Background Notes: Republic of Trinidad & Tobago

Contributed By RealAdventures

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Trinidadian(s) and Tobagonian(s).
Population (1995): 1.26 million.
Annual growth rate: 1%.
Ethnic groups: African 39.5%, East Indian 40.3%, mixed 18.4%, European .6%, Chinese and other 1%.
Religions: Roman Catholic 29.4%, Anglican 10.9%, Hindu 23.8%, Muslim 5.8%, Presbyterian 3.4%, other 26.7%.
Language: English.
Education: Years compulsory--8. Literacy--97%.
Health (1995): Infant mortality rate--15/1,000. Life expectancy--68 years male, 73 years female.
Work force (1995) (521,000): Trade and services--61%. Construction--13%. Manufacturing--11%. Agriculture--9%. Oil/gas--4%.

Columbus landed in Trinidad in 1498, and the island was settled by the Spanish a century later. The original inhabitants-Arawak and Carib Indians-were largely wiped out by the Spanish colonizers, and the survivors were gradually assimilated. Although it attracted French, free Black, and other non-Spanish settlers, Trinidad remained under Spanish rule until the British captured it in 1797. During the colonial period, Trinidad's economy relied on large sugar and cocoa plantations.

Tobago's development was similar to other plantation islands in the Lesser Antilles and quite different from Trinidad's. During the colonial period, French, Dutch, and British forces fought over possession of Tobago, and the island changed hands 22 times, more often than any other West Indian island. Tobago was finally ceded to Great Britain in 1814. Trinidad and Tobago were incorporated into a single colony in 1888.

In 1958, the United Kingdom tried to establish an independent Federation of the West Indies comprising most of the former British West Indies. However, disagreement over the structure of the federation and Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago's withdrawal soon led to its collapse. Trinidad and Tobago achieved full independence in 1962 and joined the British Commonwealth.

Trinidad and Tobago's people are mainly of African or East Indian descent. Virtually all speak English. Small percentages also speak Hindi, French patois, and several other dialects. Trinidad has two major folk traditions: Creole and East Indian. Creole is a mixture of African elements with Spanish, French, and English colonial culture. Trinidad's East Indian culture came to the island with indentured servants brought to fill a labor shortage created by the emancipation of the African slaves in 1833. Most remained on the land, and they still dominate the agricultural sector, but many have become prominent in business and the professions. East Indians have retained much of their own way of life, including Hindu and Muslim religious festivals and practices.

Trinidad and Tobago is a unitary state, with a parliamentary democracy modeled after that of the U.K. From 1962 until 1976, Trinidad and Tobago, although completely independent, acknowledged the British monarch as the figurehead chief of state. In 1976, the country adopted a republican constitution, replacing Queen Elizabeth with a president elected by parliament. The general direction and control of the government rests with the cabinet, led by a prime minister and answerable to the bicameral parliament.

The 36 members of the House of Representatives are elected to terms of at least five years. Elections may be called earlier by the president at the request of the prime minister or after a vote of no confidence in the House of Representatives. The Senate's 31 members are appointed by the president: 16 on the advice of the prime minister, six on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and nine independents selected by the president from among outstanding members of the community. Trinidad's seven counties and four largest cities are administered by elected councils. Tobago was given a measure of self-government in 1980 and is ruled by the Tobago House of Assembly. In 1996, Parliament passed legislation which gave Tobago greater self-government.

The country's highest court is the Court of Appeal, whose chief justice is appointed by the president with the concurrence of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. Final appeal on some matters is decided by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

President--Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson
Prime Minister--Basdeo Panday
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Ralph Maraj
Ambassador to the U.S. and the OAS--Michael Arneaud
Ambassador to the UN--vacant

The first political party in Trinidad and Tobago with a continuing organization and program-the People's National Movement (PNM)-emerged in 1956 under Dr. Eric Williams, who became Prime Minister upon independence and remained in that position until his death in 1981. Politics have generally run along ethnic lines, with Afro-Trinidadians supporting the PNM and Indo-Trinidadians supporting various Indian-majority parties, such as the United National Congress (UNC) or its predecessors. Most political parties, however, have sought to broaden their purview.

The PNM remained in power following the death of Dr. Williams, but its 30-year rule ended in 1986 when the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), a rainbow party aimed at Trinidadians of both African and Indian descent, won a landslide victory by capturing 33 of 36 seats. Tobago's A.N.R. Robinson, the NAR's political leader, was named Prime Minister. The NAR also won 11 of the 12 seats in the Tobago House of Assembly. The NAR began to break down when the Indian component withdrew in 1988. Basdeo Panday, leader of the old United Labor Front (ULF), formed the new opposition with the UNC. The NAR's margin was immediately reduced to 27 seats, with six for the UNC and three for the PNM.

In July 1990, the Jamaat al Muslimeen, an extremist Black Muslim group with an unresolved grievance against the government over land claims, tried to overthrow the NAR government. The group held the prime minister and members of parliament hostage for five days while rioting shook Port of Spain. After a long standoff with the police and military, Black Muslim leader Yasin Abu Bakr and his followers surrendered to Trinidadian authorities. In July 1992, the Court of Appeal upheld the validity of a government amnesty given to the Jamaat members during the hostage crisis. All 114 members of the Jamaat jailed since the coup attempt were released. The government appealed the ruling.

