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The Americas

Caribbean Islands

 

Modern Trinidad & Tobago (Lesser Antilles)
AD 1955 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (1955-2023), British Colony (1955-1962), Independent Constitutional Monarchy (1962-1976), & Independent Republic (1976-On)

The island state of Trinidad & Tobago is located in the Caribbean region of the Americas, at the southern end of the Lesser Antilles. The larger island of Trinidad sits off the north-east coast of Venezuela, with the smaller island of Tobago off its own north-east coast. To the west are Venezuela's Peninsula de Paria and the Gulf of Paria, to the north is Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Barbados, and to the east is the North Atlantic Ocean.

Little is known about Trinidad's earliest inhabitants. Amerindians arrived by foot around 8000 BC while the island was still connected to the mainland. Arawak people later arrived in canoes from South America, as early as 4000 BC as Trinidad is only about twelve kilometres from the mainland. Tobago was also settled, but the date is uncertain.

The Arawaks had a population of about forty thousand by the time Christopher Columbus arrived in 1498. This included a Carib tribe and another, the Nepuyo, which inhabited the Arima area of northern Trinidad. Together they actively resisted Spanish settlement from the Spanish Colonies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Trinidad was named by Columbus after the 'Trinity' of the Catholic Church. He also saw Tobago but did not land there, naming it Bellaforma. Trinidad became a Spanish colony in 1532, and the Spanish commenced hostilities against the natives. The island would become a province of the viceroyalty of New Spain. Wannawannare, a local chief, led his people to a different part of the island in 1592, leaving his land to the Spaniards who went on to construct the town of San Jose (St Joseph).

Tobago became the Dutch colony of Nieuw Walcherin in 1628. It belonged to Latvians from the duchy of Courland and Semigalia (within the commonwealth of Poland) between 1654-1683. Then it became neutral territory until Great Britain established it as the colony of Tobago in 1762. The mostly Dutch European settlers on the island acknowledged British rule but continued to operate their own administration.

Britain took Trinidad in 1797, while also starting to administer Tobago at the same time. Spain formally ceded the island in 1802 and France twice grabbed control, finally giving up in 1803. After slavery was abolished in the British empire in 1834 and full emancipation was given to slaves, the colony began importing labourers from India, China, and Portugal to work the plantation fields. More than 147,000 Muslims from Calcutta alone arrived between 1845-1917. Trinidad and Tobago were united into a single colony in 1889, having been part of the British colony of the Windward Islands since 1833.

The Great Depression of the 1930s caused the collapse of cocoa production. The colony turned to petroleum production which, by the 1950s, had become the major driver of economic improvement. Additional wealth saw the emergence of an influential middle class which encompassed all elements of the population. The United States established military bases at Chaguaramas and Cumuto during the Second World War, in cooperation with Britain.

Following a period as an 'Independent Constitutional Monarchy', the colony became an 'Independent Republic' in 1976. Its democratically-elected bicameral parliament consists of a senate and 'House of Representatives' which functions on the British format, with a prime minister as the head of government and a president as the head of state. It remains a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The wealthiest of the Caribbean nation states, its oil reserves contribute significantly to its economy, and the population has reached 1.5 million. The two dominant population groups are the descendants of African slaves and the Indo-Trinidadians (eastern Indians).

The full list of islands which make up the Lesser Antilles chain includes Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Redonda, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago.


Caribbean Islands

(Information by John De Cleene, with additional information from External Links: BTI Transformation Index, and History of Trinidad and Tobago (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and History of Trinidad (Milwaukee Public Museum), and Nalis.gov, and Trinidad and Tobago - History and Culture (iExplore), and Trinidad and Tobago (Rulers.org), and Trinidad and Tobago (Zárate's Political Collections), and Tobago (Flags of the World), and Trinidad grapples with a 'national crisis' of violence (The Guardian).)

1955 - 1960

Sir Edward Betham / Beetham

UK governor.

1956

Dr Eric E Williams of the People's National Movement (PNM) becomes head of government. He will lead the country to independence and will become its first prime minister. He will serve until 1981, when he dies in office.

