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The Baháʼí Faith is a diverse and widespread religion founded by Baháʼu'lláh in the 19th century in Iran. Baháʼí sources usually estimate the worldwide Baháʼí population to be above 5 million. Most encyclopedias and similar sources estimate between 5 and 6 million Baháʼís in the world in the early 21st century. The religion is almost entirely contained in a single, organized, hierarchical community, but the Baháʼí population is spread out into almost every country and ethnicity in the world, being recognized as the second-most geographically widespread religion after Christianity. See Baháʼí statistics.
ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the religion, wrote a series of letters, or tablets, to the followers of the religion in the United States in 1916–1917; these letters were compiled together in the book titled Tablets of the Divine Plan. The sixth of the tablets was the first to mention Latin American regions and was written on 8 April 1916, but was delayed in being presented in the United States until 1919—after the end of the First World War and the Spanish flu pandemic. The first actions on the part of Baháʼí community towards Latin America were that of a few individuals who made trips to Mexico and South America near or before this unveiling in 1919, including Mr. and Mrs. Frankland, and individuals who would later be appointed as Hands of the Cause like Roy C. Wilhelm, and Martha Root. The sixth tablet was translated and presented by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab on 4 April 1919, and published in Star of the West magazine on 12 December 1919.
His Holiness Christ says: Travel ye to the East and to the West of the world and summon the people to the Kingdom of God.…(travel to) the Islands of the West Indies, such as Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Islands of the Lesser Antilles (which includes Barbados), Bahama Islands, even the small Watling Island, have great importance…
In 1927 Leonora Armstrong was the first Baháʼí to visit many of these countries where she gave lectures about the religion as part of her plan to complement and complete Martha Root's unfulfilled intention of visiting all the Latin American countries for the purpose of presenting the religion to an audience.
Shoghi Effendi, head of the religion after the death of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in 1921, wrote a cable on 1 May 1936 to the Baháʼí Annual Convention of the United States and Canada, and asked for the systematic implementation of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's vision to begin. In his cable he wrote:
Appeal to assembled delegates ponder historic appeal voiced by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in Tablets of the Divine Plan. Urge earnest deliberation with incoming National Assembly to insure its complete fulfillment. First century of Baháʼí Era drawing to a close. Humanity entering outer fringes most perilous stage its existence. Opportunities of present hour unimaginably precious. Would to God every State within American Republic and every Republic in American continent might ere termination of this glorious century embrace the light of the Faith of Baháʼu'lláh and establish structural basis of His World Order.
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Following the 1 May cable, another cable from Shoghi Effendi came on 19 May calling for permanent pioneers to be established in all the countries of Latin America. The Baháʼí National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada appointed the Inter-America Committee to take charge of the preparations. During the 1937 Baháʼí North American Convention, Shoghi Effendi cabled advising the convention to prolong their deliberations to permit the delegates and the National Assembly to consult on a plan that would enable Baháʼís to go to Latin America as well as to include the completion of the outer structure of the Baháʼí House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. In 1937 the First Seven Year Plan (1937–44), which was an international plan designed by Shoghi Effendi, gave the American Baháʼís the goal of establishing the Baháʼí Faith in every country in Latin America. With the spread of American Baháʼís in Latin American, Baháʼí communities and Local Spiritual Assemblies began to form in 1938 across the rest of Latin America.
As far back as 1951 the Baháʼís had organized a regional National Assembly for the combination of Mexico, Central America and the Antilles islands. Many counties formed their own National Assembly in 1961. Others continued to be organized in regional areas growing progressively smaller. From 1966 the region was reorganized among the Baháʼís of Leeward, Windward and Virgin Islands with its seat in Charlotte Amalie.
The first Baháʼí to visit Barbados was Leonora Armstrong in 1927 while pioneers who moved to the island arrived by 1964. With local converts they elected the first Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly in 1965. During October 1966 a trip to ten islands was planned by Lorraine Landau, a pioneer in Barbados. Hand of the Cause ʻAlí-Muhammad Varqá attended the inaugural election of the Barbados Baháʼís National Spiritual Assembly in 1981. Since then Baháʼís have participated in several projects for the benefit of the wider community and in 2001 various sources report up to 1.2% of the island, about 3,500 citizens are Baháʼís though Baháʼí and government census data report far lower numbers. In fact, the 2010 Barbados census recorded 178 Baháʼís out of a total population of 250,010.
