Economic development of the Caribbean

Even in 1800, perhaps a close student might have foreseen that a change was coming in the economic importance of the Caribbean--though the rôle which the great staples characteristic of its trade now play would not have been clear. This economic development was not to be in the precious metals, nor, indeed, was it to involve in major degree products native to the New World. The sugar and coffee transplanted from Asia rather than the native tropical products were to be the mainstay of the export trade of the Caribbean.

At the end of another century the discoverer would look back on developments some of which he could only have considered catastrophic and some of which he would have found highly encouraging. The Spanish continental holdings would have disappeared, replaced in the main by a group of republics the history of which was tarnished by wars among themselves and more frequently by civil commotions all of which had delayed their social, economic, and political advance. The islands also would have passed from Spanish control, some to European rivals of the mother-country, some into the control of their own populations, and some to the control, temporary or permanent, of a new world-power which had arisen in America itself.

From another point of view he would have found ground for encouragement. Already a great economic advance, which was a century before a matter of prophecy, was a reality. The trade to Europe was being supplemented by a northsouth trade which in the next quarter-century would revolutionize the commercial importance of the region. Old lines of production were assuming new importance and new ones were coming into being. Trade exchanges were under way which in their growth would make the rich old commerce of the Indies seem poor by comparison. Echoes could be heard of great projects which would make the Caribbean he had discovered one of the great crossroads of the world, a route toward a south to him unknown, and one of the great sea roads to the Far East which he himself had hoped in vain to reach.

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