12 Import/Export

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When we think of importing and exporting we think about the movement of goods. The logistics behind how all of the “made in China” goods make it into our hands and homes; for example.

When it comes to the Caribbean, more than just the culture, food, music, religions, and lifestyles leave; the people do so as well. However, while the “natives” leave looking for work and better opportunities, “foreigners” come looking for a break from the “real world” and a kiss from the Caribbean sun. Around the 1970s and 80s, however, drugs and guns began making the same circuits.

“Snorting Cocaine” by Daniel Foster, licensed under a creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

The Caribbean Outlaws Life

Politics and corruption are intrinsically woven into the fabric of the Caribbean islands and this makes them the perfect place for criminals to operate. If you remember our previous lessons, one need only look to Tortuga, just off the shore of Haiti, and its longstanding relationship to piracy. The high seas were the territories of smugglers long before the arrival of Columbus and his ilk. Seemingly legal ships and shipping companies could have a second income stream; at times the owners were left unawares although this was rare.

“USS Pinckney Takes Down Drug Vessel, Seizes 70 Bales of Cocaine” Credit: U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command / U.S. 4th Fleet. Copyright: Public Domain.

The much hated United Fruit corporation would be scrutinized by the US and Britain because some of their shipping crews were believed to be a part of the trafficking rings. The 1900s could be referred to as the age of drugs, yet, this was never more the case than with the arrival of Columbian cocaine to the underworld. Soon kilos of the stuff would be moved to the industries biggest distributor and consumer base… the US. However, we must note that wherever there were drugs there came violence and as the kilos moved so did the bodies begin to drop.

“Peter Tosh Legalize It Eec with BUNNY WAILER, RITA MARLEY EEC” by vinylmeister, licenced under a creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic licence.

Cocaine & Marijuana

As Columbia became the greatest exporter of cocaine, Jamaica became the birthplace of Marijuana. In a country embroiled in never ending cycles of poverty, corruption, and repression by authorities, the easily grown herb provided an income stream for those struggling to make ends meet. Not to mention its use by Rastafarian practitioners.

As a matter of fact, marijuana would become another excuse used by authorities to attack the hated “dreads”. Its importance to the Rastafari and later to the people, soon lends itself to music. The people’s struggle to legitimize the enterprise led to its immortalization in the hit single, of Peter Tosh, “Legalize It”; released in 1976. Despite its domestic and international popularity the drug of choice in the underworld remains cocaine.

“It Doesn’t Make the War on Drugs a Good Idea” by Occupy* Posters, licenced under a creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.


Produced in Colombia and other Latin American countries; it is then processed and shipped by Mexican cartels. This in turn causes bodies to pile up on the US-Mexican border. Although it is still moved throughout the Caribbean, along with other drugs, making countries such as Honduras and Guatemala murder central.

As in these countries, Jamaican communities are governed by the drug lords rather than political officials. Those officials often being in the pocket or puppet of the drug lords. Though they conduct illegal dealings and have gun fights in broad daylight, the people of these communities often protect and love the drug lords. These charismatic drug lords are often the ones feeding the single parent families or giving presents to children around the holidays whereas the government does nothing but line their pockets as they starve.

The US has become notorious for its “war on drugs”, yet, drugs make up $3 billion of the economies of the Caribbean islands. Little can be done to win said war as drugs lead to corruption and money laundering, and the Caribbean is home to protective backing practices in the Cayman islands for example. The Caribbean is a criminal’s safe haven.

Its All About The Benjamins

The Caribbean came out of colonialism and into various forms of “independence” with decimated political and economic circumstances. Islands such as the Bahamas, the Caymans, Barbados, Antigua, Nevis, and Dominica found ways to fill that gap as the Genoese did in the time of Columbus; they became the financiers. The Bahamas, in 1963, was the first to do so by accepting an IMF loan on the condition that they make themselves desirable to resort builders and banks while turning away from agronomic endeavors. In so doing, they became the new home for those fleeing more stringent US and European transparency and tax laws. The Bahamas were soon out paced by the Caymans, who are now 6th in the banking world, who holds nearly $1.6 trillion in reported assets and is home to 92,000 corporations while only having a population of 56,000.

These numbers may have you believe the islands are more than financially stable, yet, in reality nothing could be further from the truth. The very tax laws that attract the banks and the trillion dollars worth of assets, is the very laws that mean that none of those funds goes to the country but rather cycles back into foreign hands. These situations have many reconsidering their lax tax laws, while also opening up to offshore  online gambling.

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Buy a Passport?!

Another income stream these islands have come up with is the selling of citizenship. Such a thing can be seen in St. Kitts, which openly advertises the selling of its passports in exchange for the purchase of island property for $400,000 or more. Dominica also sells passports for a small $100,000 fee. Those who often take advantage of this are fleeing from war torn areas of the Middle-East.

