Classified by the World Bank as a high-income country, the twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago has one of the highest GNI per capita in Latin America and the Caribbean, at $17,640 in 2015. In contrast to a number of tourism-dependent economies in the Caribbean, T&T’s wealth is linked primarily to its hydrocarbons resources, in particular oil and natural gas extraction. The wealth derived from the country’s energy sector has ensured significant development in recent decades. T&T was ranked 64th out of 188 countries in the UN’s 2015 Human Development Index, placing it among the high human development nations. While the recent decline in global energy prices saw T&T’s GDP shrink from TT$167.8bn ($25.1bn) in 2014 to an estimated TT$145.9bn ($21.8bn) in 2016, according to the Central Bank of T&T, the country remains one of the most dynamic economies in the Caribbean and one of the main recipients of foreign investment in the region.
Trinidad was first discovered by the Spanish in 1498. The development of the island’s sugar plantation economy followed shortly after, with the largescale trade in slaves from the African continent. Though it was raided by the English, Dutch and French throughout the 17th century, Trinidad became a British colony in 1802. The emancipation of slaves arrived more than three decades later in 1834, followed by the adoption of free trade in 1846. The smaller island of Tobago was fought over by the Spanish, British, French and Dutch, before it was grouped with Trinidad under British colonial rule in 1889. Independence was achieved in 1962 and the twin-island country became a republic in 1976.
T&T now functions as a parliamentary democracy. As head of state, the president has limited executive power and is elected by an electoral college comprising all members of Parliament for a five-year term. While eligible for re-election, the president can serve no more than two terms. Current President Anthony Carmona was elected in February 2013 and is expected to remain in office until the next presidential election, scheduled for 2018. The executive branch is led by the prime minister, who is responsible for appointing the Cabinet. Current Prime Minister Keith Rowley, leader of the People’s National Movement (PNM) party, took office in September 2015, after gaining 51.68% of the popular vote.
In line with its British colonial legacy, T&T’s legislature consists of a bicameral Parliament. The House of Representatives is composed of 41 members elected to serve five-year terms, while the Senate’s 31 members are appointed by the president (nine seats), the ruling party (16 seats) and the opposition party (six seats).
Locally, T&T is divided into 15 corporations and one ward, the island of Tobago. The corporations are governed by locally elected councils, while Tobago has its own unicameral House of Assembly. Established in 1980, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) comprises a legislative and executive arm with limited powers. The Assembly Legislature is composed of 12 elected members serving four-year terms, while the Executive Council, led by a chief secretary, carries out the tasks of the assembly through its 10 divisions. The THA was dissolved in October 2016 ahead of new elections, which took place on January 23, 2017, resulting in the PNM’s victory in 10 districts. In addition, T&T is a member of CARICOM, along with 14 other member states. The regional body is tasked with promoting economic integration and cooperation between member states and coordinating members’ foreign policy.
According to T&T’s Central Statistical Office, the country’s population was estimated at 1.35m in June 2016, with population growth having remained largely static in recent years. Nearly half of the population (46.1%) is aged between 25 and 54, with 31.58% under 25. Life expectancy at birth is estimated at 71.2 years. The vast majority of the population, some 96%, live on the island of Trinidad, while the remaining 4% live on Tobago. The population of Trinidad is concentrated in the western half of the island, with the capital, Port of Spain, being home to some 34,000 people. Tobago’s population of roughly 61,000 is concentrated mostly in the southern half of the island.
The country is ethnically diverse, with around 70% of its inhabitants tracing their heritage to either Africa or the Indian subcontinent. Trinbagonians of South Asian descent make up around 35% of the population, while those of African descent account for 34%. The remainder of the population is of mixed heritage (15.3%), mixed African-East Indian (7.7%) and minorities including Middle Eastern and Chinese communities.
