11 Island Life

“Cayman Islands” Pixabay License. Free for commercial use. No attribution required. Image by Hans Schwarzkopf from Pixabay
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Apart from Cuba and the Bahamas, the Caribbean Islands sit on the same tectonic plate. The Caribbean plate shifted and caused a 7.0 earthquake to shake Haiti. After going nearly 200 years without major shifting, the plate reduced Haiti to a pile of rubble and dead bodies on January 12th, 2010. The Revolutionary Godfather of the Americas would be forced to endure endless images of the partially destroyed National Palace flashing on TV’s around the world for years to come…

“Haiti Earthquake” by UN Photo/Logan Abassi, licensed under a creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

Haiti: 2010 & the UN 

In the wake of the earthquake, aid from around the world came pouring into the country along with the UN. MINUSTAH, however, would only do more harm to the flailing country as its soldiers brought cholera with them. The accurate death toll of the earthquake is, yet, to be ascertained, however, over 7,000 died due to the cholera outbreak. The deaths taking place among the rubble and surrounded by rotting corpses.  It would take 6 years for the UN to finally admit to any wrongdoing.

Lasting a mere 30 seconds, the quake took lives and left the country in ruins. A state in which the vultures saw a pearlescent opportunity to strike. Camps reminiscent of Hoovervilles, of the Great Depression Era, cropped up overnight as aid began to pour into the devastated “poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.”

“President Martelly and Wyclef” by USAID U.S. Agency for International Development, United States government work.

Haiti: Reconstruction 

Unlike reconstruction following the Civil War, reconstruction in Haiti is far from finished; over a decade later. Many still live in tent cities to this day and Port-au-Prince is inundated with aid agencies and NGOs. A portion of the funds that were promised has yet to be seen and what was received has disappeared. Only about half of the $9.3 billion ever made it into reconstruction coffers. It is a he said-she said game as to who is responsible for the disappearance, however, certain factors point to pop-star and now ex-president of Haiti, Michel Martelly, who went from bankruptcy to owning a million dollar home.

“Jean-Bertrand Aristide” by LLs. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Haiti: 1986-2010

Violence and death ruled supreme in Haiti in the years following Baby Doc’s departure and to this very day. The switching of presidents, either through assassination or coup, along with the changing of constitutions is an everyday thing for the Haitian people. Take for example, the political unrest which was stemmed by the election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide; an excommunicated Salesian priest. Put in power by his Lavalas (flood) movement turned political party, Aristide would become president for less than a year. Upon his ousting, the US would interfere once again and place embargoes on the country in outrage.

“Haitian President Rene Preval” by BBC World Service, licensed under a creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

Two years later, the newly elected Clinton administrations, 1993, and under pressure the army allowed Aristide’s return home. Yet, Aristide was accompanied by Marines whom Clinton had provided to facilitate the transfer of power; a reminder for some of the 1915 invasion. With the constitution not allowing for consecutive terms such as that of the US, Haiti received a new president in 1995; René Préval.

Préval’s policies once in office, however, angered the people and former supporter Aristide; who had signed the deal slashing tariffs on US rice. Préval had set about installing IMF reforms much to the people’s anger. At the next election, 2000, Aristide would take power once more and flee into exile in 2004 after years of violence.


“Bill Clinton – World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2000” by World Economic Forum, licensed under a creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.
“Baby Doc (centrée)” licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Haiti: 2010-2011

At the time of the earthquake, Préval, was president once more and remained so until 2011; dying in 2017. 2011, however, was a year which brought another shock to the reeling country… the return of Baby Doc. The reason given for his return was the diagnosis of an incurable illness, although, even that did not gain him any sympathy amongst a people who took their opportunity to get justice. Although placed on temporary house arrest, no justice would be served as he died in his bed in 2014.

The return of a former president that the people demanded was that of Aristide from South Africa. While he did return, he did so to the implications of his involvement in the assassination of outspoken journalist Jean Dominique during his time in office.

“Mount Pelée in Color” by Steve Bennett, licensed under a creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

Mother Nature & the Caribbean

Despite the utter devastation of the Haitian earthquake, mother nature has rained several hurricanes on the Caribbean as whole. Though, as in life, one learns from the past and, while there still remain dilapidated buildings who have withstood these hurricanes, new buildings are being built with fortified concrete as well as detection systems put in place. Yet, reconstruction from these hurricanes are costly and therefore long in completing. For example, Grenada is still rebuilding from Ivan in 2004.

The Caribbean also has several volcanoes and the islands that have none are close to those who do; which means they too suffer the repercussions of an eruption. Take the Mount Pelée eruption, for example, that submerged part of the island and the people of Martinique.

Also affecting the Caribbean is global warming and the ramifications of all of the mining and natural resource extraction that has taken place. Haiti’s deforestation has become notorious although those responsible do so not out of spite but with the need to feed their families. The soil erosion, flooding and deforestation has left the Caribbean vulnerable to mother nature’s fury.

