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La Educación
Número: (121) II
Año: 1995

Economic and Political Conditions in the Late 19th Century

Between 1864 and 1898, all of the British Caribbean colonies except Barbados gave up their representative system of government and became crown colonies with single chamber legislatures. The main stimulus for this change was the fear that black and colored groups could eventually dominate the assemblies. Accordingly, the British governor of each territory, with or without the support of his official and unofficial nominees, became the government. This change had the effect of tightening the control of the Colonial Office over the colonies in the Caribbean.

Fifty years after emancipation, the British Caribbean colonies remained “purely agricultural, having neither manufacturing or mining industries.”29 Throughout this period, the prosperity of the colonies remained closely related to the fortunes of the sugar cane industry. The combined effects of the Free Trade legislation of 1846 and increasing competition from subsidized European beet sugar, at a time of low productivity levels and rising production costs, inevitably resulted in the falling profitability of the sugar plantations.

The economic hardship brought on by the problems of the sugar industry was considerably alleviated by the development of new crops—bananas in Jamaica, cocoa in Trinidad, rice in Guyana, limes in Dominica, arrowroot in St. Vincent, sea island cotton in Montserrat. These crops were initially used for domestic consumption, but as the century drew to a close were used for export purposes as well. This development can be attributed to the productivity of the Caribbean peasant, and peasant agriculture was to become a significant element in the Caribbean economy at this time.