U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Official Name: Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Area: 5,128 sq. km. (1,980 sq. mi.); about 1.5 times the size of Rhode
Cities: Capital--Port of Spain (metropolitan pop. 300,000). Other
city--San Fernando (pop. 50,000).
Terrain: Plains and low mountains.
Climate: Tropical; rainy season (June through December).
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Trinidadian(s) and Tobagonian(s).
Population (1992 est.): 1.2 million.
Annual growth rate: 1.8%.
Ethnic groups: African 40%, East Indian 40%, mixed 18%, European 1%,
Chinese and other 1%.
Religions: Roman Catholic 30%, Hindu 24%, Anglican 11%, Muslim 6%,
Presbyterian 3%, other 26%.
Education: Years compulsory--8. Literacy--97%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--10/1,000. Life expectancy--males 67
yrs., females 72 yrs.
Work force (505,100): Services--52%. Manufacturing, mining and
quarrying--15%. Construction and utilities--13%.
Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Independence: August 31, 1962.
Present constitution: August 31, 1976.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), prime minister (head
of government), cabinet. Legislative--bicameral parliament. Judicial--
independent court system; highest court of appeal is Privy Council in
Subdivisions: 7 counties, 4 municipalities (Trinidad); Tobago House of
Political parties: People's National Movement (PNM), United National
Congress (UNC), National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), National
Joint Actions Committee (NJAC), and others.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP: $4.6 billion.
Annual growth rate: -1.5%.
Per capita income: $3,850.
Natural resources (26% of GDP): Oil and natural gas.
Agriculture (4% of GDP): Products--poultry, fish, pork, sugar, cocoa,
Industry (10% of GDP): Types--manufacturing; processed food and
beverages, assembly operations.
Trade: Exports--$1.4 billion: crude oil, petroleum products, ammonia,
fertilizers, methanol, iron/steel, sugar. Major markets--U.S., CARICOM,
U.K., Venezuela. Imports--$1.1 billion: industrial machinery,
electrical machinery, vehicle kits, paper products, meat, dairy, wood
products, rice. Major suppliers--U.S., U.K., Japan, Canada, CARICOM.
Exchange rate (1994): TT $5.85=U.S. $1.
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 influenced by Spanish, French, and
English colonial culture. Trinidad's East Indian culture came to the
island with indentured servants brought in to resolve 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 their own way of life--preserving Hindu and Muslim
religious festivals and practices--and have resisted assimilation into
the Creole culture.
Trinidad's original inhabitants were Arawak and Carib peoples. Columbus
landed there in 1498 on his third voyage, and the island was settled by
the Spanish a century later. The Arawaks and Caribs were largely wiped
out by the Spanish colonizers. 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. It was formally ceded to Great Britain in 1802.
During the colonial period, Trinidad's economy relied on large sugar and
Tobago's development was similar to other plantation islands in the
Lesser Antilles and quite different from Trinidad. 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.
But disagreement over the structure of the federation soon led to its
collapse after Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago withdrew. Trinidad and
Tobago achieved full independence in 1962 and joined the Commonwealth.
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 the 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.
The country's highest court is the Court of Appeal, the chief justice of
which 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.
Trinidad's seven counties and four largest cities are administered by
elected councils which hold little real power. Tobago was given a
measure of self-government in 1980 and is ruled by the Tobago House of
Principal Government Officials
President--Noor M. Hassanali
Prime Minister--Patrick Manning
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Ralph Maraj
Ambassador to the U.S. and the OAS--Corinne McKnight
Ambassador to the UN--Annette des Iles
The embassy of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is located at
1708 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202-467-6490).
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 in Trinidad and Tobago generally run along ethnic lines, with
Afro-Trinidadians supporting the PNM and Indo-Trinidadians supporting
various Indian parties.
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
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 United National Congress (UNC), an Indian-
majority party which replaced the ULF. 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 (JAM), 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 riots
ripped through downtown 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
JAM during the hostage crisis. All 114 members of the JAM 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. As of 1994, the PNM
majority had been reduced to 20 seats.
Endowed with rich deposits of oil and natural gas, Trinidad and Tobago
became one of the most prosperous countries in the Western Hemisphere
during the oil boom of the 1970s. Oil revenues let the government
embark on a rapid industrial and infrastructural development program.
Part of this was the acquisition of more than 60 state-run enterprises,
most of which eventually became serious drains on public finances.
