The English-speaking Caribbean includes 20 countries or non-independent territories where English (or English-based Creole) is the most common language. Among these are two continental Caribbean territories (Belize and Guyana, both independent countries), 12 independent island countries (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines), five British dependent territories (Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, the Turks and Caicos Islands) and a U.S. dependent territory (the U.S. Virgin Islands).

Among this group of territories that were once British colonies are some that achieved their independence during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Between 1962 and 1983, many former British colonies gained independence from the British Empire: Jamaica (1962), Trinidad and Tobago (1962), Barbados (1966), the Bahamas (1973), Grenada (1974), Dominica (1978), St. Lucia (1979), St. Vincent (1979), Antigua and Barbuda (1981), St. Kitts and Nevis(1983), Belize (1981) and Guyana (1966).

The following table summarizes the basic macroeconomic data for the most important independent English-speaking Caribbean countries, both insular and continental:

(in millions of dollars)
Antigua and Barbuda2.911.01,211-.5.2
Bahamas1.614.2 (2009)7,7020.9
Dominica3.3 (2009)25.0 (2002)4600.1
Guyana4.511.0 (2007)2,2263.6
St. Kitts and Nevis3.95.1 (2006)652-5.0
St. Vincent and the Grenadines-0.618.8 (2008)705-1.3
St. Lucia2.020.0 (2003)1,1983.1
Trinidad and Tobago13.45.820,3972.5

Unlike the two continental territories (Guyana and Belize) and the two relatively large islands, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago (the former the smallest of the Greater Antilles, and the latter the largest of the Lesser Antilles), the economies of most of the small islands are currently highly dependent on tourism, which accounts for up to 50 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) and jobs. Income from tourism also represents the largest source of revenue in the Caribbean as a whole, beyond that generated by petroleum, offshore banking, or any other source of income. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, for example, tourism represents more than 70 percent of gross national product (GNP) and provides more than 70 percent of the jobs. In general, tourism represents approximately 30 percent of GNP in the Caribbean region as a whole.

Unlike the small islands, the continental Caribbean and larger islands have natural resources that play a central role in their economies. The English Caribbean island that is richest in natural resources (in fact, the island nation with the most resources in all of the insular Caribbean) is Trinidad and Tobago, thanks to its large petroleum reserves. Petroleum is the largest export from the Caribbean. This part of the Caribbean has considerable economic activity related to production and refining of crude oil. The neighboring countries of Venezuela and Colombia, along with Mexico, are the largest oil-exporting countries in the Caribbean basin, along with Trinidad and Tobago. There are also important refineries scattered throughout the Caribbean region: the Isla refinery in Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles (with a capacity of 320,000 bbl/d), the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery in Trinidad and Tobago (with a capacity of 165,000 bbl/d), and the Cienfuegos refinery in Cuba (with a capacity of 65,000 bbl/d). There are plans for the construction of a refinery on the island of Jamaica (with an expected capacity of 250,000 bbl/d). Metals (iron, nickel and bauxite) are the second largest natural resource export in the Caribbean with the largest deposits found on the islands of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Guyana and Suriname, in the continental Caribbean, also are important exporters of bauxite.

The most important characteristics of the English Caribbean economies are, without question, the numerous initiatives to integrate the economies and create common markets, beginning early in their history, even before they became independent. In fact, the English-speaking Caribbean was the birthplace of the first important efforts to create common economic markets in the insular Caribbeanregion, beginning with the creation of the West Indies Federation (WIF) in 1958. The WIF was dissolved in 1962 and during its brief existence (1958-1962) it paid little attention to economic unification in the region, concentrating instead on political aspects of integration. A new effort at unification (this time, exclusively economic) arose in 1965 with the creation of the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA).

As part of the initiatives adopted under CARIFTA, a common currency was created for the region, the Eastern Caribbean dollar, or EC dollar. In 1965, the EC dollar replaced the old British West Indies dollar, or BWI, that was the currency in the British territories in the Caribbean from 1935 to 1965. Today, the EC dollar is the currency for six independent Caribbean nations. Other nations tied to the British Empire, which used the BWI or pound sterling, introduced their own currencies during the 1960s and 1970s: Trinidad and Tobago in 1964, the Bahamas in 1966, Jamaica in 1969, the Cayman Islands in 1972, Bermuda in 1972 and Barbados in 1973.

