Spanish West Indies

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The Spanish West Indies, Spanish Caribbean or the Spanish Antilles (also known as "Las Antillas Occidentales" or simply "Las Antillas Españolas" in Spanish) were Spanish territories in the Caribbean. In terms of governance of the Spanish Empire, The Indies was the designation for all its overseas territories and was overseen by the Council of the Indies, founded in 1524 and based in Spain.[1] When the Crown established the Viceroyalty of New Spain in 1535, the islands of the Caribbean came under its jurisdiction.

Spanish West Indies
Las Antillas Españolas
Anthem: Marcha Real
"Royal March"
Map of Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, recognized as the Antillas Españolas (Spanish Antilles)
Map of Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, recognized as the Antillas Españolas
(Spanish Antilles)
StatusPossessions of the Spanish Empire
Common languagesSpanish, French (Santo Domingo)
Roman Catholicism
Demonym(s)Españoles Antillanos (Spanish Antillean)
• 1492–1504
Ferdinand II
• 1492–1504
Isabella I
• 1896–1898
Alfonso XIII
Historical eraSpanish colonization
• Columbus landed in San Salvador
12 October 1492
10 December 1898
CurrencySpanish colonial real, Spanish dollar
ISO 3166 codeES
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Viceroyalty of New Spain
Era de Francia
Captaincy General of Santo Domingo
Captaincy General of Cuba
Captaincy General of Puerto Rico
Today part of

The islands ruled by Spain were chiefly the Greater Antilles: Hispaniola (inclusive of modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. The majority of the Taíno, the indigenous populations on these islands, had died out or had mixed with the European colonizers by 1520.[2] Spain also claimed the Lesser Antilles (such as Guadalupe and Dominica) but these smaller islands remained largely independent until they were seized or ceded to other European powers as a result of war, or diplomatic agreements during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The islands that became the Spanish West Indies were the focus of the voyages of the Spanish expedition of Christopher Columbus in America. Largely due to the familiarity that Spaniards gained from Columbus's voyages, the islands were also the first lands to be permanently colonized by Europeans in the Americas. The Spanish West Indies were also the most enduring part of Spain's American Empire, only ending with Cuba and Puerto Rico being surrendered in 1898 at the end of the Spanish–American War. For over three centuries, Spain controlled a network of ports in the Caribbean including Havana (Cuba), Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), San Juan (Puerto Rico), Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), Veracruz (Mexico), and Portobelo (Panama), which were connected by galleon routes.

Change of sovereignty or independence


Spanish Caribbean


Today, the term Spanish Caribbean or Hispanophone Caribbean refers to the Spanish-speaking areas in the Caribbean Sea, specifically Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.[4] An even broader definition can include the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama), and South America (Colombia and Venezuela), however aside from Panama, Venezuela, and parts of Colombia, most of these countries share little with the Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands culturally.[5] It includes regions where Spanish is the main language, and where the legacy of Spanish settlement and colonization influences culture, through religion, language, cuisine, and so on. The varieties of Spanish that predominate in this region are known collectively as Caribbean Spanish.

The Spanish Caribbean (Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico) can be considered a separate subregion of Latin America, culturally distinct from both continental Spanish-speaking countries and the non-Spanish-speaking Caribbean. Apart from culture, the Spanish Caribbean is different racially as well. In contrast to the predominantly black-majority of the non-Hispanic Caribbean, the Hispanic Caribbean similar to other areas of Hispanic Latin America, is dominated by mixed-race people. However, in the Spanish Caribbean, similar to the non-Hispanic Caribbean, there is a significant African cultural component. The majority of the mixed-race population in the Hispanic Caribbean is made up of mulattos/tri-racials, being of mixed white Spanish, black West African, and to a lesser degree indigenous Taino ancestry, who also make up the majority of the total population overall, especially in the Dominican Republic, as opposed to mestizos in many continental Hispanic countries. The Hispanic Caribbean has less African admixture and influence than the non-Hispanic Caribbean and more than the most other Spanish speaking regions, while having more indigenous admixture than the rest of the Caribbean but less than Spanish speaking regions outside of the Caribbean. There are also smaller amounts of whites and blacks, who are predominantly of European or African ancestry.