Language & Religion
While English is the official language of T&T, ethnic minorities also speak English-, French- and Spanish-based creoles, as well as Hindi and Chinese dialects. T&T does not have a designated official religion, and freedom of religious belief and practice is protected under the constitution. According to the most recent census from 2011, an estimated 32% of Trinbagonians are Protestant, 22% are Catholic, 18% Hindu and 5% Muslim. Not surprisingly, given the country’s South Asian heritage, the Hindu festival of Diwali and the Muslim festival of Eid Al Fitr figure predominantly on the local religious calendar.
T&T’s culture is heavily influenced by its African and Indian heritage, as well as its colonial history. The single most influential factor in T&T’s cultural landscape is its annual Carnival celebrations, featuring parades and flamboyant costume competitions, which attract a significant number of visitors to Trinidad’s capital each year. The country’s cultural heritage is also reflected in Trinbagonian music, which includes a rich variety of sounds and percussion instruments. In addition to soca and calypso, both defining characteristics of Carnival, Trinbagonian music includes rapso, extempo, parang and chutney, an Indian-influenced version of soca. T&T’s British colonial legacy is echoed in the country’s love of cricket and football.
Geography & Climate
Located in the south-eastern Caribbean, T&T shares maritime borders with several Caribbean countries, including Barbados to the north-east, Grenada to the north-west and Guyana to the south-east. The twin-island republic is also located only 11 km off the north-east coast of Venezuela, separated from the Latin American country by the Gulf of Paria and two narrow channels. T&T spans a total of 5130 sq km and comprises the two islands that give the country its name, as well as several smaller islands. Trinidad is the largest, with a surface area of 4830 sq km, while Tobago spans 300 sq km. T&T’s capital is Port of Spain, while Tobago’s capital is Scarborough.
The country’s topography is characterised mostly by plains, with some hills and low mountains. The Northern Range along the northern coast of Trinidad covers roughly 25% of the island’s land area and is home to El Cerro del Aripo, the highest point in the country at 940 metres above sea level. Around 44% of the country is covered by forest, while a further 10.5% is agricultural land, of which 4.9% is arable land, 4.3% permanent crops and 1.3% permanent pasture.
The islands have a tropical climate, with high temperatures and significant rainfall. Temperatures do not vary greatly, averaging 26.5°C throughout the year, while rainfall averages 2200 mm per year. The dry season generally runs from January to May and is followed by a rainy season from June to December, when humidity can reach uncomfortably high levels. T&T, because of its geographical location on the southern periphery of the North Atlantic hurricane basin, has been largely insulated from the hurricanes that affect much of the Caribbean, though it can experience peripheral weather associated with the passage of tropical storms.
Despite its relatively small size, T&T is rich in natural resources, in particular oil, gas and asphalt. Despite dwindling production levels in recent years, T&T remains the leading oil producer among Caribbean islands. Daily production stood at around 78,627 barrels per day (bpd) in 2016, after a peak of 193,000 bpd in 2006, while T&T’s only refinery averaged 125,308 bpd in 2015. The country’s proven oil reserves stood at 728m barrels in 2016.
In recent years, liquefied natural gas (LNG) has taken the lead as the country’s most important revenue generator, thanks to robust reserves and significant foreign investment since the 1990s. With proven reserves at 10.6trn standard cu feet (scf) in 2016, T&T is the world’s sixth-largest LNG exporter and an important supplier to the wider region, in particular the US. Following oil production’s downward trend, natural gas production declined from an average of 4.3bn scf per day in 2010 to 3.2bn scf in July 2016. Even so, the country is home to one of the largest natural gas processing facilities in the Western Hemisphere, the Phoenix Park Gas Processors, with a processing capacity of nearly 2bn scf per day and an output capacity of 70,000 bpd of natural gas liquids. Though gas curtailments have affected production in recent years, T&T is the world’s largest exporter of methanol and the largest exporter of ammonia to the US. In addition, Pitch Lake on Trinidad’s south-western coast, is among the world’s largest natural reservoirs of asphalt, holding approximately 10m tonnes of pitch.