Lecturer: Robert Buddan

Topic One.

Lectures 1-2.

September 14-15, 2000


Political Geographical Foundations.

One of the important foundations on which Caribbean politics rests is geography. Geography defines territory and territory is basic to the definition of the state. (1) Political geography looks at the interaction between the physical and political aspects of a country. Cohen says that political geography is the study of the variation of political phenomena from place to place in connection with variations in other features of the Earth and that the political significance of any area bears a well-defined relation to its climate, landforms and natural resources. > (2)

The political geography of the Caribbean has been important from the time of the earliest inhabitants. As Knight says:

"Throughout the journals of Christopher Columbus, references to the physical geography of the Caribbean islands appear very often. Although he did not know it at the time, the physical geography has been, from pre-Hispanic times to the present, one of the dominant and inescapable influences on the pattern of life and society in the region. Islands, especially small islands, produce powerful influences on people. The topography and geology of the Caribbean islands have been major influences on the types of societies which have developed there since the times of the earliest inhabitants." > (3)

Indeed, standard definitions of the Caribbean include geography combined with the region's culture and history. The definition used here is one that encompasses the islands of the Caribbean Sea along with mainland countries like Belize and Guyana that share the cultural and historical patterns of the islands. While there is considerable geographic, linguistic, and ethnic fragmentation of the Caribbean, a common historical background as colonies of exploitation, of plantation societies based on sugar and slavery, as well as their conditions as small island states provide them with a common point of departure from other nations in the hemisphere. > (4)

Three important aspects of geography have political significance for the Caribbean:

(1) Small size means small political, economic and social space and this creates special circumstances for the economies and polities of Caribbean states.

(2) Location in the Americas exposes the Caribbean to the currents of the international and regional politics that typify the region such as the interests of great powers, both historically and currently.

(3) Physiography and climate describe the physical characteristics and the climatic zone of the Caribbean which determine the natural resources of the countries and their susceptibility to natural disasters.

The relevance of political geography is recognized by the fact that Caribbean countries are referred to as SMALL ISLAND DEVELOPING STATES. >(5) Their small,'islandic' nature and location in the Caribbean sub-region of the Americas are facts of geography that have had significant importance to the character of their development over history.


Small states are worth studying. They make up about 40% of the total number of states in the world. Small states must be studied in their own right. They are not merely mini-versions of large states. The geographical differences between large and small countries lead to qualitatively different forms of economy, society and politics.

Since the second World War more than 100 states have become independent, 89 with a population of five million or less. There are 49 independent states with populations of 1.5 million or less, 28 in the Commonwealth and 42 in the developing world. These are significant numbers and cannot be ignored.> (6)


Small size is measured on two bases here:


Population: Small countries have populations which are under 10 million > (7). Of the 28 islands in the Caribbean, 22 of them have populations of under one million. Only Cuba, the most populous, has a population of about ten million.

Land area: Countries with a land area of less than 20,000 square kilometers are regarded as being small. Of the 28 islands in the Caribbean, 21 have land areas of less than 20,000 square kilometers and 19 have land areas under 10,000 square kilometers. The largest is Guyana with 215,000 square kilometers.

Most Caribbean states can, in fact, be further sub-divided into two small state categories: mini-states and micro-states ( the Windward and Leeward islands of the eastern Caribbean).


Small size leads to two general problems for states. Baker acknowledges that, "Scale can and does have serious consequences for many aspects of life in small countries, especially in terms of economic and political viability and vulnerability." >(8)


Viability becomes an important consideration for small states. The concern with viability is:

Do small states have the economic resources, political power, governmental capacity and population skills to manage independently on their own? Can they be viable as politically Independent states? Is political Independence a credible course for them? >(9)


Vulnerability is another important consideration for small states. The concern here is:

Can small states defend their sovereignty, independence and the well-being of their populations against the power of large states, global organizations and processes, as well as natural disasters against which they are highly vulnerable by virtue of their small size? Can small economies avoid being dependent on foreign resources and can the governments of small states manage without foreign aid? Are small states mere pawns in the game of "big state" politics? >(10)

These twin concerns with viability and vulnerability >(11) have had important consequences in the region's political development. For example:

(1) Of the 28 Caribbean nations, 15 have chosen political Independence and 13 remain political dependencies, mostly by choice. These states deem themselves too small to be viable independent units. > (12)

(2) For hundreds of years going back to the 1700's, both the British colonial government and generations of Caribbean nationalists have attempted schemes towards political federation to reduce the separate administrative costs of governments and combine the political power of many countries.

(3) The region has been faced with a history of European and North American intervention from the inception of colonialism through the cold war and currently through globalization.

