From Columbus to Castro The History of the Caribbean 1492

From Columbus to Castro The History of the Caribbean 1492 1969 From Columbus to Castro The History of the Caribbean is about 30 million people scattered across an arc of islands Jamaica Haiti Barbados Antigua Martiniue Trinidad among others separated by the languages and cultures of their colonizers but joined together nevertheless by a common heritage For whether French English Dutch Spanish Danish or latterly American the nationality of their masters has made only a notional difference to the peoples of the Caribbean The history of the Caribbean is dominated by the history of sugar which is inseparable from the history of slavery; which was inseparable until recently from the systematic degradation of labor in the region Here for the first time is a definitive work about a profoundly important but neglected and misrepresented area of the world Why do so many Puerto Ricans still speak Spanish? Why is the Caribbean economy still developing? Why was there so much interest and warfare regarding these small islands? Was sugar really important than gold?I don't tend to write a lot of reviews; often than not I generally feel that the indicator is enough to determine if a book is worth reading But in this case I need to make an exception I picked this book up as a casual reader of Caribbean history and culture I don't think I was fully prepared for what Mr Williams had in storeThis is one of the best books I have ever read In terms of its breadth and depth of information its style its content and its approach this book offers a comprehensive view of the Caribbean and is invaluable for anyone in anyway related to the Caribbean education business politics sociology or even if you just have a Cuban or Puerto Rican or Haitian friend The only caveat is its density There are moments when the detail can seem to overshadow the trajectory of the book However when taken into account it deepens the impact The basic chronological flow allows the reader to follow even when discussing multiple countries or economic factors across several seas and oceans The chapter breakdown makes it an easy supplement for any student of history and facilitates progress for the casual reader This is not an easy book not something for the beach But for those times you want to immerse yourself in a story that simultaneously parallels and intersects with the American story pick it up and then sit down So glad I read this Millions upon millions of people descend on the Caribbean every year for vacations on cruises or to spend all their time at hermetically sealed resorts in places like Jamaica the Dom Rep as Germans call it Cuba or the Virgin Islands Escapism from their everyday worlds is paramount; sun water activities and drinking—not culture or history—are on their agendas Every now and then the destruction of hurricanes register for fleeting moments of concern But they dissipate soon Moguls like buy islands to create their own fantasy worlds Richard Branson and Jeffrey Epstein though not similar come to mind immediately But do any of them actually know about the history of the Caribbean? Do they care? Should they? When Columbus set foot on an island he mistakenly mistook for India he unleashed “the first gold rush in the history of the modern world” More significantly he set the repeating pattern of how the Caribbean was to be treated for the rest of recorded history Eric Williams an economist who would become the first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago lays out this thesis in exacting detail tying together history and statistics into a compelling argument that the Caribbean has been a means toward the ends of exploitation and greed; the wealth resources and pleasure derived from the region have come at the cost of blood terror and seemingly never ending injusticeThe people who were there—until they were wiped out by violence and disease—and the slaves from Africa who replaced them were expendable with the singular purpose of serving the greed and strategic interests of European centers of power There was also a repeating cycle fed by the tensions “between metropolitan and colonial interests” For them the islands were there to produce sugar for which they had a monopoly of the slave trade to maintain the productivity of the cane fields “Europe has seldom been as unanimous on any issue as it has been on the value of Negro slave labor” With the waning of the Spanish empire in the 17th century the English filled the void to create profitable sugar plantation in Barbados Jamaica and other islands The French Dutch and Danes claiming their territories later The one thing that they shared was a strict system of mercantilism through which production on the islands was dominated by the mono crop of sugar making the owners rich and politically powerful in their home nations to further their continued dominance The French in particular pioneered the concept of “the exclusive” to “subordinate colonial interests to those of the metropolitan country” The Caribbean islands provided the raw material of sugar cane but only the ruling nation could refine and distribute the value added results and the brutal conditions of slavery fed a seemingly never ending slave trade from AfricaThe exploitation of the Caribbean by larger prosperous and powerful countries continues unabated Although this history was written in 1969 it seems as important to contemporary history as if it had been written today The history of the sugar industry and slave trade really framed most of the history of the Caribbean In that sense this book was really right on the money It includes everything you ever wanted to know about the two industries and how they influenced the development of the region However this book was a little hard to swallow It was very heavy on the historical facts and figures and not so great with the historical narrative In other words it was very detailed in telling the reader exactly how many sugar plantations were in Haiti in 1853 and how much sugar each plantation produced but it took some digging to really extract the story behind what the facts and figured really meantWhat I enjoyed most about this book was the chapter on Castroism Here in 2009 it is difficult to understand Castro's appeal and why the Cuban people have tolerated him and his policies for so long It also is not entirely clear why Cuba is so staunchly anti American This book presents the case from the Cuban perspective Everything from the US annexation after the Spanish American war to the takeover of the Cuban sugar industry by US businesses to the poor social and living conditions that existed under the US supported Batista regime In plain terms Castro's revolution made sense and was justified once upon a time The problem is that he made too many mistakes in his first few years of leading the country