CaribbeanArea2,754,000km2 (1,063,000sqmi)Population43,601,839Population density151.5/km2 (392/sqmi)Ethnic groupsAfro-Caribbean, European, Indo-Caribbean, Latino or Hispanic (Spanish, Portuguese, Mestizo, Mulatto, Pardo, and Zambo), Chinese Caribbean, Jewish, Arab, Javanese, Amerindian, MultiracialReligionsChristianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Rastafarianism, Native American religion, Yoruba, Bah’ Faith, Chinese folk religion (including Taoism and Confucianism), Kebatinan, Afro-American religion, Traditional African religion, and othersDemonymCaribbean, West IndianCountries13 sovereign statesDependencies17 dependent territoriesLanguagesSpanish, English, French, Dutch, French Creoles, English Creoles, Caribbean Hindustani, among othersTime zonesUTC5 to UTC4Internet TLDMultipleCalling codeMultipleLargest citiesList of metropolitan areas in the West IndiesSanto DomingoHavanaPort-au-PrinceSan JuanKingstonSantiago de CubaSantiago de los CaballerosCamageyCap-HatienSpanish TownChaguanasGeorgetownParamariboUN M.49 code029 Caribbean419 Latin America019 Americas001 World
The Caribbean (, locally ) is a region of North America that consists of the Caribbean Sea, its islands (some surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and some bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean) and the surrounding coasts. The region is southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland, east of Central America, and north of South America.
Situated largely on the Caribbean Plate, the region comprises more than 700 islands, islets, reefs and cays. (See the list of Caribbean islands.) These islands generally form island arcs that delineate the eastern and northern edges of the Caribbean Sea. The Caribbean islands, consisting of the Greater Antilles on the north and the Lesser Antilles on the south and east (including the Leeward Antilles), are part of the somewhat larger West Indies grouping, which also includes the Lucayan Archipelago (comprising the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands). The Lucayans and, less commonly, Bermuda, are also sometimes considered Caribbean despite the fact that none of these islands border the Caribbean Sea. In a wider sense, the mainland countries, regions, and territories of Belize, the Caribbean region of Colombia, Cozumel, the Yucatn Peninsula, Margarita Island, the Guyanas (Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Guayana Region in Venezuela, and Amap in Brazil), are often included due to their political and cultural ties with the region.
Geopolitically, the Caribbean islands are usually regarded as a subregion of North America and are organized into 30 territories including sovereign states, overseas departments, and dependencies. From December 15, 1954, to October 10, 2010, there was a country known as the Netherlands Antilles composed of five states, all of which were Dutch dependencies. From January 3, 1958, to May 31, 1962, there was also a short-lived political union called the West Indies Federation composed of ten English-speaking Caribbean territories, all of which were then British dependencies. The West Indies cricket team continues to represent many of those nations.
The region takes its name from that of the Caribs, an ethnic group present in the Lesser Antilles and parts of adjacent South America at the time of the Spanish conquest of America.
The two most prevalent pronunciations of “Caribbean” outside the Caribbean are (karr–BEE-n), with the primary stress on the third syllable, and (k-RIB-ee-n), with the stress on the second. Most authorities of the last century preferred the stress on the third syllable. This is the older of the two pronunciations, but the stressed-second-syllable variant has been established for over 75 years. It has been suggested that speakers of British English prefer (karr–BEE-n) while North American speakers more typically use (k-RIB-ee-n), but major American dictionaries and other sources list the stress on the third syllable as more common in American English too. According to the American version of Oxford Online Dictionaries, the stress on the second syllable is becoming more common in UK English and is increasingly considered “by some” to be more up to date and more “correct”.
The Oxford Online Dictionaries claim that the stress on the second syllable is the most common pronunciation in the Caribbean itself, but according to the Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage, the most common pronunciation in Caribbean English is in fact on the first syllable, (KARR–bee-n).
The word “Caribbean” has multiple uses. Its principal ones are geographical and political. The Caribbean can also be expanded to include territories with strong cultural and historical connections to slavery, European colonisation and the plantation system.
The geography and climate in the Caribbean region varies: Some islands in the region have relatively flat terrain of non-volcanic origin. These islands include Aruba (possessing only minor volcanic features), Curaao, Barbados, Bonaire, the Cayman Islands, Saint Croix, the Bahamas, and Antigua. Others possess rugged towering mountain-ranges like the islands of Saint Martin, Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Dominica, Montserrat, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Saint Thomas, Saint John, Tortola, Grenada, Saint Vincent, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago.