(4) The Caribbean region remains vulnerable to natural disasters - hurricanes, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes - because of its climatic zone. Natural disasters damage the entire economies of these small countries. Their main industries - tourism and agriculture - are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. A natural disaster can mean the difference between economic growth and decline. The scale of damage is greater over small spaces than larger ones where damage might be localized to some areas.

Some General Characteristics Of Small Countries.

Small countries have been found to have certain economic, political and other characteristics that distinguish them from large countries.


A study by the United Nations in 1984 listed a number of economic characteristics that were the consequences of small size.> (13)

1. Small economies have a greater dependency on foreign trade and world prices since their economies are too small to produce their needs. They are price-takers.

2. Small economies have a narrow range of resources because of their small physical area. They are therefore more specialized and dependent on one or two major commodities.

3. Small economies are mainly dependent on the foreign corporation or multinational corporation which often monopolizes their trade and controls their resources and which have greater advantages in world production and trade over the limited operations of the local company.

4. Small economies are less industrialized because their internal markets are not able to support a large domestic manufacturing base. Their local markets are narrow because their populations and consumer markets are small.

5. Small economies have a narrow range of skilled manpower and the small industrial base is less able to supply jobs for the range of skills that are available. They are prone to the advice of so-called foreign experts. For these reasons small economies suffer the problem where investment in education and skills is lost due to migration or the "brain drain".


There are a number of political characteristics that are a result of small size.

1. Small polities have a narrow range of public institutions. Government services are fewer because public agencies are small and less resourceful. They are more dependent on international organizations to support health, education, finance etc. Caribbean governments depend heavily on United Nations agencies and the World Bank for research, funding and personnel to support population, education, health, the environment, infrastructure and other programmes. These agencies act as extra-governmental agencies to supplement the work of these small governments and compensate for their relative incapacity.

2. The government and administration of small countries suffer greater diseconomies of scale in providing infrastructure and services and therefore costs tend to be higher per population. Some services are not economical at all. The cost of providing nuclear energy is prohibitive for small countries; so too is the cost of modern telecommunications and their global links as well as airports, airlines, and shipping in some cases.

3. Small polities have more centralized governments. They can often be administered by a central government and have less need for strong local governments. Federal or provincial governments can be avoided because the distances between centre and outlying regions are short and the governing space under one central government is small and manageable. The smaller Caribbean states have weak local governments and some do not have local government at all. [Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent].

4. Political processes are more informal because small social space gives greater opportunities for face-to-face interaction between political leaders and constituents. Political business is often conducted on this interpersonal basis. Formal rules of administrative procedure can easily be bypassed leading to weak accountability to rules and application of regulations. This causes controversies over such matters as the award of contracts and personal favours through patronage. In small societies families and friendship networks are more tightly connected and there is more pressure for politicians to deliver personal favours as a duty to these networks and in exchange for votes.

5. Small countries are highly politicized because issues easily rise to national prominence. Localities are not distant and separate but close and interdependent. Because the population is highly connected through family and friendship networks across small spaces, events and their impact come to directly or indirectly affect people across the society.

6. Small polities have fewer elected representatives. This ranges from 60 in Jamaica to 36 in Trinidad and Tobago and 17 in St. Lucia. The larger Caribbean countries, however, like Cuba has 510 representatives and the Dominican Republic has 150. Yet, for most of the islands the number of representatives is too small to be divided into sufficient numbers to carry out governing responsibilities comprehensively. For example, legislative committees that might have specialized responsibilities for finance, production, infrastructure, foreign affairs etc., are few.

A small number of representatives have multiple responsibilities for the demanding work of their constituency, their party, legislative and executive or ministerial functions. This affects the performance of the representative since it often makes him a 'Jack of all trades but a master of none'. This also affects the quality of democracy since the concentration of much responsibility and the power that goes with this is often located in the hands of a few individuals.

7. Small polities have a smaller ratio of constituents to representatives and this is theoretically better for democracy. For example, the ratio of one elected national representative to the population is: St. Lucia, 1: 9,000; Cuba, 1: 21,500; Trinidad and Tobago, 1: 30,500; Jamaica, 1: 41,500. This compares with the United Kingdom where the ratio is 1:90,600; and the United States with, 1:504,000. However, because small countries are developing countries their representatives have less resources with which to service their constituents.


1. In international relations small governments have limited military and defense capabilities, diplomatic relations and resources as well as of foreign policy specialists. They depend on the goodwill of foreign governments for the preservation of their territorial independence and on international organizations through which they make diplomatic contacts and coordinate research on mutual affairs such as trade and peace.

2. Smallness and low power capabilities have a significant implication for international relations caused by the inability of the state, acting alone, to alter or control the immediate environment within which it operates. This leads to a passive foreign policy where these states enter into clientilistic and special relationships with more powerful states.

