A microstate is a sovereign state which has a territory of less than 1,000 square kilometers (about 386 sq. miles). Many microstates are island nations and a number of them are located in the Caribbean.
Antigua and Barbuda:
The smallest of the Caribbean microstates is Antigua and Barbuda. The islands which compose this Caribbean nation encompass 71 square miles (443 square kilometers). This is an area about 2.5 times the size of Washington, D.C. The nation of Antiqua and Barbuda is made up of two large islands—Antigua and Barbuda—and a number of smaller islands. The country has a population of 81,000 and an economy based largely on tourism.
St. John’s in Antigua is shown above. The cruise ships attest to the importance of tourism.
While Antigua and Barbuda gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1981, the islands have a history which predates the arrival of the Europeans. By 2400 BCE, the Siboney were occupying the islands and appear to have been the first inhabitants. By the time Columbus landed on the islands in his second voyage in 1493, the islands were inhabited by the Arawak, a sea-going people who had colonized much of South America and the Caribbean islands. The Arawak brought agriculture to the islands. The crops which they raised included the Antigua Black Pineapple, corn, sweet potatoes, chilis, guava, tobacco, and cotton.
While both the Spanish and the French attempted to establish colonies on the islands, the English colony founded in 1667 became the most successful. As an English colony, its most important export was sugar and the sugar plantations relied on slave labor. Only 18% of the land is suitable for farming. Slavery was abolished in 1834.
The country’s slave past is seen in the fact that today’s population is 91% Black. With regard to religion the population is 76% Protestant (26% Anglican).
Saint Kitts and Nevis:
Another former British colony is Saint Kitts and Nevis which gained independence in 1983. With a population of nearly 51,000, the country has 104 square miles and is composed of two islands. Nevis is the smaller of the two islands and is guaranteed the right to secede. In 1998, a referendum which would allow Nevis to secede fell short of the two-thirds majority needed. The occupants of Nevis often complain that the government in Saint Kitts is neglecting them.
The name Nevis, by the way, comes from the Spanish Nuestra Señora de las Nieves which means “Our Lady of the Snows.” According to some stories, the white clouds which surround the top of the island’s mountain reminded someone of the Catholic story of the miracle of a snowfall on the Esquiline Hill in Rome. The natives originally called the island Oualie which means “land of beautiful waters.”
Columbus had apparently named the larger of the two islands San Cristobal after his patron saint, Saint Christopher. In the 17th century, Kitt (also spelled Kit) was a common nickname for Christopher, so the island became known as. Saint Kitts.
Prior to British settlement in 1623, Saint Kitts and Nevis had been occupied by the Carib (Kalinago) for hundreds of years. The local Carib were massacred by the British and French colonists in 1626.
In 1629, the Spanish conquered the islands and deported the French and English settlers. However, these settlers soon returned and France and Spain continued to battle for control of the islands until 1713 when ownership was ceded to the British.
Basseterre, the nation’s largest city, is shown above.
In 1974, another British colony, Grenada, became independent. With a population of about 110,000, it occupies 133 square miles (344 square kilometers). This is an area about twice the size of Washington, D.C.
Like many of the Caribbean islands, Grenada was occupied by the Carib when Columbus first landed on the island in 1498. The French established a colony on the island in the 17th century. The French established sugar plantations and imported large numbers of African slaves to provide the labor for these plantations.
Geographers refer to the Caribbean as Shatter Belt, meaning that it was an area in which the various European powers vied for control. In 1762, the British took possession of the island and vigorously expanded sugar production. The British also introduced new crops and in the 19th century, cacao surpassed sugar as the main export crop. In the 20th century, nutmeg became the leading export.
Grenada gained full autonomy over its internal affairs in 1967 and full independence in 1974. With independence, it became one of the smallest sovereign nations in the Western Hemisphere.
In 1983, a Marxist military council took control of the island’s government and six days later it was invaded by the United States and a coalition of six Caribbean nations. The United States military forces quickly captured the government’s leaders along with their Cuban advisers. Free elections were held the following year.
As with many other Caribbean island nations, the descendents of the African slaves imported by the European colonists today constitute the majority (83%) of the population. With regard to religion, 53% are Roman Catholic and 14% Anglican.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines:
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was granted independence from the British in 1979. This island nation is about twice the size of Washington, D.C. with an area of 150 square miles (389 square kilometers). It has a population of about 104,000.
Like many of the other islands in the Caribbean, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was occupied by the Caribs when the European nations began their invasion. The native Caribs strenuously resisted European attempts at colonization until 1719 when French settlers gained control of the island and began cultivating coffee, tobacco, indigo, cotton, and sugar. Labor for their plantations was provided by enslaved Africans.
Disputed between France and the United Kingdom for most of the 18th century, the island was ceded to the British in 1783. From 1783 to 1796 there was warfare between the British and the Black Caribs who were lead by chief Joseph Chatoyer.
Between 1960 and 1962, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was a separate administrative unit of the Federation of the West Indies. Autonomy was granted in 1969 and independence in 1979.
Kingstown is shown above. Once again, the presence of the cruise ships shows the importance of tourism.
The heritage of the African slaves is seen today in the fact that 66% of the population is Black. The country also has a small Carib minority (2%). With regard to religion, the population is 75% Protestant (47% Anglican and 28% Methodist) and 13% Roman Catholic.
Barbados is an island about 2.5 times the size of Washington, D.C: 166 square miles (430 square kilometers). It has a population of about 288,000 and obtained independence from the United Kingdom in 1966.
While the Spanish raided the island in the late 1400s and early 1500s seeking to enslave the local Arawak Indians, they did not establish any settlements. When the English arrived in 1624, they found the island uninhabited and took possession of it in the name of King James I. The first permanent settlers from England arrived in 1627.
The English settlers established sugar plantations based on imported African slave labor. From initial colonization through most of the twentieth century, the island’s economy depended on the production of sugar, rum, and molasses. By the end of the twentieth century, tourism and manufacturing had surpassed agriculture in economic importance.
Today’s population is 93% Black. With regard to religion, the population is 63% Protestant (28% Anglican, 19% Pentecostal, 5% Methodist) and 4% Roman Catholic.