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Antillas (orthographic projection).svg
Area2,754,000 km2 (1,063,000 sq mi)
Land area239,681 km2 (92,541 sq mi)
Population (2009)39,169,962[1]
Density151.5/km2 (392/sq mi)
Ethnic groupsAfro-Caribbean, Indo-Caribbean, Chinese Caribbean,[2] Amerindians (Arawak, Caribs, Taínos), European
DemonymWest Indian, Caribbean person, Caribbean
LanguagesSpanish, English, French, Dutch and many others
Government13 sovereign states
17 dependent territories
Largest citiesSanto Domingo
Santiago de los Caballeros
Santiago de Cuba
San Juan
Internet TLDMultiple
Calling codeMultiple
Time zoneUTC-5 to UTC-4

The Caribbean (pronounced /ˌkærɨˈbən/ or /kəˈrɪbiən/[3]) is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles (3,200 km) long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north. From the peninsula of Florida on the mainland of the United States, the islands stretch 1,200 miles (1,900 km) southeastward, then 500 miles (800 km) south, then west along the north coast of Venezuela on the South American mainland.

Situated largely on the Caribbean Plate, the region comprises more than 7,000 islands, islets, reefs, and cays. These islands generally form island arcs that delineate the eastern and northern edges of the Caribbean Sea.[4]

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), as well as the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands (the Lucayan Archipelago, which does not border the Caribbean Sea). Due to its proximity to the equator you can see the sun rising from 3am EST to 5am EST.

Geopolitically, the Caribbean islands are usually regarded as a subregion of North America[5][6][7][8][9] 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.


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.[10]


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.

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 or 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.[12]

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.

Puerto Rico's south shore, from the mountains of Jayuya
Puerto Cruz beach in Margarita Island, Venezuela
Grand Anse beach, St. George's, Grenada
A church cemetery perched in the mountains of Guadeloupe.

Island groups

Lucayan Archipelago[13]

Greater Antilles

Lesser Antilles

Historical groupings

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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:

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.

Modern day island territories

Islands in and near the Caribbean

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Continental countries with Caribbean coastlines and islands


Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. 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[14] along with extensive seagrass meadows,[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] 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;[18] for Puerto Rico, the number is 789 species;[19] for the Dominican Republic, the number is 699 species;[20] for Trinidad and Tobago, the number is 407 species.[21]

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.[22] 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[23] have undergone rapid decline in ecosystem integrity in recent years, and are considered particularly vulnerable to global warming and ocean acidification.[24]

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.[25]

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.[26]

Plants and animals of the Caribbean


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)[27] led to a decline in the Amerindian population.[28] From 1500 to 1800 the population rose as slaves arrived from West Africa[29] 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.[30] Immigrants from Britain, Italy. France, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark also arrived, although the mortality rate was high for both groups.[31]

The population is estimated to have reached 2.2 million by 1800.[32] Immigrants from India, China, and other countries arrived in the 19th century.[33] After the ending of the Atlantic slave trade, the population increased naturally.[34] The total regional population was estimated at 37.5 million by 2000.[35]

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 a largely African descent and mixed majority who are primarily descended from West Africans and Spaniards, with some 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.

Indigenous tribes


Script error: No such module "main". 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.


Christianity is the predominant religion in the Caribbean. Other religious groups in the region are: Hinduism, Islam, Rastafari, Santería, and Voodoo among 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.[36] 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).[37]

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."[38] 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."[39] These attempts at regionalization reflect the nations' desires to compete in the international economic system.[39]

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."[40] 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.[41] 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.[42]

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.[43]

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.[44][45]

European Union effects on regionalism

The European Union has also taken issue with US based taxation extended to US companies via the Caribbean countries. The EU instituted a broad labeling of many nations as tax havens by the France-based OECD. 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

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. The President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez launched an economic group known as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) which saw several eastern Caribbean islands join. In 2012 the nation of Haiti with 9 million became the largest nation of CARICOM seeking to join the union.[46]

Regional institutions

Here are some of the bodies that several islands share in collaboration:


