The Caribbean is a beautiful place, a series of tropical islands set on a sky-blue sea, bordered by the US, Central America, and South America. Yet the islands in this sea, from Cuba to Hispaniola, Puerto Rico to Trinidad, have a disturbing history intrinsically linked to the horrors of slavery, genocide, and near-perpetual violence since the arrival of the Spanish in 1492. The heinous crimes of European settlers still echo on the islands today.
Slavery Began on Day 1 in the New WorldPhoto: John VanderlynThe day Columbus set foot in the New World—incidentally, the day the concept of the "New World" began—is the day slavery started. One of Columbus' first orders of business was demanding the capture of a half dozen indigenous people. He decided the character of the natives, the Taino, made them amenable to slavery, and began plotting the ways in which he could use the these people to increase his personal wealth and that of Spain.
The Spanish Helped Themselves to Pretty Much EverythingPhoto: Eugene DelacroixAccording to diaries kept by Columbus and those in his cohort, many of the Spanish men with Columbus were so savage they weren't permitted to leave their ships without an approved chaperone. Favorite activities of these men included rape, murder, and theft. Columbus' objection to this behavoir is ultimately a bit weird, since he permitted the sexual enslavement of local women and girls and built his entire modus operandi in the New World on slavery and murder.
Materialism—an Alien ConceptPhoto: John Gabriel StedmanWhen the Spanish first arrived in the New World, they were amazed at how freely the native Taino and Arawak peoples gave stuff away. They simply handed things over to the Spanish, sometimes in exchange for worthless trinkets, other times with no strings attached. To think there was a time when the rampant materialism of the western wold was an alien concept on these very shores.
The Consequences of the Haitian RevolutionPhoto: Artist UnknownThe Haitian Revolution was the first successful slave revolt of the new world. Self-emancipated African slaves created their own country, but had to destroy much of what was once the America's most profitable colony; they destroyed plantations, depleted the educated work force, and burned much of the land. Wary of a country led by freed slaves, powerful nations at the time gave little, if no, aid to Haiti, which made it virtually impossible for the country to recuperate from the revolt. It is now the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The United States refused to acknowledge Haitian statehood until 1862, 71 years after the revolt. What's more, Thomas Jefferson, wary France would try to reclaim Louisiana after losing Haiti, made the Louisiana Purchase, thus vastly expanding slavery in the United States.