The Caribbean (/ /,, locally //; Spanish: El Caribe; French: les Caraïbes; Haitian Creole: Karayib; Dutch: De Caraïben; Papiamento: Karibe) is a region of the Americas that consists of the Caribbean Sea, its islands (some surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and some bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean) and the surrounding coasts. The region is southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland, east of Central America, and north of South America.
Situated largely on the Caribbean Plate, the region has more than 700 islands, islets, reefs and cays (see the list of Caribbean islands). Island arcs delineate the eastern and northern edges of the Caribbean Sea: the Greater Antilles on the north and the Lesser Antilles on the south and east (which includes the Leeward Antilles). They form the West Indies with the nearby Lucayan Archipelago (The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands), which are sometimes considered to be a part of the Caribbean despite not bordering the Caribbean Sea. On the mainland, Belize, Nicaragua, the Caribbean region of Colombia, Cozumel, the Yucatán Peninsula, Margarita Island, and The Guianas (Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Guayana Region in Venezuela, and Amapá in Brazil) are often included due to their political and cultural ties with the region.
A mostly tropical geography, the climates are greatly shaped by sea temperatures and precipitation, with the hurricane season regularly leading to natural disasters. Because of its tropical climate and low-lying island geography, the Caribbean is vulnerable to a number of climate change effects, including increased storm intensity, saltwater intrusion, sea level rise and coastal erosion, and precipitation variability. These weather changes will greatly change the economies of the islands, and especially the major industries of agricultural and tourism.
The Caribbean was occupied by indigenous people since at least 3600 BC. When European colonization followed the arrival of Columbus, the population was quickly decimated by brutal labour practices, enslavement and disease and on many islands, Europeans supplanted the native populations with enslaved Africans. Following the independence of Haiti from France in the early 19th century and the decline of slavery in the 19th century, island nations in the Caribbean gradually gained independence, with a wave of new states during the 1950s and 60s. Because of the proximity to the United States, there is also a long history of United States intervention in the region.
The islands of the Caribbean (the West Indies) are often regarded as a subregion of North America, though sometimes they are included in Middle America or then left as a subregion of their own and are organized into 30 territories including sovereign states, overseas departments, and dependencies. From December 15, 1954, to October 10, 2010, there was a country known as the Netherlands Antilles composed of five states, all of which were Dutch dependencies. From January 3, 1958, to May 31, 1962, there was also a short-lived political union called the West Indies Federation composed of ten English-speaking Caribbean territories, all of which were then British dependencies.