With all of the power struggles that Providencia has experienced, I put it to Bent that the islanders must have a bizarre sense of identity. I note that in my readings and investigation there are more people leaving the island than arriving each year, and many islanders now make their home and money working in the Cayman Islands or on neighboring San Andres. Very few head to mainland Colombia. Does he think of himself as Colombian or Caribbean, or would he prefer to be Nicaraguan? Bent thinks for a moment and says:
“Here we have a mixed feeling. The Colombian government does not treat us as a people. We are almost 6,000 people here on the island, 99 percent of us are unemployed. We are promoting more of a separation from Colombia although we do not want to be Nicaraguan. We want to be an autonomous region recognized together with places like Limon in Costa Rica, the Bay Islands in Honduras, Colon in Panama and the Corn Islands in Nicaragua.
“We are not a violent people, and now we are becoming accustomed to armed men everywhere. The Colombian government put their police and army here and we don’t need them. This is the reason why Colombia has problems.”
Strong words from the fisherman from Casa Baja, Providencia.
What's left of this root of English civilization in the Americas is a Caribbean backwater, a Colombian national park that is antithesis to San Andrés. In short, a cliché: long stretches of unspoilt palm-lined white sandy beaches polluted only by lilting reggae beats, complemented by rugged volcanic mountains and mangroves.
Standing on the pristine Playa Manzanillo with my back to Roland’s Bar, it's hard to imagine that in its infancy, Providencia was an attempt to elucidate the motives of Puritan founding fathers. Here, 48 miles away from the duty-free perfumeries of downtown San Andres, the islanders of Providencia spend their days fishing and catering to the idly growing tourism industry.
Still, in keeping with tradition, Providencia remains at the heart of the tangle of geopolitical fallout of colonial ambitions in the Caribbean.