The Association of Religion Data Archives estimates there were 7,776 Baháʼís in Belize in 2005, or 2.5% of the national population. If correct, the Association of Religion Data Archives' estimates suggest this is the highest proportion of Baháʼís in any country. Their data also states that the Baháʼí Faith is the second most common religion in Belize, followed by Hinduism (2.0%) and Judaism (1.1%). However the 2010 Belize Population Census recorded 202 Baháʼís out of a total population of 304,106, yielding a proportion of 0.066%, not 2.5%.
The first pioneers began to settle in Coast Rica in 1940. followed quickly by the first Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly being elected in San José in April 1941. The National Spiritual Assembly was first elected in 1961. Baháʼís sources as of 2009 the national community includes various peoples and tribes of over 4,000 members organized in groups in over 30 locations throughout the country. The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying mostly on the World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 13000 Baháʼís in 2005.
The island of Dominica was specifically listed as an objective for plans on spreading the religion in 1939 Shoghi Effendi, who succeeded ʻAbdu'l-Baha as head of the religion. In 1983 Bill Nedden is credited with being the first pioneer to Dominica at the festivities associated with the inaugural election of the Dominican Baháʼís National Spiritual Assembly with Hand of the Cause, Dhikru'llah Khadem representing the Universal House of Justice. Since then Baháʼís have participated in several projects for the benefit of the wider community and in 2001 various sources report between less than 1.4% up to 1.7% of the island's about 70,000 citizens are Baháʼís.
The first Baháʼí to visit Haiti was Leonora Armstrong in 1927. After that others visited until Louis George Gregory visited in January 1937 and he mentions a small community of Baháʼís operating in Haiti. The first long term pioneers, Ruth and Ellsworth Blackwell, arrived in 1940. Following their arrival the first Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly of Haiti was formed in 1942 in Port-au-Prince. From 1951 the Haitian Baháʼís participated in regional organizations of the religion until 1961 when Haitian Baháʼís elected their own National Spiritual Assembly and soon took on goals reaching out into neighboring islands. The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying mostly on the World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 23000 Baháʼís in Haiti in 2005.
The community of the Baháʼís begins in 1942 with the arrival of Dr. Malcolm King. The first Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly of Jamaica, in Kingston, was elected in 1943. By 1957 the Baháʼís of Jamaica were organized under the regional National Spiritual Assembly of the Greater Antilles, and on the eve of national independence in 1962, the Jamaica Baháʼís elected their own National Spiritual Assembly in 1961. By 1981 hundreds of Baháʼís and hundreds more non-Baháʼís turned out for weekend meetings when Rúhíyyih Khánum spent six days in Jamaica. Public recognition of the religion came in the form of the Governor General of Jamaica, Sir Howard Cooke, proclaiming a National Baha'i Day first on 25 July in 2003 and it has been an annual event since. While there is evidence of several active communities by 2008 in Jamaica, estimates of the Baháʼís population range from the hundreds to the thousands. The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 5137 Baháʼís in 2005.
The same year as the release of the Tablets of the Divine Plan in 1919 Martha Root's made a trip around South America and included Panama on the return leg of the trip up the west coast. The first pioneers began to settle in Panama in 1940. The first Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly of Panama, in Panama City, was elected in 1946, and National Spiritual Assembly was first elected in 1961. The Baháʼís of Panama raised a Baháʼí House of Worship in 1972. In 1983 and again in 1992 some commemorative stamps were produced in Panama while the community turned its interests to the San Miguelito and Chiriqui regions of Panama with schools and a radio station. One recent estimation of the Baháʼí community of Panama was of 2.00% of the national population, or about 60000, in 2006. The Association of Religion Data Archives estimated there were some 41000 Baháʼís in 2005 and the largest religious minority in the country.
The Baháʼí Faith in Trinidad and Tobago begins with a mention by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, in 1916 as the Caribbean was among the places Baháʼís should take the religion to. The first Baháʼí to visit came in 1927 while pioneers arrived by 1956 and the first Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly was elected in 1957 In 1971 the first Baháʼí National Spiritual Assembly was elected. A count of the community then noted 27 assemblies with Baháʼís living in 77 locations. Since then Baháʼís have participated in several projects for the benefit of the wider community and in 2005/10 various sources report near 1.2% of the country, about 10–16,000