and he refused to acknowledge or rectify any of them The author did not have the benefit of hindsight that we have today and he could not have predicted the extent to which Cuba became reliant on the USSR to survive The background that Williams provides gives us sufficient context to understand where Cuba went wrong and perhaps how to help them get back on trackThis book was published in 1970 I would like to see an updated copy to better understand the developments in the past 40 years Many of the predictions he made in the final chapter came true and many did not Williams had a very uniue perspective on the issues of colonialism the sugar industry and slave trade and I would like to get his thoughts on where the region stands today Are they better off than they were 40 years ago? Looking at what is currently happening in Haiti and Guadeloupe it may not seem so Regardless this book was worth the read for anyone who is really interested in the history of the Western Hemisphere The ex PM of Trinidad and Tobago from independence in 1962 till his death in 1981 wrote what I believe is still an excellent history of the development of the Caribbean states literally as the book's title suggests While Williams is seeing most of the development of these now nations' through a Marxist lens I found his perspective both meaningful and helpful even today almost 50 years after the book finishes Williams throws in the effect of the differing European nations' involved in the Caribbean notably the English French Spanish Dutch and later the Americans with freuent uotes from original sources to back up his points Sugar and the use by often absentee planters of slavery or indentured servants is shown to cast a very long shadow on the region's employment problems So too despite Williams' plea for a integrated political and economic union to provide depth to these small individual markets is the legacy of individual histories and relationships with former colonial masters and the inherent conflicts between those nations' interests and those of the people who have become today's Caribbean citizenry And despite Williams' sympathies for Castro he seems very objective in recounting the lack of economic sense Castro's revolution made and shows that Czech and Russian development experts are every bit as bad as the West's development experts in picking up tools from their countries and trying to force them to fit in the very different contexts which form the Caribbean All in all while I could have done without the many charts showing the advent of sugar by tonnage in the 18th century and while Williams can veer into some tangents which could distract the reader from the overall purpose of the book NOTE it has taken me nearly 2 years to complete I recommend heartily this book to those who are interested in the region and in the histories of the US UK and Spain A remarkable job wishing there was a book that synthesized the past 50 years as well This historical work by Eric Williams is a gift to the peoples of the Caribbean With careful and measured prose and extensive historical details Williams writes with great love but clear headed analysis regarding the history of his own people and their neighbors Of course his assessment of the situation in the Caribbean at the end of the 1960s is now somewhat dated but it still has good insights for the Caribbean peoples to consider The following excerpt concerning Puerto Rico is an exampleOne path that is being followed by many of the countries of the region is that initiated by Puerto Rico in its 'Operation Bootstrap' This involves the attraction of US firms to establish branches in Puerto Rico which offers lower wages and tax holidays and which as part of the US Customs Union has free access to the American market This policy has been successful in that it has led to a high rate of investment rapid industrial growth and an impressive increase in standards of living and per capita incomes in Puerto Rico Massive transfers of Federal funds for Government development and social welfare activities have also contributed to raise standards of living as have unrestricted opportunities for emigration to the USA But in spite of these advantages unemployment has remained at a very high level and there is still widespread poverty and much ineuality And any hope of preserving and strengthening the Puerto Rican identity has been destroyed Puerto Rico has in fact solved its problems of economic and social transformation by incorporating itself into the US economy The recent election of a pro Statehood Governor in that island merely reflects a recognition of a fait accompli by the Puerto Rican electorate Economic growth has been achieved but national identity lost What shall it profit a country if it gain the whole world and lose its own soul?1 Puerto Rican identity is now inextricably intertwined with its American masters One will hear that Puerto Rican cultural identity is comprised of three people groups Spanish African and Taino This is true However there is now a fourth cultural strand that has made its way in American That is true for the people on the island as well as the diaspora on the mainland Many will not like to hear that but nonetheless it is true2 Puerto Rico has seen substantial increases in its standard of living particularly from the period of 1940 through 1970 However that growth has stagnated for various reasons The country remains dependent; in fact it is constrained to be with US cabotage laws and other economic factors not least of which is the finance shackles of its national debt The hope of being a state seems less likely as time continues to pass As another author noted the days of the US propping up Puerto Rico as an example of Latin American flourishing under an Imperial master contra the Communist regimes of other countries propped up by Russia are over Communism as it was practiced during the Cold War has collapsed and the United States does not need to prop up its puppet any longer As Albizu Campos noted in a speech once the Yanuis are done with their puppets they will remove their heads and set them asideSuch are the thoughts that Williams' work forced me to grapple with as I try to make sense of our world today and of the world inhabited by my family and friends in the Caribbean particularly in Puerto Rico From Columbus to Castro The History of the Caribbean 1492 1969 by Eric Williams former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago is one of the best books I have ever read in my lifeEric Williams led his country as Prime Minister from 1962 until his death in 1981 and wrote this book in 1971 Eric Williams was a noted historian and goes to no end to prove this point of his career in the writing of this book Sugar being an extremely valuable commodity for as long as humanity has existed is explored deeply here in various aspects in his