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The Caribbean (/ˌkærɨˈbiːən/ or /kəˈrɪbiən/; Spanish: Caribe; Dutch: About this sound Caraïben (help·info); French: Caraïbe or more commonly Antilles) is a region consisting of the Caribbean Sea, its islands (most of which are enclosed by the sea), and the surrounding coasts. The region is located southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and North America, east of Central America, and to the north of South America.
Situated largely on the Caribbean Plate, the region comprises more than 7,000 islands, islets, reefs, and cays. (See the list) These islands generally form island arcs that delineate the eastern and northern edges of the Caribbean Sea. The Caribbean islands are part of the somewhat larger West Indies grouping, which consists of the Greater Antilles on the north, the Lesser Antilles on the south and east (including the Leeward Antilles), the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands (the Lucayan Archipelago, which does not border the Caribbean Sea), as well as countries such as Belize in Central America and Guyana in South America which are historically and culturally part of the British West Indes.
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 January 3, 1958, to May 31, 1962, there was a short-lived country called the Federation of the West Indies composed of ten English-speaking Caribbean territories, all of which were then UK dependencies. The West Indies cricket team continues to represent many of those nations.
Etymology and pronunciation
The region takes its name from that of the Carib, an ethnic group present in the Lesser Antilles and parts of adjacent South America at the time of European contact.
The two most prevalent pronunciations of "Caribbean" are KAIR-ə-BEE-ən, with the primary accent on the third syllable, and kə-RIB-ee-ən, with the accent on the second. Most authorities favor placing the stress on the third syllable. This is the older of the two pronunciations, although the stressed-second-syllable variant has been established for over seventy-five years. It has been suggested that speakers of British English prefer KAIR-ə-BEE-ən while North American speakers more typically use kə-RIB-ee-ən, although not all sources agree. Usage is split within Caribbean English itself.
Map of the Caribbean
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 United Nations geoscheme for the Americas accords the Caribbean as a distinct region within The Americas.
Physiographically, the Caribbean region is mainly a chain of islands surrounding the Caribbean Sea. To the north, the region is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, the Straits of Florida, and the Northern Atlantic Ocean which lies to the East and Northeast. To the south, lies the coastline of the continent of South America
Politically, the "Caribbean" may be centred on socio-economic groupings found in the region. For example the block known as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) contains both the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and the Republic of Suriname found in South America, along with Belize in Central America as full members. Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands which are found in the Atlantic Ocean are associate members of the Caribbean Community, and the same goes for the Commonwealth of the Bahamas which is a full member of the Caribbean Community.
Alternately the organisation known as the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) consists of almost every nation in the surrounding regions which lie on the Caribbean plus El Salvador which lies solely on the Pacific Ocean. According to the ACS, the total population of its member states is some 227 million people.
Geography and climate
The Caribbean plate
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), Barbados, Bonaire, the Cayman Islands, Saint Croix, The Bahamas and Antigua. Others possess rugged towering mountain-ranges like the islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Dominica, Montserrat, Saba, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Saint Thomas, Saint John, Tortola, Grenada, Saint Vincent, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Trinidad & Tobago.
The climate of the area is tropical but rainfall varies with elevation, size and water currents (cool upwellings keep the ABC islands arid). Warm, moist tradewinds blow consistently from the east creating rainforest/semidesert divisions on mountainous islands. Occasional northwesterlies affect the northern islands in the winter. The region enjoys year-round sunshine, divided into 'dry' and 'wet' seasons, with the last six months of the year being wetter than the first half.
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.
Hurricanes, which at times 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.
The region sits in the line of several major shipping routes with the Panama Canal connecting the western Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean.
Main article: History of the Caribbean
Political evolution of Central America and the Caribbean from 1700 to present
The mostly Spanish-controlled Caribbean in the 16th century
All islands at some point were, and a few still are, colonies of European nations; a few are overseas or dependent territories:
British West Indies/Anglophone Caribbean – Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Bay Islands, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Croix (briefly), Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago (from 1797) and the Turks and Caicos Islands
Danish West Indies – present-day United States Virgin Islands
Dutch West Indies – Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Bay Islands (briefly), Saint Croix (briefly), Suriname, Tobago and Virgin Islands
French West Indies – Anguilla (briefly), Antigua and Barbuda (briefly), Dominica, Dominican Republic (briefly), Grenada, Haiti, Montserrat (briefly), Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Eustatius (briefly), Sint Maarten, St. Kitts (briefly), Tobago (briefly), Saint Croix, the current French overseas départements of Martinique and Guadeloupe (including Marie-Galante, La Désirade and Les Saintes), and the current French overseas collectivities of Saint Barthélemy and Saint Martin
Portuguese West Indies – present-day Barbados, known as Os Barbados in the 16th century when the Portuguese claimed the island en route to Brazil. The Portuguese left Barbados abandoned in 1533, nearly a century prior to the British arrival to the island.
