Sugar & Slavery
in the Caribbean
Unfortunately, freedom did not automatically bring economic independence, or even a hint of the former prosperity of the sugar cane days. The former black African slaves, now new independent West Indians, found the era of colonialism in the 1800s perhaps even more poverty-ridden.
And with nothing coming out of the islands, Britain certainly did not want to invest anything back into them. Most of the West Indies went into a severe economic decline.
The former slaves may have inherited the Caribbean, but there was little for them to enjoy but sunshine and warm weather.
Land was parceled up so some could survive by subsistence farming. Others continued to work at low wages on the few struggling sugar plantations.
World War I brought an increase in the price of sugar and encouraged the islands to diversify into other crops, such as bananas, spices, cocoa and coffee. Tourism became popular after World War II.
By the end of the 20th century, most of the British West Indies chose independence, though the Cayman Islands decided to remain British. Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Martin, which pretend to be an extension of Europe, continued as French outposts in the Caribbean.
Since the end of the great plantation days, the tropical vegetation of the Caribbean slowly has been reclaiming the land. The original growth is gone in most places, replaced by what's called secondary growth, a mix of native trees and exotic (imported) plants such as bamboo.
Altered, perhaps, but not necessarily any worse. The argument could well be made that the forests have never been more beautiful or colorful due to the variety supplied by the imports.
Indeed, it is almost impossible to distinguish between what is "imported" and what is "native" to the Caribbean anymore. Sugar cane, bananas, coffee and cocoa--all-important economic staples--are not native species.
Because the Caribbean was stripped bare to plant sugar cane during the 1700s and 1800s, today is the best time since the 1600s to see the Caribbean at its most lush and green, to revel in the mountains and woodlands.
The locals call it the bush, the same term used in Africa to designate the wilderness.
For walkers and hikers, the Caribbean is better now than it has been for centuries. On many islands, these are the "good old days."