"With some 34 million people and 16 independent nations sharing an African ethnic heritage, the Caribbean is a diverse region that includes some of the hemisphere's richest and poorest nations. The region consists of 13 island nations, from the Bahamas in the north to Trinidad and Tobago in the south; Belize, which is geographically located in Central America; and the two nations of Guyana and Suriname, located on the north central coast of South America. With the exception of Cuba and Haiti, Caribbean governments have generally respected the human rights of their citizens. Regular elections are the norm, and for the most part have been free and fair. Nevertheless, while many Caribbean nations have long democratic traditions, they are not immune to threats to their political stability, including terrorism. Many nations in the region experienced economic decline in 2001-2002 due to downturns in the tourism and agriculture sectors. With the exception of Haiti, most Caribbean economies have rebounded since 2003, although the extensive damage resulting from several storms in 2004 caused economic difficulties for several Caribbean nations. U.S. interests in the Caribbean are diverse, and include economic, political, and security concerns. The Bush Administration describes the Caribbean as America's 'third border,' with events in the region having a direct impact on the homeland security of the United States. It maintains that Caribbean nations are 'vital partners on security, trade, health, the environment, education, regional democracy, and other hemispheric issues.'"
CRS Report for Congress, RL32160
U.S. Department of State, Foreign Press Centers: http://fpc.state.gov/