CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Caribbean

The Caribbean region comprises three main island chains that extend in a roughly crescent shape from the eastern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and south-eastern Florida in the United States to the Venezuelan coast of South America. The Bahama Islands, in the north, form a south-easterly line. The Greater Antilles, comprising the islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico, lie in the centre. To the south-east, arching southwards from Puerto Rico and then westwards along the Venezuelan coast, are the Lesser Antilles, comprising the Leeward Islands and Windward Islands. Barbados, Trinidad, Tobago, and the Netherlands Antilles are often considered part of this third chain. The region has a land area of about 235,700 sq km (91,000 sq mi), and the total population (2000 estimate) is about 37.5 million. Christopher Columbus’s visits to the islands during his voyages to the New World between 1492 and 1502 proved to be the beginning of a long tradition of European intervention in the area. The strategic position of the islands along the profitable trade routes to Peru and Mexico, enhanced by their wealth of harbours and sheltered coves, made them a haven for traders, smugglers, and pirates alike. Many countries in Europe, including England, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, and Portugal, struggled for control over the islands. During the 17th century the Atlantic slave trade, and the sugar cane originally introduced by Columbus, steered the course of the region’s history. The colonial architecture and stone sugar mills characteristic of the islands remain as a legacy of that era. For further history see the entries for the individual islands.

MSN Encarta: Caribbean

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