Columbus made his first landing in the Americas in Cuba and, believing it to be the Indies to which he had hoped to find an easier route than the Cape of Good Hope, named the islands the West Indies.
The Carib Indians, the indigenous population of the southern West Indies, also inhabited some of the northern coast of mainland South America. They moved north to take islands from the Arawak Indians and when the Spanish conquered them, they were accused of being cannibals. In 1796 most of them were transported to Roatan Island, off Honduras, by the British in the West Indies.
In the Colonial era, many European plantation owners brought in Africans to work as slaves and it is the mixed race descendants of these two groups that form most of the population of the West Indies today.
Size: 4411 sq miles Popn: 1 960 000
The original inhabitants of this Caribbean island were the Arawak Indians. Christopher Columbus arrived in 1494 and it became a Spanish colony in 1509. After 1655, it came under British control and was granted internal self-government in 1959 and full independence within the Commonwealth in 1962.
The two main political figures of this period were Alexander Bustamante of the Jamaica Labour Party and Norman Manley of the People's National Party. The JLP under Bustamante's successor Hugh Shearer, won the 1962 and 1967 elections but the PNP under Manley's son Michael came to power in those of 1972. He was an advocate of social reform and independence from the industrial world and although unemployment was high, retained power with an increased majority in 1976. By 1980, the economy had deteriorated but he refused to submit to the conditions required by the International Monetary Fund before it would give a loan.
The extremely violent election campaign of 1980 produced a decisive victory for the JLP under Edward Seaga who renewed links with the USA and advocated free enterprise. Links with Cuba were severed in 1981 and in 1983 he called an early election in which the JLP won all 60 seats. The opposition complained that there had not been enough time to nominate candidates and there were violent demonstrations when the new parliament was inaugurated. The PNP promised to continue its opposition outside parliament and in the 1989 elections Manley returned to power, pledging to continue moderate economic policies and improve relations with the USA. He resigned on the grounds of poor health in 1992 and was succeeded by the former finance minister, P.J. Patterson.
Capital: Port of Spain
Size: 1980 sq m Popn: 1040 000
Languages: English Hindi Patois
Columbus visited these islands near the coast of Venezuela in 1498 and Trinidad became a Spanish colony in 1532. It was captured by Britain in 1797 and ceded to her in 1802. Tobago was settled by the Netherlands in the 1630s and was under the occupation of several countries before France ceded it to Britain in 1814. In 1888 they were amalgamated as a British colony.
In 1956, Dr Eric Williams formed their first political party, the People's National Movement, and he became the first chief minister when internal self-government was achieved in 1959. From 1958-61, Trinidad and Tobago was a member of the Federation of the West Indies but withdrew and gained full independence within the Commonwealth in 1962 with Williams as prime minister. He remained after the country became a republic under the new constitution of 1976 with the former governor general, Ellis Clarke as the first president but died in 1981 without naming a successor. Clarke appointed George Chambers and the PNM formally adopted him as leader.
The opposition, a moderate leftwing grouping, was reformed into the National Alliance for Reconstruction led by Arthur Robinson who became prime minister when the PNM was swept from power in the 1986 general election. He was captured and injured in Abu Bakr's 1990 coup attempt but was released when the rebels surrendered, only to lose the 1991 elections to Patrick Manning and the PNM.
Size: 166 sq m Popn: 254 000
The original inhabitants were the Arawak Indians who were wiped out soon after the first Europeans arrived and the island became a British colony in 1627. In 1951, universal adult suffrage was introduced and the first elections were won by the Barbados Labour Party which remained in power after ministerial government came in 1954 with its leader, Grantley Adams as the first prime minister. The Democratic Labour Party broke away in 1955 and when full internal self-government was granted in 1961, it won the general elections under Errol Barrow who became prime minister when full independence was achieved in 1966. He was re-elected in 1971 but in 1976 his rule was ended by the BLP, now led by Adams's son Tom, who also won the 1981 elections but died suddenly in 1985 and was succeeded by former BLP leader, Bernard St John. In 1986, the DLP and Barrow returned to power but he died in 1987 and was succeeded by Erskine Lloyd Sandiford who was re-elected in 1991. The two parties were both committed to the maintenance of free enterprise and alignment with the USA although the DLP established diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1972 and the DLP supported the US invasion of Grenada in 1983.
