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Trinidad & Tobago

p>officially REPUBLIC OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO, island republic of the West Indies, lying just off the coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea. Trinidad is the southernmost of the Windward Islands and has an area of 1,864 square miles (4,828 square km). Tobago occupies only 116 square miles (300 square km). The capital is Port of Spain on Trinidad. Trinidad is separated from Venezuela by the Gulf of Paria and two narrow channels. Tobago lies 7 miles (11 km) north of the larger island. Area 1,980 square miles (5,128 square km). Pop. (1993 est.) 1,249,000.

The land.

Physiographically, Trinidad and Tobago represents an extension of the South American mainland. Trinidad is mostly flat or undulating except for three narrow belts of highland traversing the island. Trinidad's Northern Range runs generally from west to east and rises to 3,084 feet (940 m) at Aripo Mountain, the country's highest peak. The Central Range, rising to slightly more than 1,000 feet (300 m), crosses the island from southwest to northeast, while the Southern Range skirts the southern coast and reaches nearly 500 feet (150 m). Tobago's dominant feature, the Main Ridge, is an extension of Trinidad's Northern Range.

Trinidad's mountain ranges determine the drainage pattern of its rivers. Their courses are short, the longest being the Ortoire in the south (31 miles [50 km]) and the Caroni (25 miles [40 km]) in the north. Several swamps occupy the low-lying areas, among them the Caroni Swamp in the northwest. (see also Index: Ortoire River, Caroni River)

The climate of Trinidad and Tobago is tropical with a high degree of humidity. A pronounced dry season from January to May corresponds roughly with the cool season. The average daily temperature maximum in January is about 86º F (30º C). The warmest month, April, has an average daily maximum of about 90º F (32º C). Trinidad and Tobago receives about 70 inches (1,800 mm) of rainfall annually.

Nearly one-fourth of the land area is arable, and most of that is under cultivation. More than two-fifths of the country is forested, with luxuriant rain-forest vegetation found mostly in the highlands. White flamingo, egret, and scarlet ibis frequent the Caroni Swamp, site of an important bird sanctuary.

Trinidad and Tobago's mineral resources include large reserves of petroleum and natural gas, limestone, and unexploited deposits of iron ore in the Northern Range. Pitch Lake at La Brea in southwestern Trinidad contains the world's largest supply of natural asphalt.

The people.

African, East Indian, Spanish, French, English, and Chinese peoples have all contributed to the islands' ethnic composition. Blacks and East Indians each constitute about two-fifths of the population. Some one-third of the populace is Roman Catholic; about one-quarter is Hindu, and one-eighth is Anglican. Most others profess various Protestant faiths, Islam, or Rastafarianism. English is the official language. The population growth rate has declined sharply since the 1950s. The birth rate is about average for the Caribbean, but the country's comparatively low infant mortality rate and overall death rate contribute to a higher-than-average annual rate of population increase for the region.

The economy.

Trinidad and Tobago has a partly developed, mainly free-enterprise economy with some government regulation and participation in certain industries. Petroleum production and processing dominate the economy and the service industries (including tourism) make up the other leading component. The gross national product (GNP) declined steadily during the 1980s because of falling petroleum prices. The GNP per capita remains, nonetheless, one of the highest in the Caribbean region owing to the revenues from oil exports.

Agriculture constitutes only a small share of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about one-tenth of the labour force. Major cash crops include sugarcane, citrus fruits, cacao, coffee, coconuts and copra, and bananas. Domestic crops include rice, peas, pigeon peas, corn (maize), cassava, sweet potatoes, dasheen (taro), and vegetables. Sugarcane is processed into raw sugar, molasses, and rum, and the residual bagasse is converted into Trinboard, a construction material. Pastures cover only about 2 percent of the land. The principal livestock includes cattle, goats, and pigs. Water buffalo, brought from India by Indian farmers, are used extensively for cultivation of rice paddies.

Trinidad's teak and Caribbean pine commercial forests are extensive. Three-fourths of the wood cut is used in industry and one-fourth for fuel and charcoal. Fishing remains mostly in the hands of small private fishermen, and the annual catch is not adequate for local demand. A shrimp fleet and a canning and processing plant were established in the 1970s.

Mining is dominated by the petroleum industry, which generates the largest share of the GDP but employs only a small portion of the labour force. Petroleum and natural-gas production is from both on- and offshore fields. Asphalt and pitch sand are extracted from Pitch Lake and other similar deposits. Other minerals quarried include diorite, limestone, argillite clay, and porcelainite.

The principal manufactured products include refined petroleum, petrochemicals, nitrogenous fertilizers, iron and steel, methanol, plastics, sugar, and various import-substitution products such as clothing, soap, and footwear. Industries for the local assembly of televisions and motor vehicles from imported parts have also been established.

Tourism is well developed and centres on winter vacations and natural scenery. More than half of all tourists come from the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Budgetary revenue roughly equals expenditure, and deficits generally occur only when the petroleum industry--from which most revenue originates--does poorly. High inflation and increasing unemployment after the oil glut of the early 1980s continued to plague the country into the 1990s.

Port of Spain, Pointe-à-Pierre, and Point Lisas (on Trinidad) and Scarborough (on Tobago) are the main ports. International airports are at Piarco, near Port of Spain, and at Crown Point, on the western tip of Tobago.

Trinidad and Tobago's principal exports include petroleum products and crude petroleum, fertilizers and ammonia, and iron and steel rods, exported mainly to the United States. Imports include machinery and transport equipment, crude petroleum, food, and basic manufactures, imported mainly from the United States, Venezuela, and the United Kingdom.

Government and social conditions.

Under its 1976 Constitution, Trinidad and Tobago is a parliamentary republic with an elected president as chief of state and a prime minister as head of government. The legislature consists of a 36-member House of Representatives and a 31-member Senate. The country is a member of the Commonwealth, and its judiciary retains right of appeal to the Privy Council. It is a member of the Caribbean Community and Common Market. Legislation passed in 1980 gave Tobago considerable autonomy and established a separate Tobago House of Assembly of 15 members, and in 1987 Tobago was granted full internal self-government.

Health conditions have improved markedly since the 1950s. Substantial decreases in deaths from malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, and syphilis have helped to raise the average life expectancy to more than 72 years. Rural-to-urban migration has created urban housing shortages. Education is free and compulsory between the ages of 5 and 11. Adult literacy is about 96 percent, one of the highest rates in the Caribbean region.


When Christopher Columbus visited Trinidad in 1498 during his third voyage, the island was inhabited by the Arawak Indians, and neighbouring Tobago was occupied by the warlike Carib. Trinidad remained a neglected Spanish possession for almost 300 years until it was surrendered to a British naval expedition in 1797. In the 17th and 18th centuries tobacco, and later cacao, were cultivated. African slaves were imported for labour to replace the original Indian population, which had been worked to death by the Spanish. The British first attempted to settle Tobago in 1721, but the French captured the island in 1781 and transformed it into a sugar-producing colony. In 1802 the British acquired Tobago, and in 1889 it was administratively combined with Trinidad.

The emancipation of slaves throughout the West Indies in 1834-38 resulted in a severe labour shortage on the sugar plantations, which was met by the subsidized immigration of labourers from India. Partial self-government was begun in 1925, when a constitutional reform added seven elected members to the colony's Legislative Council. Universal suffrage was instituted in 1945, and limited self-government was granted to the islands in 1956. The colony attained independence in 1962 and the status of a republic within the Commonwealth in 1976.

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