In December 1991, the NAR captured only the two districts in Tobago. The PNM, led by Patrick Manning, carried a majority of 21 seats, and the UNC came in second. Patrick Manning became the new Prime Minister, and Basdeo Panday continued to lead the opposition. In November 1995, Manning called early elections, in which the PNM and UNC both won 17 seats and the NAR won two seats. The UNC allied with the NAR and formed the new government, with Basdeo Panday becoming prime minister. Prime Minister Panday has continued free market economic policies and has worked to boost foreign and domestic investments. Panday has shown significant cooperation with the United States and leadership in the regional fight against narcotics trafficking.

GDP: $5.4 billion.
Annual growth rate: 3.1%.
Per capita income: $4,287.
Natural resources: Oil and natural gas, lumber, fish.
Economic sectors: Hydrocarbons (25% of GDP)--crude oil, natural gas, petrochemicals.
Agriculture (2% of GDP): Sugar, cocoa, citrus, poultry.
Industry (8% of GDP): Processed food and beverages, manufacturing, printing.
Trade: Exports--$2.4 billion: crude oil and petroleum products (49%), petrochemicals (26%), iron and steel, sugar and agricultural products. Major markets--U.S. (44%), CARICOM, Puerto Rico, France, Colombia, Dominican Republic. Imports--$1.7 billion: machinery and transport equipment (37%), manufactured goods (28%), food and agricultural products (13%), chemicals (13%). Major suppliers--U.S. (38%), U.K., Germany, Canada, Brazil, CARICOM.
Exchange rate (1997): TT $6.5=U.S.$1.

Trinidad and Tobago is a democracy that maintains close relations with its Caribbean neighbors and major North American and European trading partners. As the most industrialized and second-largest country in the English-speaking Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago has taken a leading role in the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), and strongly supports CARICOM economic integration efforts. It is also active in the U.S.-initiated Summit of the Americas process and fully supports the establishment of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

As a member of CARICOM, Trinidad and Tobago strongly backed efforts by the United States to bring political stability to Haiti, contributing personnel to the Multinational Force in 1994.

After its 1962 independence, Trinidad joined the UN and the Commonwealth. In 1967, it became the first Commonwealth country to join the Organization of American States (OAS). In 1995 Trinidad played host to the inaugural meeting of the Association of Caribbean States and has become the seat of this 35-member grouping, which seeks to further economic progress and integration among its states. In international forums, Trinidad and Tobago generally supports U.S. and EU positions, while guarding an independent voting record.

Trinidad and Tobago and the U.S. enjoy cordial relations. U.S. interests focus on investment and trade, and on enhancing Trinidad's political and social stability and positive regional role through assistance in drug interdiction and legal affairs. A U.S. embassy was established in Port of Spain in 1962, replacing the former consulate general.

Indicative of this strong relationship, Prime Minister Panday joined President Clinton and 14 other Caribbean leaders for the first-ever U.S.-regional summit in Bridgetown, Barbados in May 1997. The summit strengthened the basis for regional cooperation on justice and counter-narcotics, finance and development, and trade issues.

In 1996, bilateral assistance from all sources to Trinidad and Tobago amounted to over US $3 million, mostly USIA grants, International Military Education and Training (IMET funds), Department of Agriculture scholarships, and counter-narcotics assistance. Assistance to Trinidad from U.S. military and law enforcement authorities remains important to the bilateral relationship and to accomplishing U.S. policy objectives.

U.S. commercial ties with Trinidad and Tobago have always been strong and have grown substantially in the last several years due to economic liberalization. U.S. firms plan to invest over $2.5 billion from 1996 to 1998-mostly in the petrochemical, oil/gas, and iron/steel sectors. More than 50 of America's largest corporations have commercial relations with Trinidad and Tobago, and more than 20 U.S. firms have offices and operations in the country. The U.S. Embassy actively fosters bilateral business ties and provides a number of commercial services to potential investors and traders. Two bilateral treaties-Extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance-and a Maritime Cooperation Agreement were signed in March 1996 on the occasion of the visit to Trinidad of then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher. A tax information exchange agreement was signed in 1989, and a Bilateral Investment Treaty and an Intellectual Property Rights Agreement were signed in 1994. The Bilateral Investment Treaty entered into force in December 1996. Trinidad and Tobago is a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI).

There are large numbers of U.S. citizens and permanent residents of Trinidadian origin living in the United States (mostly in New York), which keeps cultural ties strong. Approximately 20,000 U.S. citizens visit Trinidad and Tobago on vacation or for business every year, and over 2,700 American citizens are residents.

Ambassador--Edward E. (Terry) Shumaker, III
Deputy Chief of Mission/Charge--Edward T. Smith
Economic/Commercial Officer--Oliver Griffith
Political Officer--Randy Depoo
Consul General--James Flynn
Administrative Officer-Sura Johnson
Public Affairs Officer-David Bustamante

The U.S. embassy in Trinidad and Tobago is located at 15 Queen's Park West, Port of Spain (tel. 868 622-6371, fax: 809 628-5462).

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