The average Puerto Rican is about 65% European, 20% Sub-Saharan African, and 15% indigenous.[6][7][8][9][10] The average Dominican is about 52% European, 40% Sub-Saharan African, and 8% indigenous.[11][12][13][14] The average Cuban is about 72% European, 20% Sub-Saharan African, and 8% indigenous.[15][16] Indigenous ancestry in the Spanish Caribbean comes from the Taino people, who were native to the Greater Antilles region. Sub-Saharan African ancestry in the Hispanic Caribbean, just like the rest of Latin America, comes from various parts of West and Central Africa. European ancestry, mainly comes from Spain, especially from the southern regions of Spain such as Andalusia and the Canary Islands. The Spanish Caribbean were treated as "forgotten backwater colonies" during the colonial era, the spanish settlers that settled the islands were mostly poorer peasants from the south, especially from the Canary Islands. The Spanish Caribbean has higher Canarian influence compared to continental Latin America, making them the primary European ancestral group, many cultural aspects come from Canarian settlers including the Caribbean Spanish accents. Non-Spanish Europeans immigrated to the Spanish Caribbean as well. In fact, due to white French fleeing Haiti after independence to the surrounding Hispanic Caribbean, around 18% of surnames in the Spanish Caribbean are of French origin, second highest after Spanish. This mixture of European (especially Canarian), West African, and Taino is heavily reflected in the culture. Cultural characteristics of the Spanish Caribbean include musical genres like Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, and Reggaeton, as well as love for the sport of Baseball.

The term is used in contrast to Anglophone Caribbean, French Caribbean, and Dutch Caribbean, which are other modern linguistic divisions of the Caribbean region. The Hispanophone Caribbean is a part of the wider Hispanic America, which includes all the Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas. Historically, coastal areas of Spanish Florida and the Caribbean South America (cf. the Spanish Main) were closely tied to the Spanish Caribbean. During the period of Spanish settlement and colonization of the New World, the Spanish West Indies referred to those settlements in islands of the Caribbean Sea under political administration of Spain, as in the phrase "a 1765 cedula authorized seven sea ports, in addition to the port of San Juan, to trade with the Spanish Caribbean."[17] Until the early 19th century these territories were part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

In a modern sense, the Caribbean islands of Colombia could be included in the Hispanophone Caribbean as well, due to the fact they are located in the Caribbean, but not in the Antilles.


Map of the West Indies published in 1899

Below is a list of islands belonging geographically to the Greater and Lesser Antilles and that were under Spanish rule in various stages of history, until it became independent from Spain. Several islands which were previously largely under Spanish rule, but since they were passed into the domain of France, England or the Netherlands, are no longer considered part of the Spanish Caribbean.[18][19]

In addition, the Colombian islands of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina are located in the Caribbean, but are not part of the Antilles. Under intermittent periods of Spanish rule, these islands were administered as part of the Spanish Main (initially Guatemala, later New Granada).

West Indian islands that were under Spanish rule
Political entity Islands of the West Indies Status
  Cuba Isla de Cuba — Isla de la JuventudSabana-Camagüey ArchipelagoCayo Blanco del SurCayo LevisaCayo Los EnsenachosCayo Largo del SurJardines de la ReinaCayo GuillermoCayo CocoCayo RomanoCayo GuajabaCayo SabinalCayo Santa MaríaCayo Paredón GrandeColorados ArchipelagoCayo SaetíaCayo Blanco Independent republic from Spain since 1898
  Dominican Republic Eastern HispaniolaSaonaBeataCatalinaAlto VeloCayo Levantado Independent republic from Spain since 1821, independent from Haiti since 1844
  Puerto Rico Isla de Puerto Rico — CulebraViequesMonaMonitoDesecheoCaja de MuertosIsla de CabrasCayo BatataIsla CardonaCayos de Caña GordaCulebritaIcacosCayo Luis PeñaIsla MagueyesCayo NorteIsla PalominosIsla de RatonesIsleta de San JuanCayo SantiagoSpanish Virgin Islands Commonwealth of the United States, independent from Spain since 1898
  Venezuela Isla de MargaritaCocheCubagua (form the state of Nueva Esparta) Los MonjesLas AvesLos Roques (Gran Roque, Francisquí, Isla Larga, Nordisquí, Madrisquí, Crasquí, Cayo Espenquí, Cayo Carenero, Cayo de Agua, Dos Mosquises, Cayo Sal, Cayo Grande)Los HermanosLos FrailesAvesLa SolaLa Tortuga (Cayo HerraduraIslas Los Tortuguillos)La OrchilaLa BlanquillaLos TestigosPatos (ceded from British Trinidad in 1942,[20] form the Federal Dependencies of Venezuela) Independent republic from Spain since 1811, recognized by Spain in 1845