3. Small states have limited diplomatic services and practice foreign policies restricted to a narrow range of interests. They are unable to staff and maintain large and universalistic diplomatic services. They rely heavily on international organisations such as the United Nations through which to share resources and plan collective initiatives. Small states are more dependent on international aid than large ones.

Public Administration.

Size can be linked with the administrative variable and a number of constraints revealed. Baker enumerates them as: "Overextended personnel, small reserve capacity, few specialists attracted or retained, inadequate compensation, inappropriate and infrequent training, low turnover rate, small establishment, limited promotion and mobility, limited alternative employment, low morale and motivation, low job satisfaction, low productivity, low adaptability to changing conditions, shortage of managerial skills, low problem-solving capacity, high levels of frustration, fear of political intimidation, timid decision making, low level of innovativeness and entrepreneurship, dependence on routines." (14)

Public administration occurs in a very different context in small countries because of resource constraints, the small size and capacity of governments and the low levels of availability of skilled personnel.



The ecological conditions associated with small size have vital importance for the economics of sustainable development.

1. Small island economies are virtually completely dependent on their natural environment, including their natural resources, for economic survival. Most try to survive off the land, fishing, mineral resources and tourism.

2. Small island societies have fragile ecosystems and are comprised mainly of coastal zones. Socio-economic activities have an immediate impact on the marine environment.

3. Island societies are highly susceptible to natural hazards and studies predict that global warming will exacerbate the impact of natural hazards. >(15)

Conway traces these problems back to the point of European colonization when, he says, the assault on the islands' fragile natural resources began. There has been a disastrous consequence for flora, fauna, land, mountain, and marine ecosystems. He lists many environmental problems arising over the years. They include, forest clearing, inappropriate land-use practices, soil exhaustion and erosion, coral reef destruction, marine pollution, wildlife destruction and species extinction, damaged coastal zone ecosystems, diminished mountain forest ecosystems, wetlands destruction, potable water shortages, and depleted energy resources. (16)

4. Political Science And Size.

There is no distinct school of Caribbean politics. However, a few important studies have recognized the problems that small size poses for viability and vulnerability as well as for governance and democracy.

The political science perspective is, of course, that one bearing most directly on the nature of Caribbean political systems. One perspective on governance and democracy in the Caribbean is offered by Patrick Emmanuel.> (17) To him, political geography and political culture are the important variables. In the first case, small size makes Caribbean governments dependent on international support to increase their capacity for managing domestic issues.

In the second case, Caribbean political values have an authoritarian tradition coming out of its history. Emmanuel speaks of a political culture that accepts powerful leaders and an authoritarian style of leadership formed out of the tradition of the rule of the planter class, the merchant class, colonial governors and charismatic nationalist leaders at successive stages of history. This is not favourable to democracy because it results in a generalized antipathy towards democratic participation.

Selwyn Ryan also looks at the problems of governance in small Caribbean polities. (18) He finds that in small societies critical decision-making functions are performed by a limited number of individuals; interpersonal relationships are intense and so British administrative principles of anonymity and impartiality are difficult to practice; the close personal relations between opposing politicians and their supporters tend to lead to tribal-type rivalries for scarce benefits and resources are usually scarce because of small size; the relative weakness of the private sectors means that the state has to play a stronger role in providing employment, housing and other services and so the state has more power to distribute patronage, thus intensifying rivalries between party supporters for control of the state. As a result many people live off politics rather than for politics. These rivalries further waste resources. Finally, small legislatures make executives stronger. All of these pose problems for governance in small Caribbean states.

The question remains, how important is 'size' in political analysis? Peters is clear on this point. He says, size is the key characteristic distinguishing the Eastern Caribbean from other developing nations. (19) But, Ryan is less convinced. He explains:

"Size is...not the independent variable that determines what takes place in the Eastern Caribbean...Politics in small states has its own dynamic, but this dynamic is driven by many other things. Political institutions, both formal and informal, help to influence that dynamic. The nature of the human and material resource base which underpins the political system also serve to exaccerbate or ameliorate some of the consequences of size. The opennes or bordered nature of the society also informs its political culture...The family and class structure of the society would also serve to influence the characteristics of the political system...Important too is whether or not there exists the type of pragmatic elite consensus which obtains in Barbados among the political parties or leading institutions in civil society, or whether there is pervasive distrust among both the elite and broad masses such as obtains in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and some of the OECS states...The relationship between size and these other variables is an interactive one...Having said this however, there is no gainsaying the fact that size is a major factor in shaping the political cultures of island states." >(20)

In small countries too, the relationship of scale between the state and society is important. A small country's public service is not merely a small version of that of a big country. Society in a large country is more autonomous and groups are more separate from the state. In small countries groups are more enmeshed with the state and the state with society. The linkages that exist occur more through individuals and personalities rather than through organised, impersonal bureaucracies representing the state. Relations are more personal, intense, and emotionally charged. The modern democratic state is expected to operate as a rationalised legal power and resolve public conflict through formal and impersonal organisations rather than through informal negotiations by the antagonists themselves, as often occurs in small countries.


