Comparatively wealthy and with some degree of economic diversification in the finance, manufacturing and transport sectors, Trinidad and Tobago is the largest Caribbean oil producer and the world’s sixth-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). As in many other hydrocarbons-based economies, the local energy sector was severely affected by the sustained drop in oil and gas prices since mid-2014, driving the economy to contract by 2% in 2015.
T&T has an ethnically diverse population, strong democratic traditions, and a dynamic local cultural and sporting life. Trinidad was discovered by the Spanish at the end of the 15th century and seized by the British 300 years later, while the smaller island of Tobago was fought over by the Spanish, British, French and Dutch. The two islands came together under British rule in 1889, achieved independence in 1962 and became a republic in 1976. The islands are culturally and ethnically diverse, with South Asian, African and other international roots. While Tobago is a haven for tourists, with a laid-back atmosphere, Trinidad is famous for mixing business – particularly in the oil and gas sector – with pleasure, most famously in the form of the annual Carnival.
Geography & Climate
T&T is located in the south-eastern Caribbean some 10 km off the northeast coast of Venezuela. Apart from the two islands that give the country its name, T&T also includes various smaller islands. Trinidad is the largest, with a surface area of 4828 sq km, while Tobago is 300 sq km in size. The nation’s capital, Port of Spain, is in the north-west of Trinidad; Tobago’s capital is Scarborough. The country’s topography is largely composed of plains and small mountains. The Northern Range along the north coast of Trinidad covers 25% of the island’s land area and is home to the El Cerro del Aripo and El Tucuche peaks, both over 900 metres.
The islands boast a pleasant tropical climate, although humidity can reach uncomfortably high levels. The temperature does not vary greatly throughout the year, averaging 27°C. Average minimum daily temperatures in Port of Spain stand at around 20°C and average maximum daily temperatures reach some 32°C. The rainy season generally runs from June to December, and the dry season takes up the rest of the year; however, the difference between the two seasons is not particularly significant. Thanks to its relatively southerly location outside of the hurricane belt, the hurricanes that affect much of the Caribbean largely tend to bypass T&T.
According to the latest official government census, in 2011 T&T’s total population stood at 1.33m, with the Central Statistical Office (CSO) estimating that this had risen to 1.35m by 2015. Nearly all inhabitants – around 96% – live on the island of Trinidad, with the remaining 4% living on Tobago. Around 70% of the population is aged between 15 and 64, with population growth having remained largely static. The country is ranked 64th in the UN’s Human Development Index, and it is classified as a high-income economy by the World Bank. In 2015 life expectancy at birth was 70.1 years.
T&T is ethnically diverse, with around 70% of its people tracing their heritage to either Africa or the Indian subcontinent, more or less evenly divided between the two (people of South Asian descent make up around 35% of the population, while those tracing their origins to Africa account for 34%). Most of the rest of the population is of mixed heritage, though the country also hosts smaller Middle Eastern, Chinese and other communities. The great majority of the population speaks English, the country’s official language. However, a number of other languages are spoken by ethnic minorities, including Spanish, Caribbean Hindustani, French (including the patois or Creole variants) and Chinese.
T&T does not have a designated official religion. According to a census-based estimate in 2011, 32% of the inhabitants were Protestants, 22% were Catholics, 18% were Hindus and 5% were Muslim. The constitution provides protection for the “freedom of religious belief and practice”.
The country contains numerous churches, temples and mosques. Some of the oldest buildings are churches, including the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, both of which date back to the early 19th century. In keeping with the South Asian heritage of a large part of the population, the Hindu festival of Diwali and the Muslim festival of Eid Al Fitr are important occasions on the country’s religious calendar.
T&T is a parliamentary democracy modelled on the British political system, but it is a republic rather than a monarchy. The president, who is chosen by an electoral college made up of members of parliament for five-year terms, has limited powers. The current office holder is Anthony Carmona, who was first elected to the position in 2013.
Parliament is made up of two houses: the 41-member House of Representatives, which is elected at least once every five years, and the Senate. The latter’s 31 members are appointed by the president in consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. Decision-making power rests with the prime minister and the Cabinet. The current prime minister is Keith Rowley, whose People’s National Movement party succeeded in the general elections held on September 7, 2015. T&T’s ethnic dividing lines shape its politics. The major parties represent the two main communities, known colloquially as “Indo-Trinis” and “Afro-Trinis”, with the newly elected government having its most loyal base among Afro-Trinis.
In addition, T&T is also a member of the regional body known as CARICOM, along with 14 other Caribbean nations. The organisation is tasked with promoting economic integration and cooperation between member states, as well as helping coordinate the members’ foreign policy. T&T is currently divided into 15 corporations, which represent its main regions and urban areas, and one ward, the island of Tobago. Locally elected councils govern the corporations, while Tobago has its own single-chamber parliament, known as the Tobago House of Assembly, which is made up of 12 elected members and is responsible for local government operations.
Culture & Heritage
Culture in T&T is heavily influenced by the mixed African and Indian heritage, as well as the long period of colonial rule by the British, who among other things gave the nation its love of cricket. Port of Spain is famous for its annual Carnival, which takes place in February or March (two days before Ash Wednesday) and has its roots in the Afro-Caribbean community. Tobago hosts a lower-key Carnival of its own in Scarborough. Carnivals in T&T involve parades and flamboyant costume competitions. Carnival is notable for its music: soca, calypso and the famous steel bands. Oil drums began being used to make steelpans for percussion in the 1930s to circumvent a ban on regular drums, introduced in 1883 in an attempt to prevent celebrations from becoming too riotous. Big calypso stars have included Lord Kitchener and Mighty Sparrow (styled as the “Calypso King of the World”). Trinbagonian music has multiple varieties, including rapso, extempo, parang and chutney soca, an Indian-influenced version of soca. T&T is also well known for its contemporary literature, namely the works of two Nobel Prize-winning authors, novelist V.S. Naipaul and poet Derek Walcott. Naipaul, who has written over 30 books, is the grandson of Indian migrants who arrived in the 1880s to work as indentured servants on the sugar plantations. Walcott, of African and European descent, was born in St Lucia but moved to Trinidad in the 1950s.
T&T is the most important Caribbean producer of oil and gas. Notwithstanding the impact of low oil and gas prices, hydrocarbons still dominate the economy, making up approximately 36% of GDP and accounting for around 80% of exports. Proven reserves of oil stood at 728m barrels in 2016, with production running at around 78,627 barrels per day (bpd). Production peaked at 193,000 bpd in 2006. Throughput in T&T’s only refinery averaged 125,308 bpd in 2015, and takes in crude oil imports from Colombia, Gabon, Norway and Russia.
Natural gas production and exports – in the form of LNG – have been overtaking oil production as the country’s most important revenue generator in recent years thanks to substantial reserves and major foreign investment, in particular since the Atlantic LNG project began in 1999. T&T is now one of the largest LNG exporters in the world and a major supplier of LNG to the region.
According to figures from the US Energy Information Administration, T&T’s proven natural gas reserves stood at just under 11.5trn cubic feet (tcf) in 2016, with annual output at around 1.4 tcf. Approximately half of annual output is consumed domestically, with the rest exported as LNG to a range of recipients.
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