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The Caribbean islands have a distinct place in world history and culture that belies their small physical size. During the conquest of the Americas starting in the 17th century, the islands took center stage in the numerous naval campaigns between the European nations attempting to establish bases that would provide access to untold wealth in distant lands to the west. With the development of sugar and other tropical crops on the islands in the 18th and 19th centuries, the plantations themselves were treasured for the vast profits they generated.