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Caribbean - History

The policy of settling upon islands which had been left untouched by the Spaniards in their various expeditions was reasonable; but the actual settlements were due to the initiative of adventurous individuals rather than to any deep-laid scheme on the part of the English Government. Although the first flush of the Elizabethan dawn was no longer in the sky, a glow of romance still hung round colonising efforts. For example, Daniel Gookin in 1631 gravely requests the grant of the island of St Brandon, and the grant is no less gravely made. The Duke of Buckingham himself, when the virtual ruler of England, seems to have contemplated, if his fortunes failed at home, retiring to the West Indies, there to found an independent principality under the aegis of Gustavus Adolphus.

The Bermudas, the Leeward Islands of Antigua, St Kitts, and Nevis, and the island of Barbados were settled between 1609 and 1632. Yet even here the English displayed their economic inferiority to their Dutch rivals. Of all the English West Indian islands Barbados was at the time by far the most important. But the settlement of Barbados was mainly due to Sir William Courteen, a London merchant of Flemish origin, who provided the funds for the expedition sent out in 1625, which took possession of the island in the name of the Earl of Pembroke in 1626. Moreover, Barbados owed its prosperity chiefly to the introduction of the sugar-cane about 1637 by a Dutchman, and to the active trade carried on by Dutch ships.

The West Indies were, for the most part, settled by men who were neither nonconformists in religion, nor in politics adherents of the party opposed to the prerogative. Barbados, according to Clarendon, "was principally inhabited by men who had resorted thither only to be quiet and to be free from the noise and oppressions in England, and without any ill thought towards the King": and yet in these islands, and especially in Barbados, popular assemblies developed no less naturally than in the American colonies.

While in England projects for a West India Company came to nothing, the French "Company for the Islands of America" was incorporated in 1626, and through it Martinique and Guadeloupe were settled in 1635. The first regular settlement of the French in the West Indies was made at St Kitts in 1625, two years later than the arrival of the English under Thomas Warner. The amicable arrangement under which the French and English divided the island, further covenanting to remain at peace though their mother-countries should be at war, well illustrates the political situation. The power of Spain was still too great in the West Indies, and the danger from Caribs too immediate, to allow of hostilities between the intruding Powers. It was not till a later date that the conflict between France and England arose in these parts.

If South America, Central America, and the Caribbean had been geographically isolated, it is at least doubtful whether conditions would not there have been developed which would have changed the map in startling ways. But political developments in the New World have brought the American states into a position in which de facto the interests of none are isolated. In the past this has been due not to cooperation, but to the declared national policy of the most powerful of American nations. The Monroe Doctrine, championed at various times under various forms by the United States, has served as a barrier to the propaganda by which European political control could be further extended in the New World.

By the time of the Great War, counting its colonies and protectorates together, the USA had under its supervision in the Caribbean a population greater than that of the thirteen colonies at the time of the Declaration of Independence. During the last five years the United States had been in active negotiation for the creation of pro tectorates over other territories with a population almost as great.

In sharp contrast to the conditions found in Africa and Asia, then, America has been kept free from the extension of political control by the powerful extracontinental powers. The struggles of the commercial diplomacy of European powers in the New World have not been accompanied by extension of territorial possessions. They have been confined to competition for economic advantage in countries under American flags. The only shifting of political control which has occurred in our day has resulted in the displacement of a European power from American territory already held, in the creation of new independent states, or in the shifting of control of American territory among American states.

Through the Caribbean, the traffic center of the American tropics, passed the trade routes developed by the Panama Canal. Both the competition for the control of the trade which lay within their borders, and the fact that before their ports passed the commerce of distant countries, gave to Caribbean communities an importance in international affairs they had not had since the days when the Spanish empire in America was at its height and the people of one of the great world powers depended for its prosperity on the arrival of the gold ships from its American colonies. The fortunes of the Caribbean were no matter of merely local interest. They involved the world at large and especially the American continents, both North and South.

The minor colonial possessions in the Caribbean region belonged to three powers: France, Holland and Denmark. France, Spain, and Portugal all once possessed great colonial empires in America which they have lost. The latter two have been entirely eliminated by the events of history; the first possesses only a shadow of her former possessions. With the exception of the two small islands, St. Pierre and Miquelon, the land basis of the French fishing fleet off Newfoundland, all that remained of the American colonies of France were found in the West Indian region.

Aves Island – or non-rocky rock, as the case may be – is not the only site of a territorial dispute in the Caribbean. Navassa Island, between Haiti and Jamaica, is occupied by the United States but constitutionally claimed by Haiti. Covering two square miles (5.2 square kilometers), it is a veritable giant compared to Aves. Navassa is currently administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a National Wildlife Refuge. A more complex dispute involves a number of tiny islets and sand bars in the western Caribbean.

An area known as Serranilla Bank is currently controlled by Colombia but claimed by Honduras, Nicaragua, and the United States. Sixty-three miles (110 kilometers) to the east, the sand specks known as Bajo Nuevo Bank are also controlled by Colombia, but are claimed by Jamaica, Nicaragua and the United States.

Nicaragua also claims the vastly larger and well-inhabited – and historically English-speaking – Colombian archipelago of San Andrés and Providencia. In 2007, the International Court of Justice recognized “the full sovereignty of Colombia over the islands of San Andrés [and] Providencia…, but left open the question about the demarcation of the maritime boundary… .”

A number of additional maritime boundaries remain in contention across the Caribbean. On February 24, 2011, for example, the Minister of Tourism and International Transport of St. Kitts and Nevis, “informed the Cabinet that [the country] has overlapping or disputed maritime boundaries with the Netherlands Antilles (St. Eustatius), Venezuela, The French Antilles (St. Barthelemy), Antigua and Barbuda, and Montserrat (effectively, the United Kingdom).” When it comes to sea-space dotted with tiny islands, geopolitical boundaries can be extraordinarily difficult to establish. St. Kitts and Nevis may have an especially hard time demarcating a firm maritime border with “the Netherlands Antilles,” seeing as a geopolitical entity of that name no longer exists.

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