The Caribbean can be defined in several different ways. What is commonly referred to as the Caribbean Basin is a multicultural group of twenty-six states (thirteen insular and thirteen littoral) plus assorted territories. It can also be defined in terms of its cultural-linguistic subgroups, including Spanish-speaking Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and U.S.-controlled Puerto Rico; an expanding English-speaking bloc of ten insular and two littoral states plus five insular territories; a French-speaking bloc made up of Haiti, the French departments of Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana, plus half of the island of Saint Martin; a Dutch-speaking section comprising independent Suriname on the South American littoral, Aruba, and the Netherlands Antilles (including Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Saint Eustatius, and the remaining half of Saint Martin, known as Sint Maarten). The last definition, and the focus of this essay, is that of the multicultural insular Caribbean that includes the Greater and Lesser Antilles (along with other scattered islands and the French, Dutch, and British littoral territories that have been historically grouped with their island counterparts).
The Greater Antilles is composed of Cuba; Hispaniola, which is divided between the Dominican Republic and Haiti; the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; and Jamaica. The Lesser Antilles arcs southward from the Bahamas toward Trinidad and includes the Leeward and Windward island groupings that together form a majority of the states and colonies of the Commonwealth Caribbean, the U.S. Virgin Islands, plus French and Dutch possessions. Most have common features. In addition to their European colonization and the general replacement of eradicated native Arawaks and Caribs by African slaves and a much lesser number of indentured workers from Asia and Europe, they share small size, restricted resources, and, in general, irregularly performing economies that remain highly dependent on metropolitan markets and goods. Except for Cuba, all adopted elected governments by 1995.
Haiti, although culturally rich, remains the most economically disadvantaged state in the Americas and one of the poorest globally. The Dominican Republic, which since the 1970s has been a democratic success story, frequently suffers strikes and food riots and faces additional controversy resulting from the sentencing of its president, Salvador Jorge Blanco (1982–1986) for corruption in office. Along with Haiti and most of the larger Commonwealth Caribbean states, the Dominican Republic has severe economic problems, including restructuring imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Cuba, which is not eligible for IMF or World Bank assistance—or its conditionalities—also faces severe economic dislocations in the face of major cutbacks in economic and political assistance from Russia and Eastern Europe as well as rising frustration with the slowness of democratization in this Communist bastion. In the Commonwealth Caribbean, only Belize and a few of the smaller islands, especially the Commonwealth Dependencies most oriented to offshore banking (the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands), have escaped the economic downturn of the 1990s. Cases of corruption and drug trafficking have followed the economic adversities in much of the region, requiring increased vigilance from all area governments.
Considerable regional change may accompany the Commonwealth Caribbean countries and Suriname, all of which are small and weak. Most have relatively open societies with memories of earlier good times promoting a sense of relative deprivation that is increased in intensity by the reality of popular demonstrations or coup attempts in several during the 1980s and 1990s. The authoritarian governments of Cuba and Haiti, the two exceptions to open societies in the insular Caribbean, are besieged with even greater anxieties as Cuba faces a probable revolution-altering economic and political crisis, and Haiti must cope with post-1994 intervention changes that included the restoration of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and another attempt at electoral democracy.
Greater emphasis on regionalism must be part of the answer in the post-cold war era, in view of the fact that both Russia and the United States appear preoccupied with internal domestic problems and higher-priority concerns in eastern Europe and Asia. Regional solutions in the Caribbean include a deepening and widening of the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM); possible confederation of the Windward Islands (whose members in the early 2000s hold individual memberships in both the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States [OECS] and CARICOM); and expansion of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) as outlined at the end of 1994 by President Bill Clinton; plus a possible enhancement of trade and economic assistance by regional intermediate powers such as Canada, Venezuela, Colombia, and Mexico, the latter following resolution of its own domestic troubles.
CARICOM membership, now restricted to the Commonwealth Caribbean, has been sought by Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Suriname, Haiti, and Cuba. The potential for such expansion is strengthened by increased democratization in Haiti and Suriname, and eventually, it would appear, in Cuba, a status that will enhance the desirability of their membership. The deepening of integrative ties in the Windward Islands (Grenada, Saint Lucia, Dominica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) has been impaired, ironically, by electoral democracy, since each time a plebiscite is planned one or another of the nations is facing a national election. The Leeward Islands have temporarily opted out of increased integration as the result of growth in their economies, especially in Antigua-Barbuda. The interests of the United States and the intermediate powers would be served by their attention to the integration processes in the Windward Islands and in the region in general. Finally, expansion of NAFTA is also possible, although fraught with perceived difficulties for local manufacturing and overall industrialization by Jamaica and other regional entities. Nevertheless, in 2005 the Dominican Republic joined Central American countries in signing a free trade pact with the United States.
Latin America and Caribbean Contemporary Record is an annual reference work (from 1983). Caribbean Insight is a current and accurate updated volume on the multicultural insular Caribbean. See also Charles Ameringer, Political Parties of the Americas, 1980s to 1990s (1992) and Robert J. Alexander, ed., Biographical Dictionary of Latin American and Caribbean Political Leaders (1988). Franklin Knight, The Caribbean (1978, rev. ed. 1990), is one of the best one-volume histories. Gordon K. Lewis, The Growth of the Modern West Indies (1968) and Main Currents in Caribbean Thought (1983), remain near classics. Carl Stone, Power in the Caribbean Basin (1986), is an excellent cross-cultural comparison of political economies. Howard Wiarda, The Dominican Republic: Nation in Transition (1969), and Wiarda and Michael J. Kryzanek, The Dominican Republic: A Caribbean Crucible (1992), are among the better works on that troubled country. Jorge I. Domínguez, Cuba: Order and Revolution (1978), though dated, remains a front-running assessment of this Marxist regime. Andres Serbin, "The CARICOM States and the Group of Three," in Journal of Interamerican and World Affairs 33, no. 2 (1991): 53-89, is of high value.
Buscaglia-Salgado, José F. Undoing Empire: Race and Nation in the Mulatto Caribbean. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
Grafenstein, Johanna von, and Laura Muñoz Mata. El Caribe región, frontera y relaciones internacionales. México, D.F.: Instituto Mora, 2000.
Heuman, Gad J. The Caribbean. London: Hodder Arnold, 2006.
Rodríguez Juliá, Edgardo. Caribeños. San Juan, P.R.: Editorial del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 2002.
W. Marvin Will