The Northern Islands
THE NORTHERN ISLANDS is a term of convenience used in this study
to refer to the independent Commonwealth of the Bahamas and the two
British dependent territories, the Cayman Islands and the Turks and
Caicos Islands. All three are located in the northern Caribbean
Basin. Both the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands form part
of the Bahamas archipelago, which extends 80 kilometers southeast
of Florida to approximately 150 kilometers north of Haiti and the
Dominican Republic. The Cayman Islands lie approximately 150
kilometers south of Cuba and 290 kilometers northwest of Jamaica.
All three island groupings share a similar historical
development. Christopher Columbus most likely made his first
landfall in the New World on a Bahamian island, although exactly
where has been debated for years. He discovered the Cayman Islands
on his third voyage in 1503. Although Ponce de Leon is said to have
discovered the Turks and Caicos in 1512, some historians still
speculate that Columbus landed on one of these islands during his
first voyage in 1492. In mid-1987 preparations were underway for
the celebration of the quincentenary of the discovery of the New
World; replicas of Columbus's ships were being constructed in Spain
to recreate the historic transatlantic voyage in 1992. The ships
were scheduled to drop anchor in the Bahamas on October 12 of that
year, focusing world attention on the small Caribbean nation.
The islands shared common political linkages at various times
in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Turks and Caicos
formed part of the Bahamas in the first half of the nineteenth
century. By the second half of the nineteenth century, both the
Turks and Caicos and the Caymans were Jamaican dependencies and
remained so until Jamaican independence in 1962. At that time, both
sets of islands became separate British colonies, a status that
they retained as of the late 1980s. The Bahamas, which became a
British colony in the mid-seventeenth century, attained
independence as a sovereign nation in 1973. In the late 1980s, all
three island groupings maintained membership in the British
Commonwealth of Nations (see Appendix B).
The Bahamas dwarfs both the Caymans and the Turks and Caicos in
area, population, and gross domestic product (GDP--see Glossary).
Despite differences, these three societies shared several common
social and economic characteristics in the late 1980s. The
populations of all three groupings had a strong African heritage.
Tourism and financial services were major elements of the domestic
economies in all three island groupings. The Bahamian and Caymanian
economies were particularly developed in these two sectors,
resulting in relatively high per capita income for the region and
for the developing world in general. The economy of the Turks and
Caicos lacked the necessary infrastructure to exploit these
activities fully; however, it was steadily establishing important
tourist and financial service sectors in the mid-1980s with the
help of British investments.
Finally, all three island groupings were affected in the 1980s
by drug trafficking. Both the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos
became transit points for traffickers from South America; in
addition, both societies experienced severe social and political
crises resulting from drug-related corruption. Traffickers were
also believed to have laundered funds in Caymanian banks. This
major international problem was being addressed throughout the area
under pressure and with assistance from the United States.
Data as of November 1987