Definitions of the terms Greater Antilles and Lesser Antilles often vary. The Virgin Islands as part of the Puerto Rican bank are sometimes included with the Greater Antilles. The term Lesser Antilles is often used to define an island arc that includes Grenada but excludes Trinidad and Tobago and the Leeward Antilles.
The waters of the Caribbean Sea host large, migratory schools of fish, turtles, and coral reef formations. The Puerto Rico Trench, located on the fringe of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea just to the north of the island of Puerto Rico, is the deepest point in all of the Atlantic Ocean.
The region sits in the line of several major shipping routes with the Panama Canal connecting the western Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean.
The climate of the area is tropical, varying from tropical rainforest in some areas to tropical savanna in others. There are also some locations that are arid climates with considerable drought in some years.
Rainfall varies with elevation, size and water currents (cool upwellings keep the ABC islands arid). Warm, moist trade winds blow consistently from the east, creating both rain forest and semi arid climates across the region. The tropical rainforest climates include lowland areas near the Caribbean Sea from Costa Rica north to Belize, as well as the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, while the more seasonal dry tropical savanna climates are found in Cuba, northern Venezuela, and southern Yucatan, Mexico. Arid climates are found along the extreme southern coast of Venezuela out to the islands including Aruba and Curacao, as well as the northern tip of Yucatan.
While the region generally is sunny much of the year, the wet season from May through November sees more frequent cloud cover (both broken and overcast), while the dry season from December through April is more often clear to mostly sunny. Seasonal rainfall is divided into ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ seasons, with the latter six months of the year being wetter than the first half. The air temperature is hot much of the year, varying from 25 to 33 C (77 F to 90 F) between the wet and dry seasons. Seasonally, monthly mean temperatures vary from only about 5 C (7 F) in the northern most regions, to less than 3 C in the southernmost areas of the Caribbean.
Hurricane season is from June to November, but they occur more frequently in August and September and more common in the northern islands of the Caribbean. Hurricanes that sometimes batter the region usually strike northwards of Grenada and to the west of Barbados. The principal hurricane belt arcs to northwest of the island of Barbados in the Eastern Caribbean. A great example being recent events of Hurricane Irma devastating the island of Saint Martin during the 2017 hurricane season.
Sea surface temperatures change little annually, normally running from 30C (87F) in the warmest months to 26C (76F) in the coolest months.
Aruba: Latitude 12N
Puerto Rico: Latitude 18N
Cuba: at Latitude 22N
All islands at some point were, and a few still are, colonies of European nations; a few are overseas or dependent territories:
The British West Indies were united by the United Kingdom into a West Indies Federation between 1958 and 1962. The independent countries formerly part of the B.W.I. still have a joint cricket team that competes in Test matches, One Day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals. The West Indian cricket team includes the South American nation of Guyana, the only former British colony on the mainland of that continent.
In addition, these countries share the University of the West Indies as a regional entity. The university consists of three main campuses in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, a smaller campus in the Bahamas and Resident Tutors in other contributing territories such as Trinidad.
Islands in and near the Caribbean
Maritime boundaries between the Caribbean (island) nations
The Caribbean islands have one of the most diverse eco systems in the world. The animals, fungi and plants, and have been classified as one of Conservation International’s biodiversity hotspots because of their exceptionally diverse terrestrial and marine ecosystems, ranging from montane cloud forests, to tropical rainforest, to cactus scrublands. The region also contains about 8% (by surface area) of the world’s coral reefs along with extensive seagrass meadows, both of which are frequently found in the shallow marine waters bordering the island and continental coasts of the region.
For the fungi, there is a modern checklist based on nearly 90,000 records derived from specimens in reference collections, published accounts and field observations. That checklist includes more than 11,250 species of fungi recorded from the region. As its authors note, the work is far from exhaustive, and it is likely that the true total number of fungal species already known from the Caribbean is higher. The true total number of fungal species occurring in the Caribbean, including species not yet recorded, is likely far higher given the generally accepted estimate that only about 7% of all fungi worldwide have been discovered. Though the amount of available information is still small, a first effort has been made to estimate the number of fungal species endemic to some Caribbean islands. For Cuba, 2200 species of fungi have been tentatively identified as possible endemics of the island; for Puerto Rico, the number is 789 species; for the Dominican Republic, the number is 699 species; for Trinidad and Tobago, the number is 407 species.
Many of the ecosystems of the Caribbean islands have been devastated by deforestation, pollution, and human encroachment. The arrival of the first humans is correlated with extinction of giant owls and dwarf ground sloths. The hotspot contains dozens of highly threatened animals (ranging from birds, to mammals and reptiles), fungi and plants. Examples of threatened animals include the Puerto Rican amazon, two species of solenodon (giant shrews) in Cuba and the Hispaniola island, and the Cuban crocodile.
