The continental portion of Middle America includes Mexico and Central America, which consists of seven small countries between Mexico and Colombia. Latin Americans, however, usually distinguish between Central America and Panama. The attitude has a historical basis. Panama was detached from Colombia in 1903 and continues to be regarded by many Latins politically and culturally as part of South American. Belize, independent from Britain only since September 1981, is culturally different from its neighbors. In addition, many Latin Americans regard Belize as having been unfairly seized from Guatemala by the British. Regardless of the Latin American custom, the term Central America as used in this book refers to all countries that lie between Mexico and Colombia.
A useful geographical subdivision of the Caribbean region is that of rimland and mainland sectors. This division recognizes racial and cultural differences resulting from contrasting economic histories. As defined, the rimland includes all Caribbean islands and the western coastal margin from northern Belize to the PanamanianColombian border. The area was dominated historically by the institution of the plantation or shows in its present population composition evidence of association with that institution. The peoples are black or partly black, with concentrations of East Indians, and a white upper-class structure. The languages and most of the culture are European in origin. An economy based on agricultural exports--sugar in particular--was dominant. The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands are excluded from the rimland despite some resemblances due to a lack of a plantation history. Plantations were part of the history of the Central American coastal zone, although the black populations there result as much from the dumping of black and Carib refugees from the islands as from slavery.
The interior area categorized as mainland was dominated culturally by the hacienda, where a white elite minority held political and economic control over majority peoples who were racially indian or mestizo. Unlike the plantation, the hacienda functioned more as a self-sustaining way of life than as a commercial enterprise. A recent manifestation of the contrasts between the two culture realms occurred in Nicaragua in 1981. There, ostensibly in the interests of state security, the Sandinista central government forcibly relocated thousands of the partly black Miskito, Sumus, and Ramas indians. A lack of understanding and trust between the two groups is hardly surprising in light of the fact that the coastal peoples differ from other Nicaraguans in terms of race, language, religion, social organization, and basic economy.
Coastal Venezuela, Colombia, and even parts of Mexico also exhibit at least some of the qualities of the rimland. In fact, on the basis of the above characteristics, the concept of a rimland could with logic be extended even further to encompass the southern United States, the Guianas, and even parts of coastal Brazil. Like any simple scheme intended to divide complex elements, application of the rimland-mainland idea requires adjustments in some circumstances. Yet its thesis seems valid. It is a useful concept in an effort to consider the geopolitics of the Caribbean.