We present 33 new focal mechanisms for SE Caribbean earthquakes (1963–1988). We use these mechanisms, in conjunction with 28 previously available mechanisms, to distinguish between two models of plate boundary zone interaction in the SE Caribbean: the trench-trench transform and hinge faulting model, and the right oblique collision model. Shallow (0–70 km) and intermediate (70–200 km) depth earthquakes occur in the study region; we focus on the tectonic causes of these events and the motions they delineate. The shallow earthquakes are in a broad linear zone which trends NE from the Paria Peninsula of Venezuela towards Barbados. Intermediate depth earthquakes cluster beneath and NW of the Peninsula, and deepen to the NW, perpendicular to the NE-trending shallow events. The vertical distribution of the earthquakes suggests a slab with steep NW dip. Shallow, dextral strike slip on E-striking faults is restricted to a 60-km-wide linear zone between the Gulf of Cariaco and the western margin of the Gulf of Paria. Dextral strike slip is active only as far east as the Gulf of Paria, and not within or east of Trinidad. Shallow thrust events with ENE-striking planes, distributed between the Araya Peninsula and the Gulf of Paria, indicate collision at crustal levels between South America and Caribbean, and that folding and thrusting are still active over a 60-km interval south of the Araya-Paria isthmus. Active thrusting in Venezuela corroborates predictions of transpression between Caribbean and South America and discounts transtensional motions between the two plates in the SE Caribbean. The conjunction of shallow thrust, strike slip, and normal earthquakes in the Gulf of Paria at around 62.3° may be the expression of unpartitioned oblique compressive deformation in the plate boundary zone. Intermediate (165 km > h > 70 km) depth thrust and dip slip events within the NW-dipping slab indicate that oceanic lithosphere, probably originally attached to South America, subducts to the NW beneath the Caribbean plate. Shallow normal faulting events E and NE of Trinidad are expressions of plate bending about near-horizontal axes parallel to the Lesser Antilles subduction zone. We conclude that the earthquake mechanisms provide strong support for the right oblique collision model of Caribbean-South American plate interaction.