The region’s coral reefs, which contain about 70 species of hard corals and between 500700 species of reef-associated fishes have undergone rapid decline in ecosystem integrity in recent years, and are considered particularly vulnerable to global warming and ocean acidification. According to a UNEP report, the Caribbean coral reefs might get extinct in next 20 years due to population explosion along the coast lines, overfishing, the pollution of coastal areas and global warming.
Some Caribbean islands have terrain that Europeans found suitable for cultivation for agriculture. Tobacco was an important early crop during the colonial era, but was eventually overtaken by sugarcane production as the region’s staple crop. Sugar was produced from sugarcane for export to Europe. Cuba and Barbados were historically the largest producers of sugar. The tropical plantation system thus came to dominate Caribbean settlement. Other islands were found to have terrain unsuited for agriculture, for example Dominica, which remains heavily forested. The islands in the southern Lesser Antilles, Aruba, Bonaire and Curaao, are extremely arid, making them unsuitable for agriculture. However, they have salt pans that were exploited by the Dutch. Sea water was pumped into shallow ponds, producing coarse salt when the water evaporated.
The natural environmental diversity of the Caribbean islands has led to recent growth in eco-tourism. This type of tourism is growing on islands lacking sandy beaches and dense human populations.
The Martinique amazon, Amazona martinicana, is an extinct species of parrot in the family Psittacidae.
At the time of European contact, the dominant ethnic groups in the Caribbean included the Tano of the Greater Antilles and northern Lesser Antilles, the Island Caribs of the southern Lesser Antilles, and smaller distinct groups such as the Guanajatabey of western Cuba and the Ciguayo of eastern Hispaniola. The population of the Caribbean is estimated to have been around 750,000 immediately before European contact, although lower and higher figures are given. After contact, social disruption and epidemic diseases such as smallpox and measles (to which they had no natural immunity) led to a decline in the Amerindian population. From 1500 to 1800 the population rose as slaves arrived from West Africa such as the Kongo, Igbo, Akan, Fon and Yoruba as well as military prisoners from Ireland, who were deported during the Cromwellian reign in England. Immigrants from Britain, Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark also arrived, although the mortality rate was high for both groups.
The population is estimated to have reached 2.2 million by 1800. Immigrants from India, China, Indonesia, and other countries arrived in the mid-19th century as indentured servants. After the ending of the Atlantic slave trade, the population increased naturally. The total regional population was estimated at 37.5 million by 2000.
In Haiti and most of the French, Anglophone and Dutch Caribbean, the population is predominantly of African origin; on many islands there are also significant populations of mixed racial origin (including Mulatto-Creole, Dougla, Mestizo, Quadroon, Cholo, Castizo, Criollo, Zambo, Pardo, Asian Latin Americans, Chindian, Cocoa panyols, and Eurasian), as well as populations of European ancestry: Dutch, English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish ancestry. Asians, especially those of Chinese, Indian descent, and Javanese Indonesians, form a significant minority in parts of the region. Indians form a plurality of the population in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Suriname. Most of their ancestors arrived in the 19th century as indentured laborers.
The Spanish-speaking Caribbean populations are primarily of European, African, or racially mixed origins. Puerto Rico has a European majority with a mixture of European-African-Native American (tri-racial), and a large Mulatto (European-West African) and West African minority. Cuba also has a European majority, along with a significant population of African ancestry. The Dominican Republic has the largest mixed-race population, primarily descended from Europeans, West Africans, and Amerindians.
Jamaica has a large African majority, in addition to a significant population of mixed racial background, and has minorities of Chinese, Europeans, Indians, Latinos, Jews, and Arabs. This is a result of years of importation of slaves and indentured laborers, and migration. Most multi-racial Jamaicans refer to themselves as either mixed race or brown. Similar populations can be found in the Caricom states of Belize, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago has a multi-racial cosmopolitan society due to the arrivals of Africans, Indians, Chinese, Arabs, Jews, Spanish, Portuguese, and Europeans along with the Native Amerindians population. This multi-racial mix has created sub-ethnicities that often straddle the boundaries of major ethnicities and include Dougla, Chindian, Mulatto-Creole, Afro-Asians, Eurasian, Cocoa panyols, and Asian Latin Americans
Spanish, English, French, Dutch, Haitian Creole, and Papiamento are the predominant official languages of various countries in the region, although a handful of unique creole languages or dialects can also be found in virtually every Caribbean country. Other languages such as Caribbean Hindustani, Chinese, Indonesian, Amerindian languages, other African languages, other European languages, other Indian languages, and other Indonesian languages can also be found.
