Caribbean Syllabus: Life and Debt in the Caribbean


Columbia University’s “Unpayable Debt” Working Group releases digital resource to think and teach about Puerto Rico and larger Caribbean’s five-hundred year history with debt crisis.

The “Unpayable Debt” working group at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Social Difference is pleased to announce the launch of Caribbean Syllabus: Life and Debt in the Caribbean, the first digital resource to study and discuss the region’s five-hundred year history with debt crisis stemming from colonial governance by European nations and the United States.

“The syllabus comes at a critical time,” says working group co-director Frances Negrón-Muntaner (Columbia University). “Across the Caribbean, debt has become a central political issue: Today, thousands of demonstrators in Puerto Rico were met with teargas as they protested the austerity policies imposed by a US-appointed fiscal control board to pay a possibly illegal debt to hedge funds and finance firms, among other creditors. The 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) also seeks debt cancellation and has sued the United Kingdom, France and Netherlands for slavery reparations. Our work shows how these demands stand on solid ground: of these nations’ wealth has been produced by forcefully extracting resources and labor from their colonial possessions, including in the Caribbean. The question then is not why the Caribbean is poor but why do former and current colonial powers continue to impoverish the region and what can be done to end this injustice.”

Created by working group members and collaborators from across the country, lead contributors Frances Negrón-Muntaner (Columbia University) and Mimi Sheller (Drexel University), the syllabus contains 15 units. With the goal of contributing to the ongoing public dialogue and rising social activism on the impact of debt in the Caribbean, each unit is structured under a specific theme and offers scholarly, journalistic, primary, and multimedia sources. “Against the framing of debt as something that Caribbean countries owe to others, this syllabus seeks to show how debt has been socially and politically constructed over several centuries,” adds Sheller. “We want to emphasize that there is a vibrant discussion in the Caribbean region about the debts owed to the people of the Caribbean, from reparations for slavery to climate debt.”

Caribbean Syllabus is the second in a series of three syllabi that the Working Group will release over three years in relation to the damaging effects of debt on various locations around the world. The first, PR Syllabus, was published in 2016 and focused on the Puerto Rican debt crisis. The last syllabus will consider debt regimes in other parts of the world such as Argentina, Detroit, and Greece and will be released in 2019. The Caribbean Syllabus can be accessed here.

For more information, please contact: Frances Negrón-Muntaner, co-director of Unpayable Debt and lead contributor,

Center for the Study of Social Difference, Columbia University


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