“Caribbean seascape” by 16:9clue, licensed under a creative commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

For Rich or For Poorer

The income gap in the Caribbean is massive. A fact evidenced, unfortunately, well by Haiti. Along with the distinction between “noir” and “ti blanc yo”, the Haitian people live in poverty with hotels, such as the Karibé, next door and whose cheapest room goes for $150 a night. Hotels, dilapidated and rundown homes, as well as tent villages coexist amidst stagnant water pools and brushed aside rubble.

The remaining stones of Henri Christophe have had its halls graced with many a society wedding. Weddings which leave refuse to float down to the poor whose best currency is the juiciest pig available. Those with the most money, however, are not the mulatto class but the Haitian diaspora, UN and NGO personnel, and aid agency workers who came after the quake and have yet to leave. What money makes it out of said cycle goes to those who act as support service staffers to the latter.

Yet, landing such a job is even more of an unattainable dream for some of the poor who have had little to no schooling. The lack of an education is often not just the cause of poverty but also a result of it. Some parents find themselves forced to send children to live with wealthier relatives or family friends simply to ensure one less mouth to feed. These children are then put into a form of slavery and denied access to a basic education.

“NP_Haiti22” by Neil Palmer (CIAT), licensed under a creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.
“Haitian Wash Day” by Ken Bosma, licensed under a creative commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
“UN Peacekeepers Distribute Water and Food in Haiti” by UN Photo/Marco Dormino, licensed under a creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

Cuba to the Rescue!

Cuba on the other hand is the exact opposite! While US embargoes have stifled the country’s economy and forced it to subsist on a rationing of food and resources, the Cuban education system is one of the best in the Caribbean and even surpasses that of the US. The education systems and its products have served the island nation well, as with no other commodity available for trade, Cuban doctors and medical personnel are often traded to countries for oil, food and other necessities. Take the current Coronavirus crisis and and and excerpt from the Reuters article released on March 22nd, 2020, to the right, for example.

“[…] The Caribbean island has sent its “armies of white robes” to disaster sites around the world largely in poor countries since its 1959 revolution. Its doctors were in the front lines in the fight against cholera in Haiti and against ebola in West Africa in the 2010s.

Yet with the 52-strong brigade, this is the first time Cuba has sent an emergency contingent to Italy, one of the world’s richest countries, demonstrating the reach of its medical diplomacy.

This is the sixth medical brigade Cuba has sent in recent days to combat the spread of the new disease abroad. It has sent contingents to socialist allies Venezuela and Nicaragua as well as Jamaica, Suriname and Grenada. [..]”

Source: Acosta, Nelson. “Cuban Doctors Head to Italy to Battle Coronavirus.” U.S. Last modified March 22, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-cuba/cuban-doctors-head-to-italy-to-battle-coronavirus-idUSKBN219051.

With the opening of diplomacy between Cuba and the Obama administration, Cubans are able to move to and from the island with a bit more ease. Cuba has also found itself leaning more on the revenues generated by tourism as well, although this has caused the problem of sex tourism to occur.

“3 Peso” by Shin Yamasaki, made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Its all about the Benjamins Che’s

Tourism has also affected the Cuban economy, aside from its revenues, helping to boost the national economy. Tourism has changed the handling of currency in the everyday life of the people. For instance, those who have opened and run business that cater to tourist have access to goods once unavailable on the island. The tourist also bring with them foreign currency, that of the US, which had been previously replaced by the closed currency of CUC which exchanged at the same rate as US and they also have Cuban pesos which does not easily exchange. An example given is that of a ballet ticket, the very same ticket is worth 20CUC, $20, or 20 pesos which is the equivalent of less than a US $1.

Further affecting the economy is the limitation of tourism to the island as US travel restrictions keep tourists away. In terms of trade, US embargoes still stifle the country although the country is now better able to engage in free trade with other nations.

Cuba & The Spectrum

The opening up of the country after Castro stepped down and died also meant the introduction of personal cell phones and the relatively unfettered use of the internet. These amenities are, however, made available for an exorbitant fee so seeing a person walking with phone in hand is still a rarity throughout the island. Cuba being more of a quiet Texas town with amazing views instead of a busy 9am Manhattan 5th avenue.

Other Caribbean islands fall on the spectrum between Haiti and Cuba; they being the two extremes. Tourism for these islands is their bread and butter, yet, wage strikes still occur as do demands for an increased minimum wage level. In Puerto Rico, tourism is one of the main revenue generators, yet, the poverty level is higher than that of the mainland’s poorest state; Mississippi. Whether it be the war on drugs, environmental, political, or economical, all of the island suffer some sort of destabilizing problem. Although, the most common is the repayment of debts to the IMF. These issues all serve to stifle and limit the abilities of the islands to put forth social services, improve education systems, or increase the country’s minimum wage. All of which means one thing: poverty + instability = criminal activity (often violent and fatal).