Capital: Nassau (on New Providence Island)
Size 5386 sq m Popn 168 000
Languages: English, French, Creole
Grand Bahama I, Great Abaco I, Little Abaco I, Eleuthera I, New Providence I, Andros I, Great Exuma I, Cat I, Long I, San Salvador (Watling I, Guanahani), Conception I, Rum Cay, Crooked I, Acklins I, Mayaguana I , Great Inagua I, Little Inagua I
This country to the south-east of Florida is comprised of about 700 islands and 2 400 uninhabited islands and cays but only 22 islands are inhabited. In 1492, they were reached by Columbus who landed at San Salvador. Britain established a permannet settlement in 1656 and in 1670 the Bahamas were given to the Duke of Albemarle as a proprietary colony. They became a refuge for pirates in the early C18th and reverted to the British crown in 1717 but were disputed over with the Carolina colony until 1787. They were captured by Spain in 1782 during the American War of Independence but were given back to Britain a year later.
Internal self-government was achieved in 1964 and the first elections with a full voting register took place in 1967. Equal numbers of seats went to the Progressive Liberal Party, mainly supported by people of African origin, and the European-dominated United Bahamian Party but the PLP leader Lyndon Pindling had support from outside his party and became prime minister. The PLP won outright victories in 1968 and 1972 and Pindling took the country to full independence within the Commonwealth in 1973, gaining an increased majority in the1977 elections. There were allegations that the government was involved in drug trafficking but it was again successful in 1982 although a stronger challenge came from the Free National Movement. Pindling was endorsed as leader in 1984 and won the 1987 election albeit with a reduced majority, but in 1992, the FNM ended his rule, taking 33 of the 49 seats in the assembly, and Hubert Ingraham became prime minister.
Size 289 sq m Popn 74 000
Languages: Patois, English
This is the largest of the Windward Islands and was inhabited by Carib Indians. Columbus first arrived in 1493 and gave the island its name because it was a Sunday. It became a British possession in the C18th and was part of the Leeward Islands federation until 1939. In 1940 it was transferred to the Windward Islands remaining until 1960 when it was given separate status under a legislative council and chief minister Edward le Blanc, leader of the Dominica Labour Party. On his retirement, he was succeeded by Patrick John who became the first prime minister under the new constitution when full independence was granted in 1978. Opposition grew as his became government increasingly authoritarian and in the 1980 elections the Dominica Freedom Party won a convinving victory under Eugenia Charles who became the first female prime minister in the Caribbean. In 1981, John was believed to be involved in an antigovernment plot and a state of emergency was imposed. Although he was acquitted in 1982, he was found guilty on his retrial in 1985 and sentenced to twelve years in prison. There was a regrouping of the left of centre parties to form the Labour Party of Dominica which was the main opposition to Eugenia Charles who was re-elected in 1985 and again, but with a reduced majority, in 1990.
Size: 238 sq m Popn 110 000
Languages: Patois English
The original inhabitants were Carib Indians and Columbus arrived in 1502. The island was settled by France in 1635 and slavery was introduced. It was ceded to Britain in 1803 and became a crown colony in 1814. Until 1960 it was a colony within the Windward Islands federal system and in 1967 was given internal self-government as a West Indies associated state with John Compton, leader of the United Workers' Party, as prime minister. In 1975, the associated states decided to try for independence separately and in February 1979 St Lucia achieved full independence within the Commonwealth with Compton as prime minister.
Later that year, the St Lucia Labour Party and its leader, Alan Louisy, came to power, but he was forced to resign by divisions within the party and the attorney general, Winston Cenac, replaced him. Louisy's deputy, George Odlum, left to form the Progressive Labour Party and there were call for a change of government which led to a general strike. Cenac resigned and the UWP and John Compton had a decisive victory in the 1982 elections but in 1987 only obtained a narrow win over the SLP.
