Book Review: A Brief History Of The Caribbean

A Brief History Of The Caribbean:  From The Arawak And The Carib To The Present, by Jan Rogozinski

The great German statesman Otto von Bismarck once said that it was best not to know how one’s laws and one’s sausages were made.  The same is true of places that one enjoys visiting.  The Caribbean, of course, is an area that makes a great deal of its contemporary income from tourism, and that tends to require being polite to traveling Americans and Europeans (and others) in the hope that they will spend plenty of money in one’s country and have nice things to say.  Sometimes that means having available discreet places to keep one’s money, and ensuring tranquility in domestic politics so as to avoid scaring those whose dollars and euros ensure the well-being of the economy.  That said, the Caribbean has had a very dark history, involving centuries of slavery and a distinct unwillingness on the part of freed slaves (and in many cases, their descendants) to engage in useful labor because such labor was viewed as oppression and not as the way out of poverty.  Indeed, the Caribbean has only been profitable when people have served others, which does not always make for the most enjoyable history.

This particular book is about 300 pages long and it is divided into five parts and eighteen chapters.  The author begins this book with a list of tables and a preface.  After that the author discusses the Caribbean under Spanish rule (I), which chapters on the enduring environment and the first islanders, namely the Arawak and Carib (1), the discovery of the islands by Columbus (2), the fight of pirates for Spanish gold (3), and Spain’s Caribbean colonies (4).  Then the author discusses the imperialism of Northern Europeans in the Caribbean (II), with chapters on the Dutch empire (5), the settlement of the Lesser Antilles (6), the buccaneers of Jamaica, Saint-Domingue, and the Bahamas (7), and war and piracy from 1665-1720 (8).  After that the author discusses the sugar empire built on slavery (III), with chapters on the rise of sugar planting (9), the world of the slaves (10), the struggle for control between France and England (11), and runaways and rebels (12).  The author turns to discuss abolition of slavery and the challenges of freedom (IV) with chapters on the British colonies (13), the fight for freedom of the Spanish islands (14), and Hispaniola and the Leeward Islands (15).  The last part of the book then looks at poverty and “progress” in the Caribbean islands since 1914 (V), with chapters on the US and its relationship to the independent nations of the Caribbean (16), the gaining of independence of the islands (17), and the Commonwealth Caribbean since independence (18), after which there are maps, notes, suggestions for future reading, photo credits, and an index.

As has been the case in many books I have read about the Caribbean and its history, this book spends too much time and effort writing about the political leaders of the contemporary Caribbean.  It is not surprising when one sees the sort of protest politics and leftist bent of many Caribbean regimes, as well as the long adoption of squatting and insecurity of property rights that one can find in such areas that the Caribbean has struggled to have secure economies.  Throughout the history of the Caribbean, development has been directed to external rather than internal purposes, and the results have been lamentable and predictable, with a false dilemma between socialist and crony capitalist projects to ensure domestic peace through excessive spending and dependence on external trade with cash crops or oil (in the case of Trinidad) in order to provide for a favorable balance of trade to pay for all of the necessities that the islands have been unable to provide for themselves.  Although the Caribbean is a lovely area, it has seemingly been unable to escape from the trap of being dominated by others who seek it as a pleasant place to visit, a market for goods, and as the source of cash crops, and not much else.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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