“Fiftieth Birthday 50Th 50” Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay. Pixabay License. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

Happy 50th or Not!

2012 marked the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s and Trinidad’s independence from Britain. Following their example, many more former British colonies also celebrated anniversaries. Yet, others who had voted to remain under British control did not have much to celebrate.

Whichever position was taken by these islands did not ensure peace or economic stability. Gaining independence or remaining under British control as an overseas territory did not mean that the same political, social and economic issues felt by one would not be felt by the other. The British overseas territories of Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, the Turks and Caicos, the Cayman Islands, and Bermuda did not get the security they expected. For example, the Cayman Islands have dealt with thieving officials and the Turks and Caicos have dealt with rampant corruption scandals. Similar issues that those who have gained independence have also struggled with.

“France Flag Fingerprint” Image by Kurious from Pixabay. Pixabay License. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

Overseas France & Netherlands

The French territories, however, have been dealt with differently. Although relatively autonomous in nature, Guadalupe, Martinique, and Guiana were made departments of France; the equivalent of Hawaii being a US state. St. Martin’s and St. Barts remained as overseas territories. All were given the option to change their status at one point or another, yet, they elected to keep their status as is.

“The Netherlands Flag Fingerprint” Image by Kurious from Pixabay. Pixabay License. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

In terms of the Caribbean islands held by the Netherlands, only Suriname was given true independence, in 1975, with the others remained as separate territories or special municipalities.


Anyone interested in Caribbean politics or affairs is aware of CARICOM, although many fail to see its usefulness. Initially founded with the plan to unite and protect the Caribbean as a whole, CARICOM has lacked the ability to enforce free trade and free movement for the Caribbean islands that form part of the group; not to mention all of the Caribbean Islands. The group is comprised of the anglophile islands, Haiti, and Suriname.

Many of CARICOM members are also part of other organizations, yet, bringing all of these islands as well as Latin American countries has posed a problem in addition to the ability to properly assist everyone given the diversity of needs and issues. An issue further complicated by the migration patterns that make up Caribbean life.

Decolonization… Never Happened!

Of the portion of the Caribbean that has achieved true “independence”, one can argue that decolonization has not taken place. Evidence of their colonial past is present in the infrastructure, history, language, and the very culture of these islands. Then one must also consider the constant interference of the US through the guise of the Monroe Doctrine or through culture. In terms of the US, many of these islands have its youth who listen to rap or are addicted to American sodas and foods. For example, the biggest thing that can be done to display “wealth and class” for a Dominican family is the ability to present a bottle of coke to their guests.

However, there is something that has been left behind that causes something even more fearful than obesity or coup-de-etas and that is racism. In DR the racism felt towards their Haitian neighbors is palpable and has created a tension one could practically slice through with a knife. Dominicans, define themselves in various categories: Indio Taino, Spanish, or, less likely, black. Just over 8 decades later, the massacre of Haitian organized by Trujillo still echoes throughout the island. Till this day, Dominican’s are still lynching Haitians, despite the sugar cane they still need cut or the thousands of Haitians who cross the border looking to study medicine.

Racial Discrimination

The term above was stricken from Cuban vernacular after the Castro revolution, yet, this does not mean racism has been so stricken in reality. As some Cuban intellectuals have pointed out, the fact that racism is not discussed does not mean it does not exist. To the contrary as it is not discussed it can not be handled.

Within Haiti itself there exist racism between those of lighter (mulatto) and those of darker black skin. Trinidad and Guiana also have a similar issue in the hatred experienced amongst black and Indian communities. Another practice reminiscent of the colonial days is that of homophobia and the tendencies of the Caribbean community to beat and kill any who practice “buggery” or “sodomy”.

“China Flag Fingerprint” Image by Kurious from Pixabay. Pixabay License. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

Monroe Doctrine 2.0 & World Power

Since the days of the Monroe Doctrine, the US has been involved in Latin American and Caribbean affairs using its interventions as an educational period to hone its knives. Knives we saw deployed once again in the dealings with Iraq and Afghanistan. This too involved the Caribbean in the use of Guantanamo Bay by the US for its war prisoners; despite the expiration of the Platt Amendment.

Despite the Cold War’s end, the Caribbean is still affected by communism. Aside from Cuba’s relaxing socialist stance, there is the involvement of China in the Caribbean as a whole. There are Chinatowns in practically every Caribbean island as the Chinese have brokered deals, bought land, and even swayed support of Taiwan towards their favor. In the Caribbean, if not the world, many ask themselves who the true world power is… the US or China. The Caribbean is in a strategic location, politically, socially, and militarily speaking, and its domination is therefore vital to the holding of power…

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© 2020. This work is licensed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

Licensed by Mahalia Méhu under a Creative Commons Attribution- Share Alike 4.0 International License.


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The Caribbean Since Columbus Copyright © 2020 by Mahalia Mehu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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