From North End to Pañatown: How Free Port, Tourism, and Migration, Transformed the Island of San Andrés, Columbia

Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program (LACS) Seminar Series.

For generations, the Afro-Caribbean islanders from the Archipelago of San Andrés and Providencia had regularly migrated to and from Central America and other islands in the Caribbean Sea. By the middle of the twentieth century, waves of migrants from mostly new locales in mainland Colombia and even as far as the Middle East transformed the tiny Colombian-administered islands’ economy, society, and culture. Drawn to newfound opportunities due to the opening of the free port and promotion of tourism in San Andrés, these international and national migrants served as unintentional yet willing partners to state efforts to integrate the islands administratively, economically, and socially within Colombia. Drawing on ethnographic studies from the period, Colombian newspaper articles, and oral histories available in the collections at the Banco de la República Casa Cultura in San Andres Island, I trace how the rise of new aviation technologies and the creation of the free port facilitated an uneven integration of the island into the Colombian nation. While the free port strengthened administrative ties and contact between mainland Colombians and islanders, it failed to integrate the majority of native islanders who retained an oppositional stance against Colombian authorities and national projects. Unlike other studies on this topic, this paper gives equal attention to the experiences of migrants and native islanders.

Dr. Sharika Crawford is the inaugural Speedwell Professor of International Studies and Professor of History at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. Her primary research focuses on modern Latin America, specifically, Colombia and the interstitial places in the circum-Caribbean. In 2021, the Association of Caribbean Historians commended her first monograph The Last Turtlemen of the Caribbean: Waterscapes of Labor, Conservation, and Boundary Making, published by the University of North Carolina Press, an Honorable Mention from its Elsa Goveia Prize in the Caribbean History. Additionally, she has published articles and essays in the Global South, Historia Crítica, International Journal of Maritime History, Middle Atlantic Review of Latin American Studies, Latin American Research Review, and the New West Indian Guide/Nieuwe West-Indische Gids. Some of her current projects include a co-edited volume titled Understanding and Teaching Modern Latin American History, which is under contract with the Harvey Goldberg Series at the University of Wisconsin Press, and a second monograph-in-progress examining the social, political, and environmental histories of twentieth-century the Colombian islands of San Andrés and Providencia.

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