Comparatively wealthy and economically diverse with active finance, manufacturing and transport sectors, Trinidad and Tobago is also the largest Caribbean oil producer and the world’s sixth-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). It has an ethnically diverse population, strong democratic traditions, and a vibrant 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.
T&T is in the southern Caribbean barely 10 km off the north-east 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-east of Trinidad; Tobago’s capital is Scarborough. The country’s topography is largely composed of plains and small mountains.
According to the official government census, in 2011 T&T’s total population stood at 1.33m, with the World Bank estimating that this had risen to 1.34m by 2013. Nearly all inhabitants – around 96% – live on the island of Trinidad, with the remaining 4% living on Tobago. Around 73% of the population is aged between 15 and 64, while population growth has remained largely static. The country is ranked 64th in the UN’s Human Development Index, and it is classified as “high income” by the World Bank. In 2012 life expectancy at birth was around 70 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, which is the country’s official language. However, a number of other languages are spoken, 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 from the early 19th century. In keeping with the South Asian heritage of part of the population, the Hindu festival of Diwali and the Muslim festival of Eid Al Fitr are also important occasions on the country’s religious calendar.
Weather & Climate
The islands boast a pleasant tropical climate, though 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 November 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, the hurricanes that affect much of the Caribbean region tend to miss T&T.
T&T is a parliamentary democracy modelled on the British political system, but it is a republic rather than a monarchy. The president, 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 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 body’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 Kamla Persad-Bissessar. She came to power in May 2010 and faces new general elections that will be held on September 7, 2015.
T&T’s ethnic dividing lines shape its politics. The major parties represent the two main communities, known locally as Indo-Trinis and Afro-Trinis, with the incumbent coalition government having its most loyal base among Indo-Trinis. Nevertheless, it is often the swing voters who cut across these dividing lines that can tip the balance one way or another.
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 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 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 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.
African-influenced folklore centres on stories of characters such as Anansi the Spider Man, Trinidad’s Papa Bois and Tobago’s Gang Gang Sarah, and tales of fantastical creatures like mermaids and fairymaids. 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.
Cricket is perhaps the best-loved sport, with its national home being the Queen’s Park Cricket Oval. Brian Lara, one of the best batsmen in modern cricket, is known as “the Prince of Port of Spain”. Football is also popular, and T&T became one of the smallest countries by population to play in the World Cup when it qualified for the competition in 2006.
T&T is the most important Caribbean producer of oil and gas. Hydrocarbons dominate the economy, making up approximately 42% of GDP and accounting for around 85% of exports. Proven reserves of oil stood at 728m barrels in 2013, with production running at around 119,000 barrels per day (bpd), versus consumption of some 40,000 barrels, allowing for significant net exports. Production peaked at 179,000 bpd in 2006.
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 US and South American countries.
According to figures from the US Energy Information Administration, T&T’s proven natural gas reserves stood at just under 13.3trn cubic feet (tcf) in 2013, with annual output at around 1.5 tcf. Approximately half of annual output is consumed domestically, with the rest exported as LNG to a range of recipients.