With the collapse in oil prices in the early 1980s, Trinidad and Tobago
slumped into a recession from which it is emerging. With the help of a
stringent adjustment program, which began in 1988 under the NAR
government and was expanded under the PNM government, Trinidad and
Tobago's economy has shifted from central planning to free market
liberalization. The shift to a market-driven economy--involving trade
liberalization, divestment of state enterprises, and an emphasis on
export-led growth--has affected every sector.
Trinidad and Tobago's economy remains tied to the petroleum and natural
gas industry, which accounts for more than 25% of GDP. The state oil
companies, together with foreign--primarily U.S.--partners, have pursued
an aggressive oil exploration campaign since 1989. Half of the
country's crude oil, as well as most of its natural gas, is pumped by
Amoco. Natural gas is expected to replace oil as the basis of the
economy by the end of this century. Currently, gas is used to generate
the country's electricity and provide much of the raw material and
energy for the chemical, fertilizer, and other industries.
Other successful Trinidadian enterprises have primarily been in
services: banks, insurance firms, and other financial institutions, as
well as trading companies and distributors. Tourism, once frowned upon
as a neo-colonial enterprise, is targeted for greater development and is
growing. But tourism, primarily in Tobago, still accounts for only 2.5%
Trinidad and Tobago's agricultural sector, which generates 4% of GDP, is
dominated by sugar. But sugar cultivation is no longer profitable, and
the state-owned agribusiness, Caroni Ltd., has diversified into rice,
citrus, and aquaculture with limited success. Rice production has more
than doubled since 1988.
Trinidad and Tobago purchases a broad range of goods and services
abroad, nearly half of them from the U.S.--which, in turn, buys more
than half of Trinidad and Tobago's exports. As part of its program for
economic reform, the government has privatized, in whole or in part,
many state-owned companies. Policy changes to make Trinidad and Tobago
more attractive to foreign investors have been implemented, including
revisions of tax and tariff rates and removal of import restrictions on
nearly all products.
According to the Trinidad and Tobago Central Bank, GDP growth averaged -
1.5% in 1992-93, but 3% growth is projected for 1994 based on first-
quarter results. High debt-service payments have forced a tight
monetary policy. Official unemployment has hovered at about 20% for
several years and is expected to rise in the short term as state
enterprises are revamped to become more profitable and as local
manufacturers face increased competition from abroad. Inflation was
about 11% in mid-1994.
Trinidad and Tobago is a democracy that maintains extensive relations
with its Caribbean neighbors and major North American and European
trading partners. As the most industrialized and one of the largest
countries in the English-speaking Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago has
taken a leading role in the Caribbean Community and Common Market
(CARICOM). Trinidad and Tobago has led efforts to advance economic
integration among CARICOM member states.
In international forums, Trinidad and Tobago emphasizes its independent
voting record. After its 1962 independence, it joined the UN and the
Commonwealth. In 1967, it became the first from the Commonwealth to
join the Organization of American States (OAS).
As a member of CARICOM, Trinidad and Tobago strongly backed efforts by
the United States to implement UN Security Council Resolution 940,
designed to facilitate the departure of Haiti's de facto authorities
from power. The country agreed to contribute personnel to the
Multinational Force, which restored the democratically elected
Government of Haiti in October 1994.
RELATIONS WITH THE UNITED STATES
Trinidad and Tobago and the U.S. enjoy cordial relations. A U.S.
embassy was established at Port of Spain in 1962, replacing the former
consulate general. Shortly after Trinidad and Tobago's independence,
the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) helped construct
the John F. Kennedy College of Arts and Sciences at the University of
the West Indies.
The U.S. naval base at Chaguaramas, first set up through the 1941 Leased
Bases Agreement with Great Britain, was turned over to Trinidad and
Tobago in 1967 after a U.S. decision that the base was no longer
required for hemispheric security. Two remaining military facilities
and a navigations aid station later were relinquished to the government.
In FY 1994, the U.S. provided $150,000 in security assistance, most of
which was for counter-narcotics funding.
A tax information exchange agreement was signed in 1989. Trinidad and
Tobago is a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI).
Negotiations were completed in August 1994 for a bilateral investment
treaty and an intellectual property rights agreement.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--James G. Huff
Economic Officer--Don Cleveland
Political Officer--Lloyd Moss
Consul General--Sandy Campbell
Public Affairs Officer--Daniel McGarrie
The U.S. embassy in Trinidad and Tobago is located at 15 Queen's Park
West, Port of Spain, (tel. 809-622-6371).
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