Population densities (2010-2011)




The Caribbean zone is heavily populated, even if overall it does not attain the high densities of North-West Europe or of South-East Asia. To this general observation must be added some important provisos, as well as noting the evident contrast between the continental mainland and the Archipelago. The large concentrations of human populations are found in the continental states, in particular Mexico, totaling nearly 112 million inhabitants, far ahead of Venezuela with 28.7 million on an area half the size. The contrast is also marked between the Greater Antilles with around 37.5 million inhabitants and micro-entities like Barbuda and Saba who struggle to assemble just a few thousand people.

The focus on densities reveals a quite different image. Across the vast expanses of the continent, and in the Greater Antilles, population density is generally low, around 63 per km². At the other end of the scale, the states of the Archipelago boast densities generally above 200 per km², reaching 636 in Barbados and over 1 205 in the Bermudas. Nevertheless, several islands provide the exception, such as Barbuda where the ratio is 10.17 inhabitants per km².

Overall this demographic build-up in the Antilles has exerted most pressure on the fragile environments occupied by human settlement, and concentrated along the littoral. Above all, urbanization, industrial and commercial developments, together with transport infrastructure are devouring the mangroves. This coastal concentration of population can have devastatingly rapid consequences at times of storms and cyclones. Conversely, the largest part of the coast of Mesoamerica is empty. It still exudes the image born in the age of discovery, of insanitary environments, source of deadly diseases, certainly not conducive to human settlement. Around the gulf of Maracaibo, to the south of the Yucatan peninsula, the coast line resembles a long desert-like strip, punctuated only here and there by a few old ports resembling story-book remnants, rather than real port sites. In spite of all its much sought-after, modern development, Cancun, the major tourist resort, remains an outgrowth, an anomaly, along the Yucatan coast, bearing little relationship to its immediate environment. In this respect, Venezuela is the exception, as 80% of its population is located along a narrow band in proximity to the coast, admittedly covering more mountainous terrain, but whose activities are orientated towards the sea. The Guianas overall are mostly sparsely populated, but with a scattering of settlements where areas of high population density are concentrated, and often compared to “islands.” The latter are isolated from each other by forest.

Deep-seated and multiple contrasts shape the human landscapes of both continent and islands. They reveal the different ways in which spaces have functioned, leaving their imprint, inferring varying relationships with the sea of the Caribbean and, beyond that, with the whole of the region.

Author: Monique Bégot