Spanish West Indies – Cuba, Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic, Haiti (until 1609 to France)), Puerto Rico, Jamaica (until 1655 to Great Britain), the Cayman Islands (until 1670 to Great Britain) Trinidad (until 1797 to Great Britain) and Bay Islands (until 1643 to Great Britain), coastal islands of Central America (minus Belize), and some Caribbean coastal islands of Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela.
Swedish West Indies – present-day French Saint-Barthélemy, Guadeloupe (briefly) and Tobago (briefly).
Courlander West Indies – Tobago (until 1691)
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 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.
[icon] This section requires expansion. (December 2009)
The Caribbean islands are remarkable for the diversity of their 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 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 island and continental coasts off 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 11250 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 to be far higher, given the generally accepted estimate that only about 7% of all fungi worldwide have so far been discovered. Although the amount of available information is still very 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.
Saona Island, Dominican Republic
The region's coral reefs, which contain about 70 species of hard corals and between 500–700 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.
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 Curaçao, 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.
Plants and animals of the Caribbean
Epiphytes (bromeliads, climbing palms) in the rainforest of Dominica.
A Green and Black Poison frog, Dendrobates auratus
Caesalpinia pulcherrima, Guadeloupe.
Costus speciosus, a marsh plant, Guadeloupe.
A crab in Martinique.
Crescentia cujete, or calabash fruit, Martinique.
Thalassoma bifasciatum (Bluehead Wrasse fish), over Bispira brunnea (Social Feather Duster Worms).
Two stenopus hispidus banded cleaner shrimp on a xestospongia muta barrel sponge.
Cyphoma signatum (Fingerprint Cowry) pair of marine animals, off coastal Haiti.
The Martinique Amazon, Amazona martinicana, was a species of parrot in the Psittacidae family. It is now extinct.
Anastrepha suspensa, a Caribbean fruit fly.
Hemidactylus mabouia, a tropical gecko, Dominica.
A linen market in Dominica in the 1770s
Cuban school children
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 and captured slaves 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, and other countries arrived in the 19th century. After the ending of the Atlantic slave trade, the population increased naturally. The total regional population was estimated at 37.5 million by 2000.
The majority of the Caribbean has populations of mainly Africans in the French Caribbean, Anglophone Caribbean and Dutch Caribbean, there are minorities of mixed-race and European peoples of Dutch, English, French, Italian and Portuguese ancestry. Asians, especially those of Chinese and Indian descent, form a significant minority in the region and also contribute to multiracial communities. All of their ancestors arrived in the 19th century as indentured laborers.
The Spanish-speaking Caribbean have primarily mixed race, African, or European majorities. Puerto Rico has a European majority with a mixture of European-African (mulatto), and a large West African minority. One third of Cuba's (largest Caribbean island) population is of African descent, with a sizable Mulatto (mixed African–European) population, and European majority. The Dominican Republic has mixed majority, primarily descended from West Africans, Spaniards, and Amerindians.
Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago
Larger islands such as Jamaica, have a very large African majority, in addition to a significant mixed race, Chinese, Europeans, Indian, Lebanese, Latin American, and Syrian populations. This is a result of years of importation of slaves and indentured labourers, and migration. Most multi-racial Jamaicans refer to themselves as either mixed race or simply Black. The situation is similar for the Caricom states of Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago has a multi-racial cosmopolitan society due to the arrival of the Africans, Indians, Chinese, Syrians, Lebanese, Native Amerindians and Europeans. This multi-racial mix has created sub-ethnicities that often straddle the boundaries of major ethnicities and include Chindian and Dougla.
Main article: Languages of the Caribbean
Spanish, English, French, Dutch, Haitian Creole and Papiamento are the predominant official languages of various countries in the region, though a handful of unique Creole languages or dialects can also be found from one country to another.
See also: Religion in the Caribbean
Christianity is the predominant religion in the Caribbean. Other religious groups in the region are Hinduism, Islam, Rastafari, Santería, Voodoo and others.
Flag of the Caribbean Common Market and Community (CARICOM)
Insignia of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America
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 which 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 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).
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 not 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]
United States effects on regionalism
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 Lomé 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% on some imports) from the EU in order to pressure Europe to change the agreement with the Caribbean nations in favour of the Cotonou Agreement.
Farmers in the Caribbean have complained of their falling profits and rising costs as the Lomé 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.
European Union effects on regionalism
The European Union has also taken issue with US based taxation extended to US companies via the Caribbean countries.[when?] The United States has not been in favor of shutting off the practice yet, mainly due to the higher costs that would be passed on to US companies via taxation. Caribbean countries have largely countered the allegations by the OECD by signing more bilateral information sharing deals with OECD members, thus reducing the dangerous aspects of secrecy, and they have strengthened their legislation against money laundering and on the conditions under which companies can be based in their nations. The 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 which are 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.
Venezuela's effects on regionalism
[icon] This section requires expansion. (March 2012)