The general conclusion is that small size imposes differences between Caribbean states and larger states. One must be careful in how comparisons are made, problems are diagnosed and solutions suggested. For instance, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and western governments often insist on certain standard economic and political practices that they expect to hold for all societies, regardless of size, history or political culture. As a result, there are conflicts between what the national situation requires and what the foreign proposals are and there are failures from following the models of development of other and very different countries.

Another conclusion is that there are important constraints to the development of small states. Yet, this does not mean that their development is not possible. Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea are among those small states that have made substantial economic progress. Here in the Caribbean, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago are among the current success cases. In fact, the Caribbean as a whole does better than many states in Africa, Asia and Latin America. >(21) Conway too, makes the point that smallness does have some advantages that post-colonial Caribbean generations, equipped with new and more confident self-images, can make good of.> (22)

1. In International law, the state is defined by territory, population, independence, and effective government.

2. Saul Cohen, Geography and Politics in a Divided World, 1963, pp.5-7.

3. Franklin Knight: The Caribbean: Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism ,1990,p.3.

4. Taken from J. Heine and L. Manigat (eds.), The Caribbean and World Politics, 1988, p.2.

5. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) is a recognized association of States that include Caribbean states mainly concerned with environment and development. See, Mark Griffiths, "A Chance for Island States, Caribbean Affairs,7,2,1994, 131-149.

6. Commonwealth Secretariat, Report by a Commonwealth Advisory Group: A Future for Small States. Overcoming Vulnerability.1997.

7. See Ramsaran, The Commonwealth Caribbean in the World Economy, p.265, 1989, and R. Kuznets, "Economic Growth of Small Nations", in Austin Robinson (ed.) The Economic Consequences of the Size of Nations,1963. "Size" is defined differently by various writers. I follow Charles Taylor's advise that the dividing line between large and small states should rely on the theoretical criteria of the researcher. See, Small States and Territories, 1971, p.188.

8. Randall Baker, Public Administration in Small Island States, 1992, p.1.

9. Anthony Payne states that, "The official British view for most of the period since the Second World War has held that it was impossible in the modern world for the present separate communities, small and isolated, as most of them were, to achieve and maintain full self-government on their own". Certain minimum criteria of size, measured in terms of economic resources, population and territorial area were necessary for a colony to be 'viable' but were not fulfilled. See, "Britain and the Caribbean", in Paul Sutton (ed.) Europe and the Caribbean, p.14

10. John Connell, Sovereignty and Survival: Island Microstates in the Third World, 1988.

11. These are the main concerns of Vaughan Lewis (ed), Size, Self-Determination and International Relations:The Caribbean,1976

12. Payne speaks of, "the unwillingness of the island leaders and their peoples to seize the independence option" of which there was, "an absence of any strong local demand." Op.cit, p.26. Helen Hintzens finds that, "the vast majority of the inhabitants of the French Caribbean countries...opt for the retention of French nationality and departmental status", but ascribes this to French centralism, assimilationalism and island political clientilism. See, "France in the Caribbean" in Paul Sutton, op.cit, p.65. Rosemarijin Holfte and Gert Oostindie say, "None of the Dutch politicians we talked to supports an independence on the model of Suriname, that is, without any unique constitutional ties to the Netherlands". See "The Netherlands and the Dutch Caribbean: Dilemmas of Decolonization", in Sutton, op.cit, p.78.

13. Ramsaran, p.263, see also Dennis Conway, "Microstates in a Macroworld," in Thomas Klak (ed.), Globalism and Neoliberalism: The Caribbean Context,1998, pp.51-63.

14. Baker, op.cit.,p.14.

15. Dennis Pantin, The Economics of Sustainable Development in Small Caribbean Islands, 1994.

16. Conway, op.cit., p.55.

17. Patrick Emmanuel, Governance and Democracy in the Commonwealth Caribbean: An Introduction,1993.

18. Selwyn Ryan, Democratic Governance, op.cit.

19. Donald Peters, The Democratic System in the Eastern Caribbean,1992,pp.11-12.

20. Selwyn Ryan, Winner Takes All, 1999, pp. 308-309.

21. Ramsaran, op.cit., especially pages 273-285.

22. Conway, op.cit., especially pages 56-63.

Second topic -Political History.

Political Geography | Political History | Political Culture | Political Leadership | | Democratic Traditions | Caribbean Civil Societies | The Decolonizing State | The Caribbean Abroad