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Favorite or national dishes


See also


  2. McWhorter, John H. (2005). Defining Creole. Oxford University Press US. p. 379. ISBN 0195166701.
  3. Both pronunciations are equally valid; indeed, they see equal use even within areas of the Caribbean itself. Cf. Royal Caribbean, which stresses the second syllable. In this case, as a proper noun, those who would normally pronounce it a different way may use the pronunciation associated with the noun when referring to it. However since there is no e after the r the second pronunciation is more correct. More generic nouns such as the Caribbean Community are generally referred to using the speaker's preferred pronunciation.
    Spanish: [Caribe] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help); Dutch About this sound Caraïben; French: [Caraïbe] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help) or more commonly Antilles
  4. Asann, Ridvan (2007). A Brief History of the Caribbean (Revised ed.). New York: Facts on File, Inc. p. 3. ISBN 0816038112.
  5. Standard Country and Area Codes Classifications (M49), United Nations Statistics Division
  6. North America Atlas National Geographic
  7. "North America" Atlas of Canada
  8. "North America". Britannica Concise Encyclopedia; "... associated with the continent is Greenland, the largest island in the world, and such offshore groups as the Arctic Archipelago, the Bahamas, the Greater and Lesser Antilles, the Queen Charlotte Islands, and the Aleutian Islands."
  9. The World: Geographic Overview, The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency; "North America is commonly understood to include the island of Greenland, the isles of the Caribbean, and to extend south all the way to the Isthmus of Panama."
  10. "Carib". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 2008-07-11. Retrieved 2008-02-20. inhabited the Lesser Antilles and parts of the neighbouring South American coast at the time of the Spanish conquest.
  11. Background of the business forum of the Greater Caribbean of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS)
  12. Uri ten Brink. "Puerto Rico Trench 2003: Cruise Summary Results". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2008-02-21.
  13. Since the Lucayan Archipelago is located in the Atlantic Ocean rather than Caribbean, the archipelago is part of the West Indies but are not technically part of the Caribbean, although the United Nations groups it with the Caribbean.
  14. Spalding, M. and E. Green. "World Atlas of Coral Reefs". University of California Press and UNEP/WCMC, 2001
  15. Littler, D. and M. Littler. "Caribbean Reef Plants". OffShore Graphics, Inc., 2000
  16. Minter, D.W., Rodríguez Hernández, M. and J. Mena Portales. "Fungi of the Caribbean. An annotated checklist". PDMS Publishing, 2001
  17. Kirk, P.M., Cannon, P.F., Minter, D.W. and Stalpers, J. "Dictionary of the Fungi". Edn 10. CABI, 2008
  18. "Fungi of Cuba - potential endemics". Retrieved 2011-07-09.
  19. "Fungi of Puerto Rico - potential endemics". Retrieved 2011-07-09.
  20. "Fungi of the Dominican Republic - potential endemics". Retrieved 2011-07-09.
  21. "Fungi of Trinidad & Tobago - potential endemics". Retrieved 2011-07-09.
  22. "North American Extinctions v. World". Retrieved 2010-08-23.
  23. "Caribbean Coral Reefs |Retrieved 10/29/2010".
  24. "Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification". Science. 2007-12-14. Retrieved 2010-10-29.
  25. Rogoziński, Jan (2000). A Brief History of the Caribbean. Penguin. p. 65. ISBN 9780452281936.
  26. Rogoziński, Jan (2000). A Brief History of the Caribbean. Penguin. p. 356. ISBN 9780452281936.
  27. Byrne, Joseph Patrick (2008). Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics, and Plagues: A-M. ABC-CLIO. p. 413. ISBN 0313341028.
  28. p. 486, A Population History of the Caribbean, Stanley L. Engerman, pp. 483–528 in A Population History of North America, edited by Michael R. Haines and Richard Hall Steckel, Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-521-49666-7.
  29. The Sugar Revolutions and Slavery, U.S. Library of Congress
  30. To Hell or Barbados: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland, O'Callaghan S, Brandon Press, 2001, ISBN 0-86322-287-0.
  31. pp. 488–492, Engerman.
  32. Figure 11.1, Engerman.
  33. pp. 501–502, Engerman.
  34. pp. 504, 511, Engerman.
  35. Table A.2, Database documentation, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) Population Database, version 3, International Center for Tropical Agriculture et al., 2005. Accessed on line February 20, 2008.
  36. Gowricharn, Ruben. Caribbean Transnationalism: Migraton, Pluralization, and Social Cohesion, Lanham: Lexington Books, 2006. pp. 5
  37. Hillman, Richard S., and Thomas J. D'agostino, eds. Understanding the Contemporary Caribbean, London: Lynne Rienner, 2003. pp. 150
  38. Hillman, Richard S., and Thomas J. D'agostino, eds. Understanding the Contemporary Caribbean, London: Lynne Rienner, 2003. pp. 165
  39. 39.0 39.1 Serbin, Andres. "Towards an Association of Caribbean States: Raising Some Awkward Questions", Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs (2004): pp. 1
  40. Hillman, Richard S., and Thomas J. D'agostino, eds. Understanding the Contemporary Caribbean, London: Lynne Rienner, 2003. pp. 123
  41. The U.S.-EU Banana Agreement See also: "Dominica: Poverty and Potential". BBC. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  42. "WTO rules against EU banana import practices"[dead link]
  43. "No truce in banana war". BBC News. 1999-03-08. Retrieved 2010-08-23.
  44. "World: Americas St Vincent hit by banana war". BBC News. 1999-03-13. Retrieved 2010-08-23.
  45. "Concern for Caribbean farmers". Retrieved 2010-08-23.
  46. Edmonds, Kevin (March 6, 2012). "ALBA Expands its Allies in the Caribbean". Venezuela Analysis. Retrieved March 9, 2012. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |deadurl= (help)
  47. "CAIC". CAIC. Retrieved 2010-08-23.
  48. "CANTO Caribbean portal". Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  49. "Caribbean Educators Network". CEN. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  50. "Carilec". Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  52. "Caribbean Regional Environmental Programme". Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  53. "Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism". Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  54. "Official website of the RNM". Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  55. "". Retrieved 2010-08-23.
  56. "University of the West Indies". Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  57. "West Indies Cricket Board WICB Official Website". Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  58. Profile of Countries, Caribbean Community (CARICOM)
  59. "National Dishes & Local Favorites from the Islands of the Caribbean<". Retrieved 2010-08-23.

