Since the 15th century, the history of the Caribbean reveals the region's significant role in European powers' colonial struggles. Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in 1492 and claimed the area for Spain. The following year, the first Spanish settlements in the Caribbean were established. Despite the fact that the conquests of the Aztec and Inca empires by the Spanish in the early sixteenth century made Mexico and Peru more appealing places for Spanish exploration and settlement, the Caribbean remained strategically important.
Non-Hispanic privateers, traders, and settlers established permanent colonies and trading posts on the Caribbean islands ignored by Spain beginning in the 1620s and 1630s. From the Bahamas in the north to Tobago in the south, such colonies sprang up all over the Caribbean. Furthermore, French and English buccaneers settled on Tortuga Island, the northern and western coasts of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and later in Jamaica during this time.
The islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico were no longer part of the Spanish Empire in the New World after the Spanish-American War in the late 1800s. During World War II, the decolonization wave that followed the war, and the tensions between Communist Cuba and the United States, the Caribbean played a key role in the twentieth century. Genocide, slavery, immigration, and rivalry between world powers have all had a disproportionate impact on Caribbean history.