Socialism and Politics

1945-1968: Political changes in recent history have created the Caribbean of today

Though the world stage quieted down after World War II, the Caribbean was still full of activity as islands began asserting their independence. Autonomy and independence became an important themes throughout the Caribbean.

French Policy

Immediately after the end of World War II France began making political changes. The first change came in 1945, when Martinique and Guadeloupe became political Departments of France. This gave the citizens of these islands the same rights as French citizens living in Europe. In these Departments, both St. Barthélemy and French St. Martin were included with Guadeloupe.

Guadeloupe and Martinique were governed by a prefect (governor) from France, who controlled public services and the army and carried out any government directives. However, a 1960 riot on Martinique led to a larger role for the elected island councils, giving them more control of local laws and spending.

After 1946 agriculture became much less important, but French assistance has kept the quality of life high on these islands. While many Caribbean citizens have moved to France, many illegal immigrants enter these islands from throughout the region.

U.S. Holdings

Just after the second World War the U.S. made some changes, as well. In 1947 the Jones Law was amended, and Puerto Rico was given the opportunity to elect its own governor. Luis Muñoz Marín, who had served on the Senate for years, became the first governor of the island.

His widespread popularity was due in part to his campaign platform asserting that Puerto Rico should gain commonwealth status. His landslide victory of 61% of the popular vote spurred Congress to action, and in 1950 President Truman created the Public Law 600, allowing Puerto Rico to draft its own constitution.

Within two years Puerto Rico had become a U.S. commonwealth with the following attributes:

  • The island was locally self-governing.

  • Puerto Ricans pay no federal taxes.

  • Defense and foreign relations are left to the U.S.

Though this gives Puerto Rico less autonomy than British or Dutch colonies, the commonwealth government has many economic advantages for the islanders, who have used this economic advantage in recent history to attract investors. Another important change in 1947 was the Industrial Incentive Act, which encouraged the growth of industry on Puerto Rico. New industries were granted subsidies and tax exemptions for periods of 10 to 30 years. After Governor Marín's resignation in 1964, the political parties splintered.

The U.S. Virgin Islands were given limited self-government in 1968. However, both the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have repeatedly voted against closer associations with the U.S. Elections in Puerto Rico have traditionally been close, but the islanders choose to remain a commonwealth and not become a state. The U.S. Virgin Islands have voted against further autonomy five times since 1954.

Dutch Divisions

The Netherlands Antilles never fully recovered from the end of slavery, and by 1948 they were among the poorest Caribbean islands. However, after World War II they were granted full adult suffrage; two years later they gained internal self-government.

The Statute of the Realm led to a different style of government, giving the Dutch crown control of three kingdoms: the Netherlands, Suriname, and the Netherlands Antilles. Curaçao led the Netherlands Antilles group, which spawned problems with other islands that did not trust Curaçao.

The islands supported themselves via offshore banking and tourism. In fact, Curaçao began its offshore banking in 1963 with an agreement with the U.S. that was beneficial for both parties. In 1955 the first tourist hotel was built on Sint Maarten; it contained only 20 rooms.

Federating the Indies

Britain had worked to group its islands under a central governing body called the British Leeward Islands Federation in the 1800s. But by 1956 the Federation had crumbled. The islands hoped to go their separate ways, but Britain still wanted a united Caribbean government.

Though the British crown created the West Indies Federation two years later, the British Virgin Islands don't join it. Against their wishes, Jamaica and Trinidad joined with this group. The seat of power was then located on Trinidad. The politicians who dominated this federation were largely Jamaican, from the island's own labor parties.

By 1961 Jamaica had had enough of the federation, and stated its wish for independence. Britain agreed, and Jamaica received its independence in 1962. Soon afterward, the Federation fell apart when Trinidad left the group. Montserrat returned to Crown Colony status, and Barbados voted for its own independence in 1966.

Dictators' Rise and Fall

Though Trujillo began his reign in the Dominican Republic by greatly improving the country, his methods involved torture and murder to suppress his rivals. By the late 1950s, sugar prices were dropping steeply and his opposition was more widespread.

In 1960 Trujillo attempted to assassinate Venezuela's president, and the Organization of American states banned weapon sales to the Dominican Republic. The U.S. withdrew its price support for Dominican sugar. The following year Trujillo was assassinated by a seven-man team, though it is said they had some help from the U.S.

Trujillo's son took control of the army, with the figurehead president of Joaquin Balaguer still in place. However, the U.S. no longer wanted the Trujillo family in control and sent a ship to Trujillo City. In 1962 Juan Bosch became the president in free, democratic elections and attempted to improve the situation by redistributing 7 million acres of government land to more than 70,000 landless peasants.

Bosch was soon exiled, however, for a number of reasons. He weakened the Roman Catholic influence and threatened to weaken the army as well. His toleration of Communism was another setback, and in 1963 he was exiled.

The U.S again invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965, putting an end to political squabbles. Balaguer was elected and instated in 1966. He came alongside a new constitution, which featured an all-powerful government and president.

Haiti's political squabbling ended in 1957 when François Duvalier, known as "Papa Doc," won the presidency. Though he was an extremely popular politician with widespread support, he soon created a dictatorship and in 1964 declared himself "President for Life." He, too, weakened the Roman Catholic church, instead supporting Vodou (Voodoo).

Popular Socialism

Though a few elections took place in Cuba in the 40s and 50s, Batista returned to Cuba in 1951 and announced that he would run for the presidency. However, he feared that he would lose the election and thus overthrew the government in 1952. Though at first he was accepted, Fidel Castro led a revolt against him in 1953.

Castro was pardoned by Batista and went to Mexico. There he met "Che" Ernest Guevara and began leading a new socialist group. His return to Cuba was followed shortly afterward by the 1958 elections, which were rigged. On January 1, 1959 Batista fled, taking a good portion of Cuba's treasury with him.

Castro moved into Havana in 1959, and began taking over farms, factories, and retail stores, making them government possessions. The Agrarian Reform Act limited the size of personal holdings, and the Cuban government began seizing all properties larger than these limits, no matter if they were owned by Americans or Cubans.

After many changes by Castro, including seizures of American businesses, President Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961. By this time, Castro had already cultivated relations with Communist Russia. Kennedy planned the Bay of Pigs invasion that year, but the U.S. operation failed.

Russian involvement with Castro and Cuba increased, and the 1962 missile crisis grew from Kennedy's Bay of Pigs loss. However, the agreement between Russia and the U.S. for removal of the nuclear missiles angered Castro, who rushed to retain them. Regardless, this did not end the association between Russian Communism and Cuba.

Throughout the 20th century the U.S. has been involved in the affairs of much of the Caribbean. However, the British, Dutch, and French islands have each kept to themselves, slowly working out their own governments.


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