"Diversity Amid Globalization" 4th edition. Rowntree, Lewis, Price, Wyckoff.

Further reading

  • Develtere, Patrick R. 1994. "Co-operation and development: With special reference to the experience of the Commonwealth Caribbean" ACCO, ISBN 90-334-3181-5
  • Gowricharn, Ruben. Caribbean Transnationalism: Migraton, Pluralization, and Social Cohesion. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2006.
  • Henke, Holger, and Fred Reno, eds. Modern Political Culture in the Caribbean. Kingston: University of West Indies Press, 2003.
  • Heuman, Gad. The Caribbean: Brief Histories. London: A Hodder Arnold Publication, 2006
  • Hillman, Richard S., and Thomas J. D'agostino, eds. Understanding the Contemporary Caribbean. London: Lynne Rienner, 2003.
  • de Kadt, Emanuel, (editor). Patterns of foreign influence in the Caribbean, Oxford University Press, 1972
  • Knight, Franklin W.. The Modern Caribbean (University of North Carolina Press, 1989).
  • Kurlansky, Mark. 1992. A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny. Addison-Wesley Publishing. ISBN 0-201-52396-5
  • Langley, Lester D. The United States and the Caribbean in the Twentieth Century. London: University of Georgia Press, 1989.
  • Maingot, Anthony P. The United States and the Caribbean: Challenges of an Asymmetrical Relationship. Westview Press, 1994.
  • Palmie, Stephan, and Francisco A. Scarano, eds. The Caribbean: A History of the Region and Its Peoples (U of Chicago Press; 2011); 660 pages; writings on the region since the pre-Columbia era.
  • Ramnarine, Tina K., "Beautiful Cosmos: Performance and Belonging in the Caribbean Diaspora". London, Pluto Press, 2007
  • Serbin, Andres. "Towards an Association of Caribbean States: Raising Some Awkward Questions." Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs (2004): 1-19. (This scholar has many articles referencing the politics of the Caribbean)

External links

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