U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Trinidad and Tobago, March 1998
Released by the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs.
Official Name: Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Area: 5,128 sq. km. (1,980 sq. mi.); about 1.5 times the size of
Cities: Capital--Port of Spain (metropolitan pop. 300,000). Other
cities--San Fernando, Arima, Chaguanas.
Terrain: Plains and low mountains.
Climate: Tropical; rainy season (June through December).
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%.
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%.
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) and others.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
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,
Agriculture (2% of GDP): Sugar, cocoa, citrus, poultry.
Industry (8% of GDP): Processed food and beverages, manufacturing,
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.
RELATIONS WITH THE UNITED STATES
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
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.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
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).
OTHER CONTACT INFORMATION
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago
Hilton International-Upper Arcade
Lady Young Road
Port of Spain, Trinidad, W.I.
Tel: (868) 627-8570/7404, 624-3211
Fax: (868) 627-7405
CULTURE AND HISTORY
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
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
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 only emerged in 1994. With the
help of a stringent adjustment program, which began in 1988, Trinidad
and Tobago's economy has shifted from central planning to free market
policies, with extensive trade and investment liberalization, divestment
of state enterprises, and an emphasis on economic diversification and
However, Trinidad and Tobago's economy remains tied to the hydrocarbon
sector, which still accounts for more than 25% of GDP. Although the
government, with the help of several foreign oil companies, is pursuing
an aggressive oil exploration and exploitation campaign, natural gas is
rapidly replacing oil as the foundation of the economy. It has become
the input or power source for ammonia, urea, methanol, iron carbide, and
steel production. U.S. multi-nationals dominate the oil, gas, and
Other successful Trinidadian enterprises are primarily in services-
banks, insurance firms, and other financial institutions-as well as
trading and distribution companies. Tourism, which only accounts for
about 3% of GDP (mostly in Tobago), is targeted for expansion and is
growing, especially in the pleasure boat sector.
Trinidad and Tobago's agricultural sector, which usually generates less
than 2% of GDP a year, is dominated by sugar. However, the parastatal
agricultural firm, Caroni Ltd., has diversified into rice, citrus, and
aquaculture, with limited success. Cocoa and coffee production have
declined over the years.
Trinidad and Tobago purchases a broad range of goods and services
abroad, 38% of which are from the U.S. which, in turn, buys 44% of
Trinidad and Tobago's exports. Policy changes to make Trinidad and
Tobago more attractive to foreign investors have been implemented,
including privatization of state firms, revisions of tax and tariff
rates, and removal of import restrictions on nearly all products.
According to the Trinidad and Tobago Central Statistical Office, real
GDP growth averaged 2.3% in 1995, following on 3.5% growth in 1994--a
marked improvement after a decade of economic decline. Debt-service
payments, inflation, and most other macroeconomic indicators have also
improved dramatically over the past several years. Persistent
unemployment of over 16% remains one of the chief challenges of the
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.
Principal Government Officials
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 embassy of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is located at 1708
Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202 467-6490; fax.
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
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
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.
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.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts
in the country.
Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information
quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term
conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular
Information Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet
home page: and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). To access
CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will accommodate up to
33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-8-1 (no parity, 8
bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. The login is travel
and the password is info (Note: Lower case is required). The CABB also
carries international security information from the Overseas Security
Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication series, which contain
information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, can
be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government
Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; telephone:
202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-
Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m.
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat
rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648).
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal
Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas
are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country
(see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication).
Registering with the embassy may help you to replace lost identity
documents or help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings;
Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on an annual basis by
the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O.
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or
fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information,
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet
(www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-
1986 for more information.
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