Decolonization in the Caribbean

American Superpower

North America 1979.1027

Decolonization in the Caribbean

America in World War II, the Cold War and today (27 October 1979)

Historical Map of North America & the Caribbean

In the 1960s and '70s, the British withdrew from most of their remaining colonies in the Americas. A brief attempt to create a West Indies Federation collapsed when Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago decided to pull out, resulting in each island group getting its own independence. Elsewhere in the region, the British and Dutch left Guyana and Suriname; and the US agreed to return the Canal Zone to Panama.

Main Events

Spring Offensive

North Vietnam launched probing attacks into South Vietnam, capturing Phước Long by early January 1975. With it now clear that there would be no US intervention, the North Vietnamese invaded the Central Highlands in March, decisively defeating the South Vietnamese at Ban Me Thuot. On 30 April, the People's Army of Vietnam and Viet Cong forces entered Saigon, bringing the war in Vietnam to an end.

Independence of Suriname

After negotiations beginning in 1973, the Dutch constituent country of Suriname became fully independent from the Netherlands as the Republic of Suriname. Despite a Dutch-instituted ten-year aid programme, roughly a third of the population emigrated prior to independence in the belief that the new nation would not be viable. Johan Ferrier became the first President, with Henck Arron as Prime Minister. Both would be overthrown in military coups in 1980.

Nicaraguan Revolution

Following the murder of leftist political voice Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal on 10 January 1978 in Nicaragua, riots broke out against the dictatorial regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle, believed to be behind the killing. On 22 August, the Sandinista National Liberation Front - the main opposition to Somoza - captured the National Palace while the legislature was in session, taking 2,000 hostages. Although the government agreed to pay for their release, revolts continued and on 17 July 1979 Somoza surrendered power to the Sandinistas.

Independence of Dominica

The United Kingdom granted independence to the Commonwealth of Dominica, with Patrick John as the country's first Prime Minister. Less than a year later - in August 1979 - the island was hit by Hurricane David, killing 42 people and destroying or severely damaging three-quarters of Dominica's homes. Despite this, and several coup attempts, Dominica would continue as a democracy into the 21st century.

Independence of Saint Lucia

After eight years as a British associated state, Saint Lucia became fully independent and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. John Compton - Premier since 1967 - became the country's first Prime Minister, only to be defeated in general elections later that year.

Panama Canal Treaty effective

On 7 September 1977, United States President Jimmy Carter signed the Panama Canal Treaty with Panamanian President Omar Torrijos, guaranteeing the return of the Canal Zone to Panama. The treaty became effective on 1 October 1979, when the Canal Zone ceased to exist and the process of transferring control from the US to Panama began. The US would continue operational control of the Canal until 31 December 1999, when it would relinquish this control and all remaining facilities to Panama.

First Revolutionary Government Junta

A coup by the civil-military Revolutionary Government Junta (JRG) deposed the President General of El Salvador, Carlos Humberto Romero. The junta consisted of the colonels Adolfo Arnaldo Majano Ramos and Jaime Abdul Gutiérrez Avendaño, and three civilians, Guillermo Ungo, Mario Antonio Andino, and Román Mayorga Quirós. After a bloody few months, the junta would collapse in early 1980, to be replaced by an equally violent Second Revolutionary Government Junta.

Independence of St Vincent & Grenadines

After exactly ten years as a British associated state, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines became fully independent. Milton Cato - Premier since 1974 - became the country's first Prime Minister, serving until his electoral defeat in 1984. Despite suffering from a number of devastating hurricanes over the next decades, the island nation would retain a stable democracy.

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