Capital: Kingstown (on St Vincent)
Size: 150 sq m Popn: 95 000
Languages: Patois English
These islands, part of the Windward Islands, were originally inhabited by the Carib Indians and the first European visitor was Columbus in 1498. They were settled by France and Britain with African slave labour to work on the plantations and were ceded to Britain in 1783. Until 1962, they were part of the West Indies Federation and were given internal self government as an associated state in 1969, achieving full independence within the Commonwealth in 1979. Milton Cato, leader of the St Vincent Labour Party, became prime minister but economic deterioration and new industrial relations laws led to a general strike in 1981. Cato remained in office, helped by divisions within the opposition parties but lost the 1984 elections to the New Democratic Party under SVLP leader and former prime minister James Mitchell who also won all the seats in the 1989 elections.
Capital: St George's
Size 133 sq m Popn: 105 000
Languages: Patois English
This, the most southerly of the Windward Islands, was originally inhabited by Carib Indians and the first European arrival was Columbus in 1498. It was coloized by France in 1650 and ceded to Britain in 1783. In 1958, it became part of the Federation of the West Indies which was dissolved in 1962. Internal self-government was granted in 1967 and full independence within the Commonwealth in 1974 with Eric Gairy, leader and founder of the Grenada United Labour Party, as prime minister. He received a knighthood in 1977 but his rule became corrupt and autocratic and in 1979, he was removed by a bloodless coup led by Maurice Bishop of the left-wing New Jewel Movement.
Bishop suspended the 1974 constitution, establishing a People's Revolutionary Government and announcing the formation of a consultative assembly to formulate a new constitution. He believed that the USA was plotting to destabilize his administration although this was denied, and Grenada's relations with the USA and UK grew worse, links with Cuba and the USSR were strengthened. Bishop tried to more conciliatory to the USA during 1983 but left-wing elements resented this and executed him and three of his colleagues in a military coup. A Revolutionary Military Council under General George Hudson took control but there was such an outcry over the executions that he promised to return to civilian rule as soon as possible. Before this could happen, a force made up of US, Jamaican and Barbadian troops invaded in October and the RMC was defeated. All USA troops were withdrawn by July 1985.
In November 1983, the governor general appointed an interim council without political allegiance and the 1974 constitution was revived. The re-emergence of political parties eventually resulted in a centre and left-of-centre coalition to form the New National Party, led by Herbert Blaize whose Grenada National Party had opposed Gairy from the 1950s. In 1984 the NNP won all but one of the 15 seats in the house of representatives and Blaize became prime minister but in January 1989, he lost the NNP leadership to public works minister Keith Mitchell and died later that year. In the 1991 elections, the National Democratic Congress under Nicholas Braithwaite came to power.
Capital: St Johns
Size: 170 sq m Popn 65 000
Languages: English, Creole
These two Leeward Islands were originally inhabited by the Carib Indians and were the first European visitor was Columbus in 1493. He did not land but named Antigua after the church of Santa Maria de la Antigua in Seville and it was first colonized by Britain in 1632. The Codrington family leased Barbuda from Charles II in 1685 to provide stock and provisions for their sugar plantation on Antigua and it was almost entirely populated by black slaves brought from Africa. They gave up the lease in 1870 and Barbuda reverted to the crown in the late C19th. In 1834, the Antiguan slaves were freed but their dependence on the sugar crop market kept them poor.
From 1860 to 1959 the two islands were administered by Britain within the federal system of the Leeward Islands. Antigua and Barbuda became an associated state of the UK and was given full internal independence in 1967 but Britain continued to be responsible for defence and foreign affairs. In 1969, fears that Antigua would sell Barbudan land to foreign developers led to a separatist movement amongst Barbuda's approximately 12 000 people.
