestation and burning of forests have impacted this kind of agriculture.

Agricultural diversity is less in the Antilles and in Guyana and Suriname because they do not have the topographical features of the Central American Caribbean or other parts of the South American Caribbean. Commercial agriculture requires large expanses of land and many of the islands do not have the space. For that reason, beach tourism, complemented by cruise ship tourism, has become one of the most important activities in their respective economic structures.

The Caribbean basin has become one of the major centers for cruise ship tourism. The short distance between ports and the consistent climate throughout the year allow the ships to travel by night and dock daily in a different destination. The Antillean routes include stops in French, Dutch, British, and U.S. ports, along with other local nationalities. This trend has led various Antillean governments to make investments in cruise ship infrastructure and areas related to this kind of tourism. The ports of Miami (Florida), Cancun (Mexico), San Juan (Puerto Rico) and Ocho Rios (Jamaica) have become important ports in the cruise ship industry. In Haiti and the Bahamas, many cruise ship companies manage small islands that they have converted into ports for their fleets.

Heavy and light industrialization processes have been uneven in the Caribbean region. Countries with petroleum deposits, such as Mexico, Venezuela and Cuba have experienced different processes from other countries in the region. Today, many sovereign Caribbean countries are trying to establish free trade agreements to attract industrial investments and to expand markets for their products. Among these are NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement), FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) and the Organization of the American States (OAS), all of which are initiatives to consolidate and integrate the Caribbean economies into the rest of the hemisphere.

Author: Carlos Guilbe
Published: December 23, 2011.

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