Greater Antilles

Greater Antilles

Greater Antilles: see West Indies.

The Greater Antilles is one of three island groups in the Caribbean.

The islands of the Caribbean Sea, collectively known as the West Indies are sorted by size and location into the Bahamas (or Lucayan archipelago), the Lesser Antilles and the Greater Antilles. The Greater Antilles are Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (with Haiti on the western third and the Dominican Republic on the eastern two thirds of the island), and Puerto Rico. The smaller islands in the vicinity of these four major islands are sometimes also treated as part of the group. This includes the smaller islands that surround the main islands, but are still part of the main island country (eg. the Republic of Cuba consists of the island of Cuba, the Isle of Pines, and several smaller islands around them). The Cayman Islands are also often included in the Greater Antilles because of their geographical proximity to Cuba. The Greater Antilles are made up of continental rock, part of North America, as distinct from that of the Lesser Antilles, which are mostly young volcanic or coral islands. The Greater Antilles can be contrasted with the Lesser Antilles.

The Yucatan Channel separates the Greater Antilles from Mexico and the Florida Straits separate them from the United States. On their southern sides of the Greater Antilles, and completely surrounding Jamaica, is the Caribbean Sea.

Located on the islands of the Greated Antilles are three original members of the United Nations: the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba. Jamaica was formerly a possession of the United Kingdom, winning its independence on August 6, 1962, and joining the United Nations that same year. Puerto Rico is still a voluntary Commonwealth of the United States (by repeated votes by its people), which means that it is neither a state, nor a U.S. territory, nor an independent country.

The Greater Antilles had a clear strategic importance as a gateway to the Americas and during the years when sea power defined a country's might, they were the battlegrounds for several important powers, mainly Spain, France, and Great Britain. Later on, the Greater Antilles became important to the United States of America and its large fleets of merchant ships and its large Navy.

First exploited for their own resources, the Greater Antilles were later utilized as the principal landing points for ships traveling between Europe and the New World. With the advent of long-range steamships and commercial airlines, the strategic importance of these islands has diminished over time.

The Greater Antilles are still important for their naval and air bases of the United States and the United Kingdom, and Cuba was formerly a satellite nation of the Soviet Union. The United States leases a naval base and naval air station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, making yearly payments by check that the current Cuban government does not cash.

Haiti is currently one of the world's poorest countries, and the most poverty-stricken one in the Americas.

Extending along the northern edge of the Greater Antilles is the southern edge of the so-called "Bermuda Triangle". The southern leg of this triangle extends from southeastern Florida, not too far from Cuba, to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The other two legs of this triangle extend north to Bermuda.


Country with flag Area
(1 July 2005 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Cuba 102.4 Havana
Dominican Republic 183.7 Santo Domingo
Haiti 292.7 Port-au-Prince
Jamaica 248.6 Kingston
Puerto Rico (USA) 430.2 San Juan
Total 169.05

See also


Rogonzinski, Jan. A Brief History of the Caribbean. New York: Facts on File, 1992.

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