In the 1971 general election, Vere Bird, leader of the Antigua Labour Party, was replaced as prime minister by George Walter, leader of the Progressive Labour Movement. In the 1976 elections, the PLM campaigned under the banner of a call for early independence from Britain but the ALP, which wanted to establish a firm economic foundation first, was victorious. In 1978, it declared that the country was ready for independence but constitutional talks were delayed by opposition from Barbuda and it did not gain independence until 1981. The ALP had a policy of non-alignment but provided active assistance to the USA when it invaded Grenada in 1983. In the 1984 general elections it won 16 of the 17 seats and Bird had another sweeping victory in 1989 but in 1990, his government was weakened by allegations that his son, a cabinet minister, was involved in illegal arms deals, and there were calls for his resignation.
Size: 101 sq m Popn: 29 000
These two islands were originally inhabited by Carib Indians and were named Liamuiga and Nevis by Columbus in 1493. St Christopher became Britain's first West Indian colony in 1623, Nevis was settled soon afterwards and France also claimed ownership until 1713. Black African slaves were brought in to work the sugar plantations. From 1871 to 1956, the islands were part of the Leeward Islands Federation and a single colony with the British Virgin Islands until 1960.
In 1967, St Kitts, as it was familiarly known, Nevis and Anguilla gained internal self-government within the Commonwealth as associated states with Robert Bradshaw, leader of the Labour Party, as prime minister. In 1970, the Nevis Reformation Party was formed and called for separation for Nevis and Anguilla chose to return to being a British dependency after disagreements with the government in St Kitts. In 1978, Bradshaw died and was succeeded by Paul Southwell but he died the following year and was replaced by Lee L. Moore. There was a hung assembly after the 1980 general election and although Labour won over 50% of the vote, the NRP formed a coalition government with the People's Action Party whose leader, Dr Kennedy Simmonds, became prime minister. St Christopher and Nevis became independent in 1983 and the PAM/NRP coalition had a decisive victory in the 1984 general election.
Capital: The Valley
Size 35 sq m Popn: 6 000
This island became a British colony in 1650. It was associated with St Christopher and Nevis but in 1969, revolted against what it saw as domination by the larger island and declared itself a republic. Order was restored by British troops and in 1980 Anguilla was returned to being a British dependency at its own request.
Size: 39 sq m Popn: 15 000
Island to the south of St Kitts/Nevis. After a serious volcanic eruption, much of the population was evacuated in the 1990s.
Capital: Grand Turk
Size: 166 sq m Popn: 6 000
Two island groups north of Haiti/Dominican Rep and at the southern end of the Bahamas.
Capital: Roadtown (on Tortola)
Size: 59 sq m Popn: 11000
Anegada, Tortola, Virgin Gorda
Islands between Puerto Rico and the Leeward Islands.
Capital: Georgetown (on Grand Cayman)
Size: 100 sq m Popn: 11 00
Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, Cayman Brac
This island group east of Jamaica was discovered by Columbus in 1503 and acquired by Britain after the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. They became a dependency of Jamaica in 1863 and a separate colony in 1962, although the inhabitants remained British.
Capital: Fort de France
Size: 425 sq m Popn: 425 000
This island between Dominica and Lucia in the Windward Islands, was reached by the Spanish in 1493. It became a French colony in 1635 and a French overseas region in 1972.
Size: 680 sq m Popn: 334 000
Guadeloupe, Desirade, Ile des Saintes, Marie-Galante, St Martin
The Carib Indians, who were the original inhabitants, fought against Spanish domination after Columbus reached this group of Leeward Islands in 1493 but a French colony was established in 1635 and they are now a French overseas d¾ partement.
Size 33 sq m Popn 12 000
Languages: Dutch French English
St Maarten, St Eustathius, Saba are at the northern end of the Leeward Islands chain and are still a Dutch possession.
These islands, part of the Lesser Antilles, are north of the Venezuelan coast and remain Dutch possessions.
Size: 179 sq m Popn: 149
Languages: Dutch, Papiamento, Spanish, English
Size 71 sq m Popn: 61 000
Languages: Dutch, Papiamento, Spanish, English
Size 112 sq m Popn: 8 000
Languages: Dutch, Papiamento, Spanish, English
Capital: Charlotte Amalie
Size: 132 sq m Popn: 63 000
St Thomas, St Croix
These, the southern half of the Virgin Islands, are an Unincorporated US Territory.
