Trinidad and Tobago

Location and geography

The twin-island-country of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago sits on the continental shelf of South America, lying off the mainland just 6.8 miles (11kms) from Venezuela and 81 miles (130kms) south of Grenada.  Trinidad, the southernmost of the Caribbean islands, is the fifth largest of the islands of the West Indies

Below the islands Northern mountain range on the west coast of Trinidad is the country’s capital Port of Spain.  To the south of the capital, in low terrain are the Caroni Swamps and the glorious beaches of Trinidad are along the north and east coasts.  The country’s main agricultural land is in the central region of the island.

Climate of Trinidad and Tobago

Like most of the Caribbean islands Trinidad and Tobago benefit from the northeast trade winds which cool the islands during the hottest months.  Although there are dry and wet seasons these are not so clearly set apart.  The mostly dry months run from November to May, with May and June being the wettest months of the year.  The hottest months are between June and October.

Brief History of Trinidad and Tobago

These two Caribbean islands have a long colonial history fraught with wars and invasions.  When Christopher Columbus first claimed the islands for the Spanish Crown in 1498 the only inhabitants of the islands were the Arawak/Caribs, from whose language the name of Tobago is derived.  The name for this tiny sister island to Trinidad comes from the word Tavaco: the name of the tobacco filled pipe, smoked by the indigenous people of the island.

In 1632 the Dutch settled 300 colonialists on the island who immediately set about annihilating the indigenous population of which only a very few descendants remain.

In order to retain their hold on the island of Tobago and also to encourage the growth of its cash-crop plantations, Spain needed to swell the numbers of settlers.  So, the Spanish Crown offered incentives to French Haitians to move to Tobago.  As the number of plantations grew so too, did the need for labour and, as was the case throughout the Caribbean, a large number of slaves from Africa were imported.

Throughout the 17th century, Spanish settlements were constantly harassed by the English-Dutch and French, all attempting to gain supremacy in the Caribbean – a strategic region for shipping in a trade with the East.  As a result, the island changed hands on a regular basis from 1650 until finally worn down by the repeated battles and sieges the islands surrendered to Britain in 1793.  However, this was temporary as the French claimed it under the Treaty of Amiens in 1802.  Finally, the French capitulated and returned the island to Britain in 1814.

The usual history of slave emancipation in 1834 followed and the resulting freeing of slaves left the islands sorely in need of labour.  To alleviate the situation Britain turned to indentured labour bringing in people to the islands, between 1845 and 1917, from India, China and Madeira.  Unlike the indentured labour of the past, which was nothing short of slavery, the contracts of these labourers were short-term contracts.  This meant that labourers could opt to settle and buy plots of land on the islands, or return home on the termination of their short contracts.

The cost of labour, the decline in the demand for sugar worldwide, plus the destruction caused by a hurricane all combined to undermine the ability of Tobago to survive as a standalone colony, and so in 1888 the island of Tobago was amalgamated with the island of Trinidad.

Trinidad’s economy, although plagued by the same problems as Tobago, had the additional natural resource of oil which was discovered in 1857.  This discovery not only to helped re-shape the economy of the two islands but also had a profound effect on the island’s political landscape.

Although Trinidad was now a British Crown colony, the British retained its Spanish constitution whereby the Governor of the island colonies was assisted by a council of advisors as well as a taxpayer elected cabinet known as a cabildo.  This structure of government was extended to include Tobago when the two islands were amalgamated and the economies of both islands were merged cancelling all Tobago’s debt to Trinidad so forming a single economy.

Trade Unions on the islands were first organised in the 1920s and with them came the right to vote, but this franchise was limited to those who qualified on the basis of owned property and language.  Universal adult suffrage did not come into being until 1945.

The constitution of the islands went through a number of changes.  First in 1950 and again in 1959.  In 1956 the leader of People’s National Movement (PNM), Dr Eric Williams, through successful negotiation with Britain, succeeded in winning full internal self-government for the islands.

In 1958 Trinidad and Tobago became members of the ill-fated Federation of the West Indies which resulted in them seeking full independence, which was finally won in August 1962.  This independent state of Trinidad and Tobago became a republic within the Commonwealth in 1976.

The booming oil-based economy of the islands finally collapsed when oil prices plummeted and this collapse led to an attempted coup by 100 Islamic extremists in 1990.  Although they were ultimately unsuccessful these extremists did manage to occupy the Parliament buildings and held the country hostage for 6 days.

Today the country enjoys a two party Westminster-styled system of government with elections held every 5 years.  Keith Rowley who has held office since 2015, is the present Prime Minister.

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