The history of the Caribbean is one that is rich with the culture or influence of many European influences. The legacy of colonialism contributed to much of the economic issues facing the Caribbean countries today. In order to understand the impact of the colonial legacy, one must first understand that colonialism takes the resources from a particular country, and utilizes it to promote the country that is colonized. In addition, it represents the expansion of a nation's power over countries and the people within the boundaries of that country to aid in the economic control over their labor, resources, and markets. Furthermore, colonization speaks to principles colonizers use to legally endorse this system. Colonization occurs for many reasons, but in the end, the colonizers benefit more from the colonized territory.
The mistreatment of the Caribbean spans to the era of the Spanish colonizers who came in search of gold. This search for gold was not viable, and Christopher Columbus noted that the islands were better suited for the cultivation of sugar instead. Throughout the history of the Caribbean, the present dependence on agriculture as a means of economic gains is a direct result of the colonization by the Europeans. Agriculture changed the financial prospective of the Caribbean region with the introduction of the plantation system. This system served as a continuation of the enslaved system by Columbus where the indigenous Indians worked in the gold mines. The Spanish, Dutch, the English, and the French all their moment in the Caribbean and each policy impacted on the Caribbean. This enslaved mentality led to many Caribbean nations bending to colonization today, as they rely on first world countries to assume control of their finances instead of attempting to branch out a nation united under Caribbean policies and laws.
Today, many countries in the Caribbean still look towards sugar as an export commodity, with the European countries and the North American countries as their source of economic support. Countries like Jamaica; still export sugar for economic benefits and the byproducts of sugar is used to make rum. While the economy in the country is facing a steady decline, and the government has relinquished almost all of its holdings in sugar factories, sugar ports still transfer sugar from the Jamaica across the world. The export system is a direct result of the British occupation in the Caribbean. Much of the sugar that was produced under British control was exported to the United Kingdom. Large ports were built and still remain in effect in these Caribbean islands. However, after during the late 1980s to early 1900s, Jamaica’s sugar production declined as the first world countries found new substitutes for sugar, and the trade began to decline.
With much of the economic stability resting on banana, bauxite and sugar production, the economy faced serious problems, as the pressure now rested on the banana industry and the bauxite industry as the major exports that would earn revenues for the country. The reality is that Jamaica, like many other Caribbean countries were colonized into development the agriculture industry as a means of foreign exchange and exports. It was not until later, that the Caribbean began to channel its energies into promoting tourism as a means of earning revenues. Even so, the influx of tourism arose from the interest of Europe and the United States in the Caribbean as a source of investment.
With the introduction of sugar production in the Caribbean by the Spanish, and the development of sugar production by the British, came the use of African slaves and the concept of hardworking people. Many Caribbean people today have some amount of African heritage, which gives them the strength to work hard, especially in the field of agriculture. In Dominica, St. Vincent, Jamaica, and St. Lucia, bananas formed the foundation of the political economy of these countries. However, the “green gold” started to decline in the 1990s, but not before the countries had gained economic benefits from its exports to Britain and other countries. The increase in banana production continued well into the 1980s, and injected revenue into the growers’ and workers. In fact, banana growth was one of the main economic benefits of colonialism and had a tremendous impact on the economy, as the British and American interest in the Caribbean fostered the trade of the product. St. Vincent was another island that benefitted from the economic growth of banana in the 1980s and 1990s.
Payne (2006), notes that “they contributed substantially to the economic growth that, in turn, underpinned the move to political independence from Britain” in these territories. It also added to the mass migration from the Caribbean to the United Kingdom on banana boats in the 1900s. The mass migration led to brain drain on the country and the inevitable breakdown in the family structures. On the other hand, the process led to the migrants helping to boost the respective territories and their economies with their remittances that they send for family members. Many of these countries today, benefit from the economic investments and the return of the residents.
In the 19th century, Trinidad was also a sugar economy, but in the 20th century it became an oil economy. The impact of the global market on the Caribbean helped to boost the economy as the dawn of the automobile industry and the change from coal to oil in the British Navy led to mass production of oil in Trinidad and a possible boost to the economy. Over the years, the production of oil and the byproducts of oil productions led to an increase in the exporting of the product. Eventually oil dominated the economy of Trinidad and transformed much of population’s social status to an urban one. The production of oil led to other economic benefits on the island as the United States established bases on the island in 1941. With the United States injecting money into Trinidad’s stagnant economy, there was a shift in the relationship with Britain to an emerging and fruitful relationship with America.
Many historians contradict the positive effects of colonialism in the Caribbean. They attribute the third world status of the Caribbean to the fact that after many years of colonial rule, the territories saw little or no profits in their country, since the colonial rulers controlled the production of sugar. As a result, the Caribbean countries had little capital to provide for enhancing their future industries. On the other hand, the European nations were developing quickly and disconnecting themselves industrially and economically as a result of the financial gains from exploiting the Caribbean territories. In contrast, Smith (2000) writes “that economic factors have been of great importance in shaping the growth of” many Caribbean countries and in particular Guiana. In addition, it was European funds and the reality of European markets for tropical goods that started the establishment of this new society on the South American mainland.
In concluding, it is clear that colonialism has had an impact on the growth and development of the Caribbean. The influence on agriculture as a means of economic development has been a factor in the history of the Caribbean for many years. The process started with the introduction of sugar as a mean of boosting the economy and spread to exports in banana, oil, bauxite, and the byproducts of sugarcane. The “colonizers” continue to assist the Caribbean in their quest, even if it is for personal gains. The interest of the global territories in the agricultural produce of the country led to the rise in the tourism industry and a decline in family structures due to the migration of the Caribbean people to find a better source of income. One can say that the legacy of colonialism opens many doors, as the global ties with Europe and the United States continue to provide opportunities for Caribbean people.
A Brief History of Trinidad & Tobago (n.d.a) http://www.tradewinds-co.com/ttpp/history.html
Payne, Anthony, (2006) The End of Green Gold? Comparative Development Options and
Strategies in the Eastern Caribbean Banana- Producing Islands*Studies in Comparative
International Development, Fall 2006, Vol. 41, No. 3, pp. 25-46.
Smith, Raymond T., (2000) British Guiana - Issued under the auspices of the Royal Institute
of International Affairs by OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, LONDON NEW YORK
TORONTO. © Royal Institute of International Affairs and © Oxford University Press
1962, Reprinted 1964. Reprinted in 1980 by Greenwood Press, Connecticut.