Capital: San Juan
Size: 3423 sq m Popn: 2754 000
Languages: Spanish, English
This is the easternmost island of the Greater Antilles, between the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands. It was visited by Columbus in 1493 and annexed by Spain in 1509. After the Spanish-American War of 1898, it was ceded to the USA and in 1952 achieved commonwealth status with local self-government which was confirmed by a 1967 referendum in preference to independence. There is still a movement in favour of independence movement and another which wants to became an American state but the referendum discussed in 1990-1 did not take place and Puerto Rico remains a Commonwealth in association with the US.
Capital Santo Domingo
Size: 14722 sq m Popn: 4325 000
Languages: Spanish English Patois
The modern Dominican Republic, now an Associated State of the British Commonwealth, occupies the eastern two thirds of the island of Hispaniola (Little Spain) on which Columbus made his first landing in 1492 and was originally inhabited by Arawak and Carib Indians. In 1697 it was divided between France and Spain and the Spanish part, Santo Domingo, was ceded to France in 1795 but was retaken by Spain after a revolt in 1808. It was briefly independent in 1821 until occupied by Haiti (which made up the remaining part of Hispaniola) and in 1844 a successful revolt established the Dominican Republic. Until 1878, it was dominated by two military rulers or caudillos, Pedro Santana and Buenaventura B« ez. In 1861, with the country facing bankruptcy and Haiti mounting constant attacks, Santana allowed its annexation by Spain but after growing dissatisfaction, the Spanish were driven out by General Gregorio LuperÙ n.
The dictator Ulisses Heureux was in control from 1882-99, committing the country to heavy borrowing from the USA and leaving it in a state of financial and political collapse. The debt was reduced after the USA established a customs receivership in 1908 but the chaotic politics led it to occupy the Dominican Republic from 1916-24. A president was elected in but was overthrown by the dictator General Rafael Trujillo Molina in 1930. He was assassinated in 1961 and Dr Juan Bosch, leader of the left-wing Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) returned from exile to win the first free elections in 1962. After less than a year, he was overthrown and a three-person military junta took power. Bosch tried to regain power in 1965 but was defeated with US help and in 1966 Trujillo's proteg¾ JoaquÍ n Balaguer, leader of the Christian Social Reform Party (PRSC) became president and was re-elected in 1970 and 1974.
The PRD won the 1978 election under Silvestre Antonio Guzman, who committed suicide before the end of his term due to fraud allegations, leaving an interim president in charge until the new president, Salvador Jorge Blanco, took office when the PRD won the 1982 elections. He tried to maintain good relations with the USA whilst avoiding close contact with Cuba but the economy deteriorated and the harsh austerity measures he had to introduce in order to gain assistance from the International Monetary Fund made the PRD unpopular. The PRSC under Balaguer returned to power in the 1986 elections and managed to win again in 1990 but with a very small majority.
Capital: Port au Prince
Size: 8500 sq m Popn: 5400 000
Languages: Patois French
This country occupies the western half of the island of Hispaniola. Columbus arrived in 1492 and by the end of the C16th, the indigenous Arawak Indians died out as a result of conquest, disease and hard labour under the Spanish. The island became the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo but the west was colonized by the French from the mid C17th and the western third was ceded to France in 1697.
Tensions rose between the black, white and mulatto populations and military intervention by France and Britain was necessary to put down several rebellions, including that of Toussaint Louverture in which slaves took over the island. He abolished slavery but it was reinstated when he was killed by the French. Independence came in 1804 but instability continued and Santo Domingo was repossessed first by Spain and then by Haiti which was ruled by self-proclaimed kings. Haiti and the Dominican Republic became separate states in 1844. During the late C19th, there was increasing economic and political instability in Haiti and several leaders were deposed and murdered. This led to a period of US rule from 1915-34 and there were several coups during the 1950s.
