Independence and Territories

1971-Present: Throughout modern history many islands focused on gaining independent status

Though some islands in the Caribbean have had trouble stabilizing, others have survived and even flourished in recent history. The following islands settled down during the 20th century.

British Industry

After Jamaica and Barbados each gained their independence, many British states wished to become independent as well. By the 1980s, tourism and offshore banking supported nearly all of the British islands of the Caribbean.

The Bahamas was an early forerunner in these industries because of its location near the U.S. coastline. However, the British Virgin Islands also attracted sailors to its waters, and the Cayman Islands benefited greatly from offshore banking.

Prior to 1995, Montserrat's residents worked in data processing and financial services, but there were banking problems in 1992. Before that, the island was devastated by Hurricane Hugo, which destroyed much of the Caribbean in 1989. Nonetheless, Montserrat enjoyed a great deal of tourism before the volcanic eruption of Chances Peak in 1995. Islanders were temporarily moved to the northern portion of the island. It soon became clear that this was more than a temporary relocation, as the volcano erupted again in 1997 and the southern portion of the island was declared off-limits until it could be settled again.

Nearly every Caribbean island has had trouble in modern history with drug trafficking. The 1980s and 90s were filled with accusations as drugs made their way from South America to the North via these islands. Anguilla's offshore banking businesses were put on hold when they were accused of drug trafficking in 1994.

In 1985 the Turks and Caicos' Chief Minister, Norman Saunders, and two council members were arrested for drug trafficking. Saunders was replaced by Nathaniel Francis, but a government report the following year stated that Francis was unfit for duty, and the Governor's powers were increased.

British Independence

Throughout the 70s and 80s Britain granted independence to any of its islands that requested it. The Turks and Caicos got their own local government in 1972 and held their first elections in 1976. Since then, the two major political parties have simply exchanged power. Other British isles to gain independence include the following:

  • Grenada in 1974

  • Antigua in 1981

  • Anguilla separates from St. Kitts and Nevis in 1982


Jamaica's independent islanders had their own troubles. The two major political parties, led by Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante, switched power every few years. However, Manley's son Michael took the lead in 1974 and led the island toward socialism.

Edward Seaga developed as the new opposition, taking up Bustamante's role. After socialism failed, Seaga took control. Manley was re-elected in 1989, and P.J. Patterson took control after Manley retired in 1992. Though power has changed hands numerous times, the changes were generally peaceful and Jamaica has remained stable.


Trinidad is unique because it is home to oil and natural gas - the only Caribbean island with both of these natural resources. A black power group from the 1960s was part of an uprising in 1971, and a 1973 oil embargo caused oil prices to rise steeply, allowing the Prime Minister to socialize Trinidad. However, with an economic depression in the 1980s the island developed problems.

In 1990 an Afro-Muslim group under the leadership of Yasin Abu Bakr led a coup, but the rebels eventually surrendered. Elections again took place in 1991. Drug trafficking on Trinidad also became important an issue in the 80s and 90s.


For much of Barbados' history, two political parties have traded office and made the island successful, taking advantage of small amounts of oil and rapid tourism growth. However, Barbados' economy fell apart in the early 90s. A new president in 1997 helped to improve the island's situation, but he lost power to Prime Minister Arthur in 1999.

French, Dutch, and American Changes

For the most part, the Caribbean islands were prosperous and peaceful during the end of the 20th century. Leaders helped to point the islands toward economic success.


In 1982 and 83, France enacted some political reforms that greatly impacted their Caribbean departments. Local councils gained more control, and each would now elect two separate councils. The General Council would handle day-to-day needs and activities. The Regional Council would look over the islands' economic growth. However, the French Caribbean islands were still widely supported by the French government.

Netherlands Antilles

The Dutch Caribbean focused on offshore banking, though some islands also enjoyed tourism to bolster their incomes. However, in 1988 the U.S. broke relations with Curaçao for offshore banking due to problems with the drug trade. Similarly, Aruba was one of the top drug transit locations in 1996. Aruba moved to separate itself from the Netherlands Antilles group in 1986.

While the Dutch island of St. Maarten began developing its own tourist industry, thanks in part to its status as a free port, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao relied on government-sponsored hotels. St. Maarten's hotels were not government-sponsored.

U.S. Territories

The U.S. territories in the Caribbean experienced some economic struggles in the latter portion of the 20th century, but for the most part its Virgin Islands became popular tourist ports. St. Thomas in particular grew popular as a free trade port. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico struggled with its industry, and in 1996 the island ended its tax exemption for foreign investors. In 2005 the foreign companies already on the island lost their exemption status.

All of these countries have come to encourage tourism in recent years. Their stability is extremely dependent upon outside forces, as it has always been. In recent years, hurricanes have been a large strain on the islands.


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