When analysing a definition of the Caribbean, some take into account the idea of All States washed by the Caribbean Sea. With this in mind it is evident that this definition covers a wider area and as such proposes a wider area for economic integration. If one is striving to attain a certain degree of economic integration throughout the Caribbean region, it would be wise if not practical to consider the major characteristics of the region so as to understand it better and so that the interests of all concerned could be sought.
Fragmentation is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as the scattering or a certain division. Diversity is a dissimilarity or variety. Consequently, the Caribbean can be described as a system of diverse states. Therefore as by definition the Caribbean represents a wide expanse, two major characteristics with which the region is faced is that of Fragmentation and Diversity.
To explain the idea of Fragmentation, one should first recognise the fact that the Caribbean is geographically fragmented. Firstly there is the chain of islands representing the Caribbean as an archipelago. Within this area there is also division as the chain of islands can be categorised into The Lesser Antilles, The Greater Antilles, The Netherlands Antilles and The French Antilles. There exists further divisiveness as these islands are sometimes categorically referred to as The English Speaking, The French Speaking, Dutch Speaking, and Spanish Speaking Caribbean. In light of this, it is clear that this area in the Caribbean, a chain of islands, is separated by sea. In other words there is no direct geographical link with the other islands. In the case of the mainland countries, of South and Central America, there is no expanse of sea separating the states. In fact the only signs of division are the borders separating the states. In this way one can say that there is a direct geographical link with these nations.
Within the Caribbean Basin extreme Political Fragmentation can also be deemed as evident. There are a variety of states existing under a variety of constitutional arrangements, in other words different systems of government. As evidence of this one should consider Cuba as it is the only communist nation in the Caribbean. Also, most states are independent whereas others such as Puerto Rico, Curaï¿½ao and Aruba have a high degree of internal autonomy but are still colonies. There is also the case of Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guiana which are French Dï¿½partements, and as such are politically integrated into metropolitan France. This poses the problem of having to deal with the mother country as these islands are unable to make their own political decisions.
Also one must study the political history of the Caribbean region which influences their present-day systems of government. For example the history of the island states is one of slavery and colonisation whereas the Latin American states have a history of military rule. Credibly, it can be inferred that the Latin American countries of the Caribbean have a longer history of independence and in effect are more experienced in dealing with political crises.
There is also the aspect of political diversity in terms of political systems that must be mentioned. For example some states are independent as well as republics (Trinidad & Tobago) where the President is the Head of State as opposed to others that are just republics (Jamaica) where the Governor General is the Head of State.
It is obvious to many that on account of the diversity, the Caribbean is one of the most Balkanised regions of the world. Byron Blake argues that “this is mainly due to the influence of a variety of imperial powers throughout the course of history”1. Therefore in the words of Elsa Goveia, it can be said that: “the history of the area is one of fragmentation and separation and throughout that history the division within each territory has been compounded by the division across territories.”2
In the interim, one must first examine the extent of Linguistic Diversity in the Caribbean region. This is evident as the Caribbean can be broken up into the French, Dutch, Spanish and English Speaking Caribbean. In these areas there are also a variety of dialects and different accents as well as several Creole languages.
This linguistic diversity is linked to the idea of Cultural Diversity. In the island states this is based on a history of colonisation where in most cases the colonies had many colonists over periods of time. For example Trinidad & Tobago was colonised by the Spanish, British, French, and Dutch during the course of history, which also gave rise to a variety of religions. On the other hand the Latin American countries that are regarded as being part of the Caribbean had a history predominantly of the Spanish Conquistadors therefore it can be seen that the Spanish culture has dominated their history and in the main resulting in Roman Catholicism as the dominant religion.
Ethnic Diversity is also linked to this idea of history as the influence of indigenous peoples, slavery and indentureship as well as the European presence in the Caribbean island states has contributed significantly to the variety of peoples in the diverse region of the Caribbean.
With this notion of diversity one should also acknowledge the different types and sizes of the different entities of the Caribbean region as well as the population sizes of these nations. In some countries the land is mostly mountainous and as a result unsuitable for cultivation or habitation, whereas other countries pride themselves in agriculture. As evidence of this, it is interesting to note the large size and population of Cuba in comparison to that of St. Kitts & Nevis. Also it is interesting to note that Guyana with such a large expanse of land has such a small population of about 800 thousand.
Furthermore one should evaluate the Economic Diversity arising from population and land size. There would obviously be different market sizes requiring varying degrees of attention. In addition with regards to the major export products of the Caribbean what is peculiar is that the majority of the Latin American nations produce bananas whereas in the island states there is the emphasis on a variety of natural resources such as bauxite, nickel, petroleum etc.
All things considered it can be clearly seen that the Caribbean is indeed a diverse region. However in one’s submission these differences must be investigated in order to achieve economic integration because differences always produce conflict and different nations would indisputedly have different interests as well as different ideas of how to go about this controversial goal of regional economic integration.