Map of the Caribbean

Map of the Caribbean

The cultural heterogeneity and colonial experiences in the Caribbean have culminated in a complex political geography. In the continental Caribbean, the struggles over the past 200 years have focused on achieving regional political unity, while in the Antillean Caribbean initiatives of self-determination and sovereignty have dominated. Both sub-regions have aspirations of consolidating political structures to facilitate economic development for all their inhabitants.

In the continental Caribbean, the main political problems have arisen in relation to the distribution of national wealth. Although Mexico has been the country where this conflict has been most obvious, it is also present throughout Central America. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua face the same problems. This collection of countries belonged to the same geopolitical unit (Central American Federation) in the 19th century. Like Mexico, the Central American countries consist of many ethnic groups, few of which have access to the resources controlled by an aristocracy that goes back centuries. This dynamic has led to armed conflict and political instability in this sub-region of the Caribbean. The Central America region has thus been caricatured and marginalized.

In the Antillean Caribbean, the political structures on many of the islands are integrated with powers far from the region. Today, nine of the 22 islands have political systems integrated in different ways with European countries or the United States. Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands are dependencies of the United Kingdom, while Aruba and the Dutch Antilles are related to the Netherlands. Guadeloupe and French Guiana remain part of the French republic. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are part of the United States political system. While some islands have access to the European Community, others have direct access to the U.S. market. Others, however, have no access to the large world markets. These variations make efficient political integration of the Antillean arc less possible.

The experiences of Cuba in the Antilles, Nicaragua and Venezuela against structures aligned with the United States — represented by Panama, Colombia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — are examples of the geopolitical complexity of the Caribbean in this millennium.

The United States has long considered the Caribbean part of its sphere of influence. The Monroe Doctrine was the policy adopted by President James Monroe in 1823 to politically position the United States against efforts by the European countries to increase their presence in the Americas. This governmental policy has been fundamental in the geographic politics not only of the Caribbean, but also all of Latin America.

This policy has been used to justify political, economic and military interventions in most of the Caribbean countries during the past 150 years. Some of these actions led to global conflicts, such as the “Missile Crisis” between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in the early 1960s because of the Soviet presence in Cuba. This U.S. perspective was also evident during the 20th century in the official U.S. position against the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, the trade embargo on Cuba, the invasions of the Dominican Republic and Grenada, and its institutional presence in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Recently, it has been reflected in the posture in opposition to the socialist policies in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

On the other hand, many Caribbean countries have developed movements to integrate themselves politically with the United States of America. During the 19th century, there were statehood proposals for Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Guyana and Cuba. The Dominican Republic came close to the same in the 19th century. Today, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are Caribbean sites with local efforts to join the U.S. federation.

Author: Carlos Guilbe
Published: April 11, 2012.

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