verbatim descriptions of the slave trade The detail noted in each chapter about the various social economic and spiritual aspects of the slave trade in the Caribbean is mind bogglingOne particularly frightening aspect of this book is the fact that history has continued to go in the same direction as this book originally described in 1971 The emergence of the gig economy the increasingly isolationist policies being adopted by countries all over the globe and the general frustration of the public with the stagnation of wages all have roots in the slave trade and the lessons that business owners from those days that made use of slave labor passed down to their future generationsThis book is an absolute must read for anyone and everyone looking to understand modern day economics modern day employment policies and modern day race relations that resulted from the slavery practices used in the Caribbean A powerful work that vividly portrays the brutality inflicted first on the Taino victims of the conuest and later on the African slaves imported to work the sugar plantations and Asians brought over on term labor agreements after emencipation The book provides the economic political and social forces that drove the European colonization Focus is 1492 through the 19th century much less on 20th Very strong on the economics You will learn for example the capital in pounds sterling reuired in the 17th century to purchase the land machinery and materials and slave labor necessary to get started on a sugar plantation How technological advances in cane processing and extraction of sugar from beets in Europre affected developmentWilliams was the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago for than a decade ending in 1981 I read this while camping on St John's where like much the Caribbean the evidence of the slavery based sugar economy is everywhere St John's was a backwater the least productive island of Denmark a small and late comer to the party it's other two were St Thomas and St Croix The terrain is mountainous and seemingly unsuited to sugar Yet nearly every inch of the island's natural growth forest was felled to make way for terraced cane planting transforming and degrading the ecology of the island permanentlyIn 1733 slaves rose up They killed the Danish soldiers and whites who were unable to flee controlled the island for six months before they were put down by French troops from Martiniue It was the first of a wave of uprisings that swept the Caribbean during the century leading up to emancipation The St John's revolt was sparked by a tightening of the already brutal retribution system for absenteeism impertinence shiriking etc It included lashings pinching branding with a hot iron for first offenses dismemberment and death for repeat offendersMuch of St John's is owned and managed by the National Park's Service which sold the book in it its visitor center But an NPS ranger who led a walking tour did a poor job on the history According to her slaves were left to themselves to work the plantations kind of like sharecroppers On a beautiful island like this it almost sounded like a nice way to go back to the land and down shift She said a little of the revolt but you wouldn't know why You really can't leave out the part about the transatlantic voyage where 13 perished or committed suicide whippings cutting off of ears noses and limbs disease hanging and being worked to death in the hot sun This book is dense A comprehensive history of the Caribbean that feels like a course in Caribbean history I took over 3 months to complete this book but that says about my reading habits than it does about how enjoyable this book is Beginning with Columbus’ westward expedition Williams tells the history of the Caribbean through to the then present published in 1970 and his hopes for what Castro’s revolution in Cuba would represent for a post colonial Caribbean All the while he highlights how capitalist motivations influenced the policies of the various European nations with respect to their West Indian colonies In this regard it expands on a theme Williams thoroughly examined in Capitalism and Slavery; that mercantile capitalism was responsible for the rise of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery in the Americas which made possible the advent of industrial capitalism which eventually was responsible for the abolition of slavery In this book he goes on to show how capitalist interests affected and shaped every colonial policy in the AmericasAlthough as I said the book is dense Williams has the ability to present complex ideas and the relevant historical data as supporting evidence in such a clear manner that it seems matter of fact In this matter of fact manner he also dismisses what were commonly held beliefs up to that time It is clear that one of the motivations behind writing this book was to present a history of the Caribbean from the perspective of those whose lives and labour were exploited to the benefit of European metropoles rather than from the perspective of the metropoles themselves However don’t let the complexity or political undertones I’ve mentioned lead you to believe that this is not an enjoyable read The history of the Caribbean is fascinatingIt’s hard to believe that despite how important this region was to the global economy and to the rise and fall of the various super powers who controlled these islands that now much of this history is forgotten and our islands are almost overlooked The history of these islands is also replete with cruelty and tragedy as well as resistance revolt and revolution Williams ends the book with what he believes is a roadmap for the citizens of the Caribbean to autonomy and self governance and for the region to take its true place in Latin America and the New World I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Caribbean history and I think it’s a valuable book to have in your library as a reference text Eric Williams belongs to the group of Marxist historians His remarkable work offers the reader deep analysis of Carribean from Colombus to Castro However he points out mainy mainly economic matters with strong aspect of colonialism Carribean is highly connected with fruits sugar and thus is oriented to peasans and not industrial level of region As a author of Capitalism and Slavery he tries to find close linkage as well he based this book partly on economic aspect of region Further it is highly interesting to follow his comments on the USA as shadow and superpower in this region and his interest from material perspective In my opinion it is clear example of Marxist historian It is worth to read Although it was published almost 40 years ago It is still first comprehensive history of the area and it is key work to understand the economic and political elements of this region

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