Trinidad and Tobago profile - Overview
- 11 February 2015
- From the section Latin America & Caribbean
Trinidad and Tobago is one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean, thanks to its large reserves of oil and gas, the exploitation of which dominates its economy.
Inhabited mostly by people of African and Indian descent, the two-island state enjoys a per capita income well above the average for Latin America. Natural gas - much of it exported to the US - is expected to overtake oil as its main source of revenue.
Dependence on oil has made the republic a hostage to world crude prices, whose fall during the 1980s and early 1990s led to the build-up of a large foreign debt, widespread unemployment and labour unrest.
As with other nations in the region, Trinidad and Tobago - a major trans-shipment point for cocaine - has become ridden with drug and gang-related violence. This has clogged up the courts and has fuelled a high murder rate and much of the corruption that is reputedly endemic in the police. It also threatens the tourism industry.
In response, the government reintroduced capital punishment in 1999, despite strong international pressure not to do so.
Trinidad and Tobago hosts the Caribbean Court of Justice, a regional supreme court which aims to replace Britain's Privy Council as a final court of appeal. The council had been seen as an obstacle to the speedy implementation of death sentences.
Sighted by the explorer Christopher Columbus in 1498, Trinidad was settled by the Spanish before being taken by Britain in 1797. A succession of European powers laid claim to Tobago.
Calypso music and steel drum bands feature in carnival celebrations on the larger island. Relaxed and peaceful in comparison to its densely-populated neighbour, Tobago attracts diving enthusiasts and nature lovers. The island is self-governing.