About the Caribbean

CARIBBEAN. The Caribbean is generally thought to include the Greater and Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, as well as the mainland French Guiana, Guyana (formerly colonial British Guiana), and Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana) in South America, and the Central American nation of Belize (formerly British Honduras). It is a geographic nexus between Old and New Worlds, and as such has been global since its inception as a region. Boasting no distinguishable population of direct pre-Columbian descendants apart from a small Carib community in Dominica, its inhabitants are otherwise composed of a highly diverse ethnic and cultural mix of descendants from the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia.

Spain was the initial colonizer of the entire Caribbean, but contiguous Spanish settlement in the Caribbean was limited largely to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. Still, one should talk of the Caribbean as a region distinct from Latin America. The Spanish Caribbean islands have been shaped by experiences similar to those of their non-Spanish neighbors. While their cultural connections to Latin America are apparent—in language, culture generally, and perhaps in political philosophy—their Caribbean experience of slavery, plantation agriculture, and the rise of peasantries accord more with the Antilles. It is food (sugar in particular, but also coffee, cocoa, citrus, spices, and bananas), and not language that culturally unifies the Caribbean as a region historically.