The Spanish West Indies or the Spanish Antilles (also known as "Las Antillas Occidentales" or simply "Las Antillas Españolas" in Spanish language) were Spanish colonies 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.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. When the Spanish Crown established the Viceroyalty of New Spain in 1535, the islands of the Caribbean came under its jurisdiction.
The islands ruled by Spain were chiefly the Greater Antilles such as Hispaniola (inclusive of modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. The majority of the indigenous populations on these islands had died out or had mixed with the European colonizers by 1520.
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 Spanish in the Americas. The Spanish West Indies were also the most enduring part of Spain's American Empire, only 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), San Juan (Puerto Rico), Cartagena de Indias, Veracruz (Mexico), and Portobelo, Panama, which were connected by galleon routes.
Some smaller islands were seized or ceded to other European powers as a result of war, or diplomatic agreements during the 17th and 18th centuries. Others such as Dominican Republic gained their independence in the 19th century.
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 comparison to the predominantly black majority of the non-Hispanic Caribbean, but with similarities to the multi-racial continental areas of Latin America, mixed-race people are most dominant in this region. However, in the Spanish Caribbean, the majority of the mixed-race population is made up of /tri-racials, being of mixed white Spanish, black West African, and indigenous Taino ancestry, who also make up the majority of the total population overall, especially in the Dominican Republic, as opposed to in many continental Hispanic countries. Also, like the majority of the Caribbean, there are still sizeable populations of unmixed Afro-Latinos and a large amount of undeniably African cultural influences. The Spanish Caribbean also has higher Canary Islands influence compared to continental Latin America, making them the primary European ancestral group. French people ancestry is high, 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.
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 Empire 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." Until the early 19th century these territories were part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
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|
|Independent republic from Spain since 1898|
|Independent republic from Spain since 1821, independent from Haiti since 1844|
|Commonwealth of the United States, independent from Spain since 1898|
|Independent republic from Spain since 1811, recognized by Spain in 1845|