Population pressure in the West Indies, its causes, effects, and possible solutions
Reynolds, Morrill S Jr
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The West Indies are a chain of islands extending all the all the way from Florida to the coast of South America---a distance of some 2,200 miles. The larger islands---Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico---are called the "Greater Antilles"; the rest are known as the "Lesser Antilles." Not including small islets and cays, which number in the thousands, there are approximately 60 important islands. The West Indies have a complex political pattern with three independent republics, two territories of the United States, six colonies of Great Britain, two departments of France, and a possession of the Netherlands. The islands are, in most cases, the tops of several mountain chains protruding above the surface of the sea. Some of them are made entirely of volcanic debris. The climate is strictly tropical with warm even temperatures. Local rainfall will vary depending on the elevation and exposure to the moisture-laden trade winds. Droughts sometimes cause crop failures, and hurricanes occasionally ruin fields of sugar and bananas. Much of the original forest land has either been cleared for agriculture or cut away by peasants for firewood. The remaining forests that now exist are largely on inaccessible mountain slopes. The islands were originally inhabited by Indians who have all but disappeared on account of diseases and massacres by the early colonists. Soon after the first voyage of Columbus, the Spaniards colonized Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Trinidad. The British took Jamaica from them in 1655 and Trinidad in 1797. Cuba became a republic after the Spanish-American War, while Puerto Rico became an American Territory. The western part of Hispaniola (Haiti) was ceded to France by Spain in 1697, and later, after several revolutions by the Negro slaves, finally achieved independence in 1804. The Negroes then invaded the eastern (Spanish held) part of the island, holding it until 1843 when they were driven out. This half of Hispaniol became the Dominican Republic in 1844. The Lesser Antilles were settled by England, France, Holland, and Denmark with the first settlement being made by the English on St. Kitts in 1624. The United States purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917. The West Indies have been of great strategic value from the time that the first attacks began on the Spanish monopoly in the early part of the 16th century right up to the present time. The Spaniards established bases to shelter their treasure-laden fleets, and the buccaneers used the islands as hide-outs and as bases for operation. Later, West Indian ports were to ships as centers for taking on food, fresh water, transient cargo, and coal. The United States has established military bases in the islands as a defense for the Panama Canal and shipping. Agriculture is the most important economic activity, with sugar being the most important crop on most islands. Cuba is the largest producer and exporter of sugar in the world with Puerto Rico being a poor second to Cuba in regard to Caribbean production. The rest of the territories combined produce less than Puerto Rico. Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica are important producers of tobacco. Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic are high in bananas, with Trinidad and the Windward Islands important in their own right. Other fruits---avocados, citrus, pineapples, coconuts---are grown mainly for local consumption, but in some cases are important export crops. A variety of vegetable crops are grown for local consumption as well, a few being for export during the winter months. Coffee assumes greatest importance in Haiti and Jamaica, although it is grown in most islands. Cacao is an outstanding export crop in Trinidad and the Dominican Republic. Spices and vanilla are grown throughout on a small scale. Cotton is grown in the Leeward Islands ] and sisal in Cuba and Haiti. Only in Cuba and the Dominican Republic is cattle raising outstanding. The mineral wealth is not great. Trinidad is a significant producer of petroleum, and Cuba mines small quantities of iron ore, manganese, chromite, and other metals. Bauxite is mined in Jamaica, salt is evaporated in the Bahamas for export. Manufacturing is closely concerned with agricultural products such those used in sugar grinding and refining, rum, tobaccc manufacturing, coffee and cacao processing, etc. Curacao and Aruba have huge oil refineries, refining petroleum from Venezuela and Colombia. Other industries in the West Indies are service industries for local consumption. In early colonial times these islands were very valuable to the mother countries as producers of sugar and other products. Consequently, thousands of Negro slaves were imported to work the large estates. Later, about 1840, the islands decreased in importance and finally in a few years, became a liability. This was due to the conditions that followed emancipation of the slaves, and the increased production of beet sugar in Europe. The colonies never recovered from that slump, and today the many descendants of the former slaves are living in crowded quarters with little or no employment. Many Caribbean islands have much greater densities of population than most countries of the world. This means that many people must be supported by each acre of arable land---too many more than the acre can effectively support. On those islands where almost the entire economy is based on the growing of export crops such as sugar, population pressure is quite high. Export crops not only lower local food production, but prohibit the peasant from cultivating his own food supply, as he is forced off the best agricultural land. Export crops are naturally grown in preference to domestic food crops because they are so much more valuable and bring in greater returns to the land owner. In the West Indies the population has grown above the limit of what the cultivatable land can support. This causes widespread unemployment which is becoming more and more serious. Employment is seasonal and over-abundant, a situation that forces the workers work for a very low wage. The masses just do not earn enough cash to purchase the necessary imported foodstuffs. Most islands are unfortunate in having much of their areas in steep mountain slope which, in reality, increases the density of population in regards to arable land. Low wages plus limited agricultural land result in poor diets, crude housing, and, in general, a low standard of living. A low standard of living leads to poor social conditions and high disease rates. Something must be done to ellmiinate, or at least reduce, this predicament. Agricultural expansion would be economically difficult and in most cases physically impossible. Land resettlement would result in the expropriation of private lands (a difficult and unpleasant thing to do), and it would cut down on the general income of the territory. It would also cut the productivity of the land by lack of efficiency. Economic overpopulation might be remedied in these four ways: emigration, birth control, the creation of industrial jobs, and the expansion of the tourist trade. These four solutions should be considered only as theories rather than actual remedies. Even if programs in all of them should reach a satisfactory impetus, the population problem would only be helped to a moderate extent, not entirely remedied. The population problem will probably never be completely solved. Nevertheless, these solutions (except birth control) have helped the situation in the past and will continue to do so in the future, even more so if properly developed. Emigration would cut the population density and pressure if it could be instituted on a large organized scale. However, the West Indian Negroes are reluctant to leave their island homes, and most of the areas capable of absorbing them have immigration laws restricting those of African ancestry. The only places in the Western Hemisphere to which emigration could effectively take place are British Honduras and the three Guianas. These places have no racial discriminatory immigration laws and have plenty of unused land and undeveloped resources. But it would take a goodly sum of money and an energetic ambitious people to make for satisfactory settlement in these colonies. Birth control would be a good way to modify the future increase in population, but this measure is difficult to introduce and would be quite unpopular among the people if instituted. Industrialization holds more promise. The establishment of industries, other than those connected with agriculture, would reduce unemployment and increase the cash incomes of many workers. Several islands, Puerto Rico especially, are making efforts to attract mainland capital by offering tax exemptions, low-cost land, and buildings, etc. Questions concerning just how advantageous it would be to invest industrial capital in the West Indies is what is retarding rapid industrialization there. Tourism creates jobs directly and indirectly, and at the same time brings in millions of valuable dollar crefits. All Caribbean governments have been making a bid for visitors and have been sponsoring extensive advertizing programs to attract tourists from the mainland.
A 1947 National Geographic map titled "Countries of the Caribbean Including Mexico, Central America and the West Indies" was included as an enclosure in this thesis. BU Libraries made the decision not to scan this map. Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University