“WTC smoking on 9-11” by Michael Foran, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Yet, not all of those buying these passport do so with the hope of a better life. In the case of Grenada , who also practiced the selling of citizenship, its passports were used by those who hijacked planes and brought down the Twin Towers in 2001; leading to them canceling the program of a passport for $40,000. The Grenada program was reinstated and with stricter vetting process once can now buy a passport for $150,000.

In the wake of the 2001 attacks on the US many countries, including the US, fear that there could be a repeat attack.

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From Sugar to Tourism

The popularity and luxurious nature of sugar has waned and those who once thrived on its production, have turned to tourism to compensate. Some islands, such as Trinidad and St. Kitts, have shut down their government subsidized refineries. Others, such as Jamaica, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the DR continue to this day. Yet, for all of these islands, tourism is now the main money maker. Exported from the Caribbean, in addition to sugar, is coffee, however, in this market the competitiveness is fierce. Also exported is island produced rum, although US rum distilleries receive subsidies which often hurts the smaller distilleries. The major rum distillers of the Caribbean are in the US Virgins Islands and Puerto Rico with their Bacardi. How long this will remain the status quo is, however, up for grabs as CARICOM continuously contests the blatant violation of fair trade.

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Destruction of the Domestic

As with the ending of World War II, the US not only involved itself in the transitioning to independence, the establishment of democracy, and destruction of communist regimes in the Caribbean, but they also ensured the destruction of domestically produced food crops. In an effort to unload surplus food crops, diabetes inducing soft drinks and processed foods, the US ensured the islands dropped tariffs on the US imported goods. Even the fishing industry was overthrown by large fishing companies and environmental destruction; which has harmed the schools of fish.

Food, Drugs… or People?

The 3 main imports and exports of the Caribbean are food, drugs, and people. Contrary to popular beliefs and Nativist, immigrants do not steal jobs and destroy the host nations culture, nor are all of them criminals or prostitutes. Many left in the way of US or European destruction and sought a better way of life or a good paying job so they could do good by their families.

These people make up the Caribbean diaspora and they are not well received. Often suffering discrimination, persecution, and threats from unscrupulous people of deportation. They are also the victims of modern day slavery and trafficking; especially if they make the move without any documentation.

In the case of Cuba, however, the US willingly accepted its refugees in the wake of Castro’s defeat of Batista. As long as they could make it ashore, visas should be granted and they would be free to make their new homes in Little Havana, Miami as well as in NY and Washington DC. Some Cuban refugees would also make their way to Spain and other Latin American countries.

In the case of the Francophone islands, jobs were becoming scarce, in the 1980s, in the US and Europe so these islanders would seek work in Brazil.

Round Trip Tickets!

Many in the diaspora return home or are deported there. No matter the direction in which they travel, the Caribbean fingerprint is left behind. In music, literature, art pieces, and in dancing rhythms the US and Europe have a Caribbean flavor to them; from Daddy Yankee and his hit single “Gasolina” to Calypso music to Haitian Voodoo and zombies. Zombies having permeated into the film industry as well as the October 31st holiday of Halloween. This acculturation and permeation indicate the understanding and uniqueness of Caribbean culture. Validating Franz Fanon when he argued that Caribbean history had to be studied.

Language is another way in which cultures have mixed. The Spanish spoken in Latin America and the Caribbean are different from that of Spain, as they are a mix of the Africans and indigenous languages with that of the colonial Spanish. The same applying to Haiti, for example, who combined the native, African and French languages into Haitian Kreyol (French version: Haitian Creole). In the Dutch colonies, Papiamento is the spoken language, a mixture of Dutch, English, Portuguese, and Spanish, that denotes the colonial pasts of these islands.

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Another aspect of Caribbean life that has been acculturated is Carnival. Aligning with different religious calendars, agricultural calendar, or no calendars at all… Carnival season is the highlight of Caribbean life. Some spend the entire year readying their costumes and dance for the big day. Although the contemporary take on the festive event is rather inebriating as well as colorful. Rather than a celebration of a good harvest or as a release from the hardships of slavery, Carnival is a tourist and local attraction. It is also an event where getting drunk is expected, being practically naked is a must, and the more outlandish the costume the better.

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Musicians also prepare for the event, in hopes of landing the title of being a carnival hit to be played and replayed on the radio stations until the next year. The once prohibited drums are brought out and banged until one can not help but sway to the beat. Foreigners have taken to holding similar, albite chaste carnivals, such as Dubai who held a “Caribbean Carnival” in 2012.

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Another all important export and import is sports. From West Indian Cricket to Dominican baseball to Haitian passion for futbol, the Caribbean has participated in the Olympics and won several medals. There are big names such as Sammy Sosa or Usain Bolt, who have helped to put Caribbean sportsman on the map and made the region a home away from home for those wishing to recruit in the off season.

Yet, sports, culture, and people aside, the Caribbean’s biggest money maker and notoriety comes from the region’s promotion of being an exotic paradise.

Come to the Caribbean on you next holiday!

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