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The Caribbean (pronounced /ˌkærəˡbi:ən/, kæ'rəbi:ən; Dutch: Cariben or Caraïben; French: Caraïbe or more commonly Antilles; Spanish: Caribe) is a region consisting of the Caribbean Sea, its islands (most of which enclose the sea), and the surrounding coasts. The region is located southeast of North America, east of Central America, and to the north of South America.

Situated largely on the Caribbean Plate, the region comprises more than 7,000 islands, islets, reefs, and cays. Also called the West Indies, since Christopher Columbus landed here in 1492 believing he was in the Indies (in Asia), the region consists of the Antilles, divided into the larger Greater Antilles which bound the sea on the north and the Lesser Antilles on the south and east (including the Leeward Antilles), and the Bahamas. Geopolitically, the West Indies are usually reckoned as a subregion of North America and are organised into 27 territories including sovereign states, overseas departments, and dependencies. At one time, 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 Caribbean islands are an island chain 4,020 kilometres (2,500 mi) long and no more than 257 kilometres (160 mi) wide at any given point. They enclose the Caribbean Sea.

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. In the English-speaking Caribbean, someone from the Caribbean is usually referred to as a "West Indian," although the phrase "Caribbean person" is sometimes used.

The term "Caribbean" has multiple uses. Its principal ones are geographical and political.

Physiographically, the Caribbean region is mainly a chain of islands surrounding the Caribbean Sea. To the north is the Caribbean Sea bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, the Straits of Florida, and the Northern Atlantic Ocean which lies to the East and Northeast; the coastline of the continent of South America lies to the south.

Politically, the term "Caribbean" may be centered around socio-economic groupings found in the region. For example the bloc known as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) contains both the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and the Republic of Suriname found in South America as full members. Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands which are found in the Atlantic Ocean are Associate members of the Caribbean Community, and the same goes for the Commonwealth of the Bahamas which is a full member of the Caribbean Community.

The population of the Caribbean is estimated to have been around 750,000 immediately before European contact, although higher figures are given. After contact, war and disease led to a decline in the Native American population. From 1500 to 1800 the population rose as slaves arrived from West Africa and immigrants from Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Denmark, although mortality was high for both groups. The population is estimated to have reached 2.2 million by 1800. Immigrants from India, China, and other countries arrived in the 19th century. After the ending of the Atlantic slave trade, the population increased naturally. Total regional population was estimated at 37.5 million by 2000.

Ethnic Heritage
The majority of the Caribbean has populations of mainly African ancestry.

In the French Caribbean, Anglophone Caribbean and Dutch Caribbean, there are minorities of mixed-race and European people of French, English, Dutch and Portuguese ancestry. Asian, especially those of Chinese and Indian descent, form a significant minority in the region and also contribute to multiracial communities. Many of their ancestors arrived in the 19th century as indentured laborers. The Spanish-speaking Caribbean have primarily mixed majorities, primarily descended from Africans and Spaniards.

Geography and Climate
The geography and climate in the Caribbean region varies from one place to another. Some islands in the region have relatively flat terrain of non-volcanic origin. Such islands include Aruba (possessing only minor volcanic features), Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands, Barbados, Bonaire, the Cayman Islands or Antigua. Others possess rugged towering mountain-ranges like the islands of Cuba, Dominica, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Saba, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Saint Vincent, Guadeloupe, and Trinidad & Tobago.

The climate of the region 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. Winters are warm, but drier.

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.

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 Caribbean islands are classified as one of Conservation International's biodiversity hotspots because they support exceptionally diverse ecosystems, ranging from montane cloud forests to cactus scrublands. These ecosystems have been devastated by deforestation and human encroachment. The hotspot contains dozens of highly threatened species, ranging from birds, to mammals and reptiles. Popular examples include the Puerto Rican Amazon, two species of solenodon (giant shrews) in Cuba and Hispaniola, as well as the Cuban crocodile. The hotspot is also remarkable for the decimation of its fauna.

Historical Groupings
All islands at some point were, and a few still are, colonies of European nations; a few are overseas or dependent territories:
  • British West Indies/Anglophone Caribbean – Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Bay Islands, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Croix (briefly), Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago (from 1797) and the Turks and Caicos Islands
  • Danish West Indies – present-day United States Virgin Islands
  • Dutch West Indies – present-day Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, Virgin Islands, Saint Croix (briefly), Tobago and Bay Islands (briefly)
  • French West Indies – Anguilla (briefly), Antigua and Barbuda (briefly), Dominica, Dominican Republic (briefly), Grenada, Haiti, Montserrat (briefly), Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Eustatius (briefly), St Kitts (briefly), Tobago (briefly), Saint Croix, the current French overseas départements of Martinique and Guadeloupe (including Marie-Galante, La Désirade and Les Saintes), and the current French overseas collectivities of Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin.
  • Portuguese West Indies – present-day Barbados, known as Los Barbados in the 1500s when the Portuguese claimed the island en route to Brazil. The Portuguese left Barbados abandoned in 1533, nearly a century prior to the British arrival to the island.
  • Spanish West Indies – Cuba, Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic, and until 1609, Haiti), Puerto Rico, Jamaica (until 1655), the Cayman Islands, Trinidad (until 1797) and Bay Islands (until 1643)
  • Swedish West Indies – present-day French Saint-Barthélemy and Guadeloupe (briefly).
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 and One Day 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.

Continental Countries with Caribbean Coastlines and Islands
The nations of Belize and Guyana, although on the mainland of Central America and South America respectively, are former British colonies and maintain many cultural ties to the Caribbean. They are members of CARICOM. Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast, often referred to as the Mosquito Coast, was also a former British colony. It maintains many cultural ties to the Caribbean as distinct from the Pacific coast. Guyana participates in West Indies cricket tournaments and many players from Guyana have been on the West Indies Test cricket team. The Turneffe Islands (and many other islands and reefs) are part of Belize and lie in the Caribbean Sea. The nation of Suriname, on the mainland of South America, is a former Dutch colony and also a member of CARICOM.

Indigenous Tribes
  • Arawak
  • Kalinago
  • Ciboney
  • Galibi
  • Garifuna
  • Igneri
  • Lucayan
  • Taino
  • Ciguayo
  • Macorix
  • Regionalism
Caribbean societies are very different from other western societies in terms of size, culture, and degree of mobility of their citizens. 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).

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 to 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.” 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.” These attempts at regionalization reflect the nations' desires to compete in the international economic system.

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.” The lack of international support for these small, relatively poor states, helped regionalism prosper.

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 of 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.

Regional Institutions
Here are some of the bodies that several islands share in collaboration:
  • Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Guyana
  • Association of Caribbean States (ACS), Trinidad and Tobago
  • Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Saint Lucia
  • Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Barbados
  • Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA), Barbados
  • Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), Barbados and Jamaica
  • Caribbean Programme for Economic Competitiveness (CPEC), Saint Lucia
  • Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), Barbados
  • Inter-American Economic Council (IAEC), Washington, D.C.
  • Latin American and Caribbean Internet Addresses Registry (LACNIC), Brazil and Uruguay
  • United Nations - Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Chile and Trinidad and Tobago
  • Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAIC), Trinidad and Tobago
  • Caribbean Association of National Telecommunication Organizations (CANTO), Trinidad and Tobago
  • Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation (CARILEC), Saint Lucia
  • Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA), Puerto Rico
  • Caribbean Regional Environmental Programme (CREP), Barbados
  • Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), Belize
  • Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM), Barbados and Dominican Republic
  • Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), Trinidad and Tobago
  • West Indies Cricket Board, Antigua and Barbuda
  • University of the West Indies, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago

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