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language: English President: Maxwell Richards
Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
religions: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam
experienced a sharp decline during the oil-boom
decade of the 1970s, when food imports increased
and wage levels in agricultural jobs were low in
comparison to other sectors. Sugar remains the
main export crop and the main employer,
especially during the cane-cutting season. Sugar
production reached 227,400 tons in 1965 but fell
dramatically to 48,300 tons by 1982. In 1999,
112,100 tons were produced, falling short of the
government's target of 130,000. Most production
is carried out by the state-owned Caroni Ltd.,
which has 2 sugar factories, but smaller,
independent farmers were responsible for growing
56 percent of cane in 1999. Most sugar exports
go to Europe at preferential and guaranteed
prices negotiated with the European Union, for
which Trinidad and Tobago exports an annual
quota of 43,751 tons. In 1998, sugar earned an
estimated US$32 million. Despite this guaranteed
market access, the sugar industry is highly
unprofitable, with the government obliged to
subsidize Caroni by $25 million in 1998. There
have been repeated calls for the government to
sell its sugar operations or to gradually
abandon the industry altogether, but this would
cause widespread unemployment. Cocoa and coffee
have also declined in importance, with only
1,160 tons of cocoa and 343 tons of coffee
produced in 1999. Some exotic flowers are
exported to the United States, and a wide range
of fruits and vegetables are grown for local
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. 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.
The president is elected by parliament for a term of five years. Maxwell Richards was elected president in 2003 and won a second term in February 2008.
Prime minister: Patrick Manning
Patrick Manning was appointed as prime minister following inconclusive elections in December 2001.
Prime Minister Patrick Manning
His People's National Movement (PNM) won re-election 2002 and again in November 2007, when it picked up 26 seats in a newly-expanded 41-seat parliament.
The PNM's victory fell short of the two-thirds majority Mr Manning needed to push through his proposed constitutional changes - branded as a dictatorial power grab by critics - but he said it was "a comfortable majority with which to rule".
He is keen to replace the current parliamentary system with a presidential one.
Mr Manning, a geologist, served as prime minister from 1991 to 1995.
His administration has been credited with attracting major investments in the petrochemical industries and substantially alleviating poverty.
Politics is divided along racial lines; the PNM draws support mostly from Trinidadians of African descent, while most followers of the opposition United National Congress (UNC) are of Indian descent.
The PNM has been in charge of the country for all but 11 years since the party was founded in 1956.
Privately-run TV6 dominates the ratings in Trinidad and Tobago with its blend of domestically-made programmes, including the soap opera Westwood Park, which chronicles the lives of several wealthy Trinidadian families.
The state-owned Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG) replaced the former public broadcaster NBN, which closed in January 2005 after more than 40 years on the air. CNMG operates a TV network and radio stations.
The government generally respects press freedom, which is enshrined in the constitution.
BBC World Service radio programmes are available 24 hours a day via BBC 98.7 FM.