After the last in 1956, Dr Fran¸ ois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier was elected president but his administration degenerated into dictatorship maintained by his private army, the Tontons Macoutes. He made himself president for life in 1964 and when he died in 1971, he was succeeded by his nineteen year old son, Jean-Claude, called 'Baby Doc'. He kept promising to return to democracy but no great changes were made and in the 1984 elections there was no opposition as about 300 government candidates contested the 59 seats. Political parties were legalized in 1985 as long as they followed strict guidelines but only one, the National Progressive Party, registered and it supported Duvalier's policies. In 1986, he was overthrown and exiled in France by a military regime under Lt-Gen Henri Namphy who would not protect the electoral council and US aid was withdrawn.
The elections of 1987 were sabotaged by armed gangs and in February 1988, Leslie Manigat became president with army support. He was deposed by Namphy four months later and another coup made Brig-Gen Prosper Avril leader in September that year. His government was largely civilian but the army was still in control and put down a coup in April 1989 and the USA resumed food aid in August. Opposition to Avril mounted during 1990 and there were calls for acting president Ertha Pascal-Trouillot to resign. She refused, but elections were held and a Catholic priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, won a landslide victory and became president in February 1991, dismissing the entire army command except for General H¾ rard Abraham who had allowed the free elections.. In September 1991, Aristide was overthrown by a military coup led by General Raoul Cedras who appointed Joseph Nerette as interim president and Jean Jacques Honorat as prime minister. This was condemned internationally but Nerette's position was indefinitely extended and Marc Bazin replaced Honorat in June 1992. The USA began to modify its sanctions to try to create employment but the Organization of American States increased its sanctions in May 1992.
Capital: La Habana Marianao (Havana)
Size: 42 800 sq m Popn 10 822 000
The first inhabitants were Arawak Indians and Columbus arrived here in 1492, a few weeks after making his first American landing. In 1511, Cuba became a Spanish colony and after 1523, began to bring slaves from Africa to work the sugar plantations in place of the heavily reduced Indian population with slavery not abolished until 1886. After the Spanish-American War, Cuba was ceded to the USA and the health service, roads and communications were improved. A US-style judicial system was introduced but enthusiasm waned after independence from Spain and a republic was set up in 1901 although the USA retained its naval base and the right to be intervene with Cuba's internal affairs until 1934.
In 1933, the army sergeant Fulgencio Batista, took control. He retired in 1944 but regained power in a bloodless coup in 1952. The young lawyer Fidel Castro, the son of a sugar-planter, tried to overthrow him in 1953 but was exiled, returning for another failed coup attempt in 1956 after which he fled to the hills to form a guerrilla force with companions including Dr Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. In 1959 his 5000-strong force deposed Batista to popular acclaim and replaced the 1940 constitution with a 'Fundamental Law'. Castro became prime minister of a council of ministers assisted by his brother, Raó l and reputedly, Guevara, as second-in-command. In 1960, all US businesses in Cuba were nationalized without compensation and the USA severed all diplomatic links. In 1961, the US sponsored a full-scale invasion by 1500 Cuban exiles which landed at the Bay of Pigs inlet in April but they failed to defeat Castro and 1173 were taken prisoner. In December, Castro proclaimed a communist state based on a Marxist-Leninist economy.
The Organization of American States expelled Cuba in 1962 and initiated a full economic and political blockade leading Castro to closer relations with the USSR which supplied him with missiles with atomic warheads. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the USA and USSR came close to nuclear war but after pressure from the US president, Kennedy, the USSR agreed to dismantle the weapons. From 1965-72 Soviet assistance improved Cuba's economic and social position. In 1976, a socialist constitution was approved by referendum and Castro and his borther were elected president and vice-president and Cuba began to take part in world affairs, becoming involved with African struggles for independence, particularly in Angola. Castro was re-elected in 1981 and offered to discuss foreign policy with the US but his support of Argentina against Britain during the Falklands War drew Cuba closer to other Latin American countries. Tensions with the US grew worse when Cuba supported left-wing rebels against the US-backed government in El Salvador. In 1989-90, the fall of communism in eastern Europe prompted Castro to reaffirm his orthodox communism but the USSR's ending of its policy of supporting Third World revolutions caused Cuba to abandon its foreign military
involvements and in 1991 the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the island was announced.
This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.
Copies may be made for personal use only.
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