Jamaica is further from Trinidad than London is from Rome, and the little islands delightfully `strung like a necklace of jewels across the throat of the Caribbean’ are inconveniently small from an economic point of view. With the exception of the big three, Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados, populations range from 88,000 in Grenada to 12,000 in Montserrat and even less in Barbuda and the Grenadines. With such small home markets it is hardly practical to establish even the lightest industries, and agriculture must continue to be the bread and butter, although there are great financial sources – visit website of one of them.
In Antigua—pronounced `Anteega’—and St Kitts, sugar is the economic mainstay, but in drought years the crops can be cut to half. (In the drought of 1731 water cost the then considerable sum of 3s. a bucket.) In these last few years enough wells have been drilled to supply piped water to all the villages, but even if it were financially possible to tap for irrigation, sufficient subterranean water does not exist.
The minor Leewards, Montserrat, Nevis, Barbuda, struggle along with sea-island cotton (badly hit by modern synthetics), tomatoes and a new small experiment, castor oil. The lesser Windwards supplements a meagre living with fishing and boat-building. Since the French islands raised the price of liquor a possible sideline in smuggling, alas, no longer pays.
Thanks to the Associations of Banana Growers in Grenada, St Lucia, Dominica and St Vincent, stimulated by the enterprise of a Dutchman, John van Geest, who ships the fruit to Wales and northern England, the beautiful but formerly poverty-stricken Windward Isles are now enjoying a modest prosperity, and after five years it is heartening to see the difference in the people and their outlook on life. But even so the Windwards as well as the Leewards are ‘Grant in Aid’ islands, depending at present on Great Britain; after 1962 the money will have to come from Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad.
Barbados, a coral island not much larger than Greater London, is green, fertile and fairly flat. It is one of the most thickly populated areas in the world, with a density of 1398 people to the square mile. They earn their living through sugar or the tourist trade. There are more than forty hotels, with prices ranging from £4 to £15 a day. Unemployment is a nagging worry, though it is hoped that the new £4,500,000 eight-berth, deep-water harbour may stimulate the economy. The portents are good. The 6 per cent loan raised in London was over-subscribed in the first minute; the contractors, Richard Costain, finished months ahead of schedule; and some eighty-seven strategic reclaimed acres should tempt much-needed industrial development.
In Jamaica live more than half the people of the British West Indies, and with an area of 4411 square miles it is over twice the size of the next largest island, Trinidad. But Jamaicans have their own serious problems. In 1950, two American writers, Lawrence and Sylvia Martin, observed: ‘Jamaica is a poor-house balancing its books precariously as a tourist resort.’ In the last decade the situation has improved with the combined efforts of the Colonial Office, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Norman Manley, and some of the British taxpayers’ money. Tourists have increased from 75,000 to over 225,000 a year.
Deposits in Jamaica provide one quarter of the bauxite produced in the world. In 1953 Alumina Jamaica, a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of Canada, shipped the first consignment of alumina to Norway; now most of it goes to Kitimat in British Columbia. Two other companies obtained bauxite concessions and ship the raw ore to their parent plants in the United States, but Alumina Jamaica is still the only firm refining the bauxite on the spot. Total exports of the three concerns have increased, until in 1960 the export value of the bauxite was £10,900,000 and of the alumina £16,600,000. Sugar, traditional mainstay of the island, was by comparison worth £12,600,000 last year, and the export receipt from bananas, which everyone associates with Jamaica, amounted to £4,700,000.
The industrialization programme in Jamaica, given a start by the Encouragement and Incentive Laws passed during the Bustamente regime, is now a reality. Just outside Kingston is an extensive new industrial estate and over seventy new factories have been established in the island, though the labour absorbed by these has been somewhat offset by the mechanization of sugar. This year on one large estate alone 1500 workers have been made redundant, but if the industry is to survive in a changing world this rationalization is considered essential.
Trinidad, only 10° north of the Equator, is the most southerly of the Caribbean chain of islands and the most solvent of the group. Just the size of Lancashire, it has the good fortune to have oil to help balance the budget. Apart from numerous wells, including deep-sea drillings, the refinery at Pointe-à-Pierre is one of the largest in the British Commonwealth: it covers 3000 acres and employs over 5000. The island has another mineral asset, asphalt. The pitch lake, a rare phenomenon, was old when Sir Walter Raleigh wrote in his diary: ‘I rowed to an anchor port called by the natives Piche, and by the Spainiards Tierra de Brea. At this point there is that abundance of stone pitch that all the shippes of the world may be therewith laden, and we made a triall of it in trimming our shippes. It melteth not with the sunne as pitch of Norway and therefore for shippes trading south portes very profitable.’ Now the asphalt is used for surfacing roads, from Chicago’s Michigan Avenue to England’s M 1.