See also



  1. ^ Mark A. Burkholder, "Council of the Indies" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, vol. 2, p. 293. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996.
  2. ^ Reséndez, Andrés (2017). The other slavery: The uncovered story of Indian enslavement in America. ISBN 978-0-544-94710-8.
  3. ^ Douglas A. Phillips; Charles F. Gritzner (2010). The Dominican Republic. Infobase Publishing. pp. 36–. ISBN 978-1-60413-618-0. Archived from the original on 2022-04-07. Retrieved 2020-11-21.
  4. ^ Romaine, Suzanne (2013). "Caribbean". In Strazny, Philipp (ed.). Encyclopedia of Linguistics. New York: Taylor & Francis. p. 176. ISBN 978-1-135-45522-4.
  5. ^ David L. McKee; Don E. Garner; Yosra AbuAmara McKee (1998). Accounting Services and Growth in Small Economies: Evidence from the Caribbean Basin. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 51. ISBN 978-1-56720-138-3. Archived from the original on 2022-04-07. Retrieved 2020-08-25.
  6. ^ "Mapping Puerto Rican Heritage with Spit and Genomics". Live Science. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved October 26, 2014.
  7. ^ "Cerca del 40% de los puertorriqueños con genes europeos descienden de Canarias". July 19, 2017.
  8. ^ Via, Marc; Gignoux, Christopher R.; Roth, Lindsay A.; et al. (Jan 2011). "History Shaped the Geographic Distribution of Genomic Admixture on the Island of Puerto Rico". PLOS ONE. 6 (1): e16513. Bibcode:2011PLoSO...616513V. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016513. PMC 3031579. PMID 21304981.
  9. ^ Tang, Hua; Choudhry, Shweta; Mei, Rui; Morgan, Martin; Rodríguez-Clintron, William; González Burchard, Esteban; Risch, Neil (1 August 2007). "Recent Genetic Selection in the Ancestral Admixture of Puerto Ricans". The American Journal of Human Genetics. 81 (3): 626–633. doi:10.1086/520769. PMC 1950843. PMID 17701908.
  10. ^ Via, Mark; Gignoux, Christopher R.; Roth, Lindsey; Fejerman, Laura; Galander, Joshua; Choudhry, Shweta; Toro-Labrador, Gladys; Viera-Vera, Jorge; Oleksyk, Taras K.; Beckman, Kenneth; Ziv, Elad; Risch, Neil; González Burchard, Esteban; Nartínez-Cruzado, Juan Carlos (2011). "History Shaped the Geographic Distribution of Genomic Admixture on the Island of Puerto Rico". PLOS ONE. 6 (1): e16513. Bibcode:2011PLoSO...616513V. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016513. PMC 3031579. PMID 21304981.
  11. ^ Montinaro, Francesco; et al. (24 March 2015). "Unravelling the hidden ancestry of American admixed populations". Nature Communications. 6. See Supplementary Data. Bibcode:2015NatCo...6.6596M. doi:10.1038/ncomms7596. PMC 4374169. PMID 25803618.
  12. ^ Estrada-Veras, J. I.; Cabrera-Peña, G. A.; Pérez-Estrella De Ferrán, C. (2016). "Medical genetics and genomic medicine in the Dominican Republic: Challenges and opportunities". Molecular Genetics & Genomic Medicine. 4 (3): 243–256. doi:10.1002/mgg3.224. PMC 4867558. PMID 27247952.
  13. ^ "Ancestry DNA Results: Dominicans are Spaniards Mixed with Africans and Tainos". January 11, 2019. Archived from the original on November 20, 2023. Retrieved November 30, 2023.
  14. ^ "Dominicans are 49% Black, 39% White and 4% Indian". Archived from the original on October 31, 2023. Retrieved November 30, 2023.
  15. ^ Cite error: The named reference admixture was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  16. ^ Mendizabal, Isabel; Sandoval, Karla; Berniell-Lee, Gemma; Calafell, Francesc; Salas, Antonio; Martinez-Fuentes, Antonio; Comas, David (2008). "Genetic origin, admixture, and asymmetry in maternal and paternal human lineages in Cuba". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 8: 213. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-213. PMC 2492877. PMID 18644108.
  17. ^ Luis F. Pumarada O'Neill (July 31, 1994), National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation: Historic Bridges of Puerto Rico MPS (pdf), National Park Service, archived from the original on May 16, 2019, retrieved March 10, 2016
  18. ^ Simon Collier, "The non-Spanish Caribbean islands to 1815" in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Latin America and the Caribbean, 2nd edition. New York: Cambridge University Press 1992, pp. 212-217.
  19. ^ "Las Antillas". Digital Library of the Caribbean (in Spanish). Librería de Antonio J. Bastinos. Archived from the original on 28 June 2019. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  20. ^ González, Hermann; Donis Ríos, Manuel Alberto (1989). Historia de las fronteras de Venezuela. Caracas: Lagoven. ISBN 9789802592579.

Further reading

  • Altman, Ida. Life and Society in the Early Spanish Caribbean: The Greater Antilles, 1493-1550 (Louisiana State University Press, 2021) online book review