Christianity is the predominant religion in the Caribbean (84.7%). Other religious groups in the region are Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Rastafarianism, Buddhism, Chinese folk religion (Taoism and Confucianism), Bah’, Jainism, Sikhism, Zorastrianism, Kebatinan, Traditional African religions, Afro-American religions, Yoruba (Santera, Trinidad Orisha, Palo, Umbanda, Brujera, Hoodoo, Candombl, Quimbanda, Orisha, Xang de Recife, Xang do Nordeste, Comfa, Espiritismo, Santo Daime, Obeah, Candombl, Abaku, Kumina, Winti, Sanse, Cuban Vod, Dominican Vud, Louisiana Voodoo, Haitian Vodou, and Vodun).
Caribbean societies are very different from other Western societies in terms of size, culture, and degree of mobility of their citizens. The current economic and political problems the states face individually are common to all Caribbean states. Regional development has contributed to attempts to subdue current problems and avoid projected problems. From a political and economic perspective, regionalism serves to make Caribbean states active participants in current international affairs through collective coalitions. In 1973, the first political regionalism in the Caribbean Basin was created by advances of the English-speaking Caribbean nations through the institution known as the Caribbean Common Market and Community (CARICOM) which is located in Guyana.
Certain scholars have argued both for and against generalizing the political structures of the Caribbean. On the one hand the Caribbean states are politically diverse, ranging from communist systems such as Cuba toward more capitalist Westminster-style parliamentary systems as in the Commonwealth Caribbean. Other scholars argue that these differences are superficial, and that they tend to undermine commonalities in the various Caribbean states. Contemporary Caribbean systems seem to reflect a “blending of traditional and modern patterns, yielding hybrid systems that exhibit significant structural variations and divergent constitutional traditions yet ultimately appear to function in similar ways.” The political systems of the Caribbean states share similar practices.
The influence of regionalism in the Caribbean is often marginalized. Some scholars believe that regionalism cannot exist in the Caribbean because each small state is unique. On the other hand, scholars also suggest that there are commonalities amongst the Caribbean nations that suggest regionalism exists. “Proximity as well as historical ties among the Caribbean nations has led to cooperation as well as a desire for collective action.” These attempts at regionalization reflect the nations’ desires to compete in the international economic system.
Furthermore, a lack of interest from other major states promoted regionalism in the region. In recent years the Caribbean has suffered from a lack of U.S. interest. “With the end of the Cold War, U.S. security and economic interests have been focused on other areas. As a result there has been a significant reduction in U.S. aid and investment to the Caribbean.” The lack of international support for these small, relatively poor states, helped regionalism prosper.
Following the Cold War another issue of importance in the Caribbean has been the reduced economic growth of some Caribbean States due to the United States and European Union’s allegations of special treatment toward the region by each other.[clarification needed]
The United States under President Bill Clinton launched a challenge in the World Trade Organization against the EU over Europe’s preferential program, known as the Lom Convention, which allowed banana exports from the former colonies of the Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific states (ACP) to enter Europe cheaply. The World Trade Organization sided in the United States’ favour and the beneficial elements of the convention to African, Caribbean and Pacific states has been partially dismantled and replaced by the Cotonou Agreement.
During the US/EU dispute, the United States imposed large tariffs on European Union goods (up to 100%) to pressure Europe to change the agreement with the Caribbean nations in favour of the Cotonou Agreement.
Farmers in the Caribbean have complained of falling profits and rising costs as the Lom Convention weakens. Some farmers have faced increased pressure to turn towards the cultivation of illegal drugs, which has a higher profit margin and fills the sizable demand for these illegal drugs in North America and Europe.
Caribbean nations have also started to more closely cooperate in the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force and other instruments to add oversight of the offshore industry. One of the most important associations that deal with regionalism amongst the nations of the Caribbean Basin has been the Association of Caribbean States (ACS). Proposed by CARICOM in 1992, the ACS soon won the support of the other countries of the region. It was founded in July 1994. The ACS maintains regionalism within the Caribbean on issues unique to the Caribbean Basin. Through coalition building, like the ACS and CARICOM, regionalism has become an undeniable part of the politics and economics of the Caribbean. The successes of region-building initiatives are still debated by scholars, yet regionalism remains prevalent throughout the Caribbean.
The President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez launched an economic group called the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), which several eastern Caribbean islands joined. In 2012, the nation of Haiti, with 9 million people, became the largest CARICOM nation that sought to join the union.
Here are some of the bodies that several islands share in collaboration:
Coordinates: 143132N 754906W / 14.52556N 75.81833W / 14.52556; -75.81833
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