In 1973, the heads of state and member territories of CARIFTA decided to broaden the union and they created the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which replaced CARIFTA. Aimed at promoting cooperation in broad areas such as trade, education, sports and culture, the Caribbean Community played a key role in economic integration in the region and joined the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. CARICOM was established by the Treaty of Chaguaramas (which took effect on August 1, 1973) and was originally signed by the leaders of four countries: Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago. Eight other countries joined later. The Bahamas became the thirteenth member state of the CC on July 4, 1983, although it never joined the common market. In July, 1991, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands joined CARICOM, followed by Suriname in 1995, the island of Anguilla in 1999, the Cayman Islands in 2002, and Bermuda in 2003. Haiti joined CARICOM in 2002, becoming the only non-English-speaking country (French) to join the organization. CARICOM currently consists of 15 countries: 13 independent countries among the English-speaking islands, including all of the former British colonies (including Guyana), as well as Suriname and Haiti. Two dependent British territories are “associate members.” CARICOM also has two “observer members”: Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

The most important forest reserves in the region are also found in the CARICOM states, mainly in the continental Caribbean countries. It is estimated, for example, that the CARICOM countries collectively have 32.7 million hectares of forest, most of which is located in Guyana, Suriname and Belize. In fact, Guyana is one of the countries with the highest percentage of forests, with 18 million hectares of forest that represents nearly 95 percent of its national territory.

Another outstanding characteristic of the English Caribbean is the surprising number of economists and economic theorists to come from the region. Historically, the region has had a handful of outstanding economists at the University of the West Indies, particularly at the Mona campus in Jamaica and the St. Augustine campus in Trinidad and Tobago. The list of Caribbean economists from this subregion is extensive and includes intellectuals who studied at the most prestigious universities in Britain, such as the London School of Economics and Oxford University, several who were knighted by the queen of England, and the winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1979, which was given to St. Lucia economist Sir William Arthur Lewis. Among these economists, in addition to Lewis, are Sir Meredith Alister McIntyre (Grenada), Eric Eustace Williams (Trinidad and Tobago), Lloyd Algernon Best (Trinidad and Tobago), Eric St. Cyr (Grenada), William Gilbert Demas (Trinidad and Tobago), Clive Yolande “C.Y.” Thomas (Guyana), Dennis A. Pantin (Trinidad and Tobago), and Havelock R. Brewster (Guyana).

Important theories in contemporary economic thought have emerged from this group of economists, who reflect the main economic issues in the small islands. Most outstanding among them is William Arthur Lewis, who studied Caribbean populations in the Lesser Antilles to develop his “dual sector model,” also known as the “Lewis model,” and won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1979. According to the Lewis model, when a nation experiences a transition from a traditional, archaic, subsistence or pre-capitalist economy to a capitalist or industrial economy the transition is marked by a division between two social sectors, a pre-capitalist sector and a capitalist sector. The pre-capitalist sector becomes an almost unlimited source of labor, which allows the capitalist sector to increase earnings without having to increase workers’ pay. The capitalist sector will continue to add more workers from the pre-capitalist sector until a point is reached where the labor surplus disappears. This inflection point is known as the “Lewisian turning point.”

Another of the great theories developed in the British Lesser Antilles was developed by Lloyd Algernon Best, father of plantation economy theory, which established that the basic structures of the sugar plantation economy during the era of slavery remained unaltered in the contemporary capitalist economies of the Caribbean. The plantation economy theorists also tried to show the continuity and reproduction of the traditional structures of the plantation economy in central economic sectors of contemporary Caribbean economies, such as petroleum, gas, bauxite, bananas, sugar and tourism. Factors such as the fact that natural resources continue to be controlled by foreign investors or that the earnings of these foreign investors are repatriated to their home countries, among others, demonstrate the structural similarities between multinational corporations and the sugar plantations and slaves. In general, the plantation economy theorists (which included Eric St. Cyr) were interested in understanding the legacy of the plantation system in contemporary Caribbean economies.

Among the other important economic theories developed in the Lesser Antilles were those of Eric Eustace Williams on the effects of slavery and about the reasons for abolition, in which he argued that slavery and the slave trade were abolished only when the economic benefits of plantation and slave economies were no longer profitable, thus contradicting the theories that credited the moral, humanitarian or altruistic ideals of the British, and the theories of economists such as William Gilbert Demas, Havelock R. Brewster and Anthony Hughes on the unequal and disadvantageous competition imposed on the smallest and most vulnerable states in the era of globalization.



Author: Luis Galanes
Published: June 06, 2012.

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