Port of Spain, capital of the Caribbean island of Trinidad
Port of Spain is the capital of Trinidad & Tobago, with a mixed population and European influences which are seen particularly in its architecture and its French Creole heritage

1958

The British authorities unite their West Indian islands into a 'Federation of the West Indies' in an attempt to form a unified independent nation. The federation does not receive the sustained support which it needs. Instead, each constituent part appears to drive towards becoming a separate, independent nation.

1960 - 1972

Sir Solomon Hochoy

Governor. Governor-general from 1962.

1962

The 'Federation of the West Indies' collapses when Jamaica withdraws from it. Trinidad & Tobago becomes an 'Independent Constitutional Monarchy' on 31 August 1962, with a British-style parliamentary government. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is head of state, being represented in Trinidad & Tobago by a governor-general.

1972 - 1987

Sir Ellis Clarke

Governor-general. President from 1976.

1976

Trinidad & Tobago becomes an 'Independent Republic', with a president as head of state and a democratically-elected bicameral parliament on the British style. The prime minister remains head of government.

Edward Heath, prime minister, 1970-1974
Edward Heath, Britain's Conservative prime minister between 1970-1974, made gaining membership in the European Economic Community a key objective for the United Kingdom, as the last lingering vestiges of empire were being left behind

1980

Tobago becomes an autonomous part of the republic, an acknowledgement of the desire of Tobagonians for self-government. In fact, there has even been an independence movement in Tobago since 1969.

1986

The National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), a coalition party which is led by A N R Robinson, wins power and begins divesting state-owned businesses and reorganising the economy. After having suffered from a decline in oil revenue since the early 1980s, that improves somewhat, and inflation is reduced. Nevertheless, resentment builds against the government.

1987

Michael Williams

Acting president (for one week).

1987 - 1997

Noor Mohammed Hassanali

President. Overcame a 1990 coup attempt.

1990

While President Hassanali is out of the country, Emanuel Carter serves as acting president. On 27 July 1990, Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of a group called the Jamaat Muslimeen, stages a coup and seizes Prime Minister A N R Robinson, holding him hostage. On 1 August, Abu Bakr surrenders to end the siege. A year later though, the PNM returns to power.

Trinidadian limbo dancers
The limbo dance originated in Trinidad & Tobago, usually performed at wakes and then being popularised by Julia Edwards, the 'First Lady of Limbo', in the 1950s

1995

Basdeo Panday of the United National Congress becomes the first Indo-Trinidadian prime minister. His government is also the first with an electoral base in the Indo-Trinidadian sector of the population. While continuing the policies of the previous two parties, the government expands investment in petrochemicals, tourism, and natural gas.

1997 - 2003

A N R Robinson

President (former prime minister).

2003 - 2013

Maxwell Richards

President.

2011

Prime Minister Kamala Pressad-Bissessar declares a state of emergency to deal with an ongoing high crime rate and the country's involvement in the global drug trade.

2013 - 2018

Anthony Carmona

President.

2018 - 2023

Paula-Mae Weekes

First female president.

2020

A spike in Covid-19 infections brings lockdown measures which contribute to a contraction of an economy which had been gradually recovering since a severe recession in 2015. The per capita GDP falls from $30,000 to $27,261 but is still the second highest in the region, behind Panama.

Queen Elizabeth II at the Commonwealth summit of 2011
Queen Elizabeth is pictured here at the Commonwealth summit of 2011 with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh on the left, and on the right Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar

The migration of some sixteen thousand Venezuelans during a highly unsettled period there places further strain on the economy, while Trinidad & Tobago has the highest percentage of Islamic State fighters in the world.

The country faces a decision on whether to try returning fighters or to allow them to reintegrate into the population. Potential threats to the state may affect either decision. Still, the significant migration to join the terrorist organisation has the effect of concentrating the country's attention on the needs of its relatively large Muslim population.

2023 - On

Christine Kangaloo

President.

2023

By June 2023 the murder rate across the twin island state is on track to overtake the previous year's all-time high. As crime rates rise to the sixth highest in the world, more women are being killed than at any point in history. One of the main reasons is two decades of mismanagement of its oil wealth, along with corruption, the drug trade, and an explosion in gun crime and violence.

Violence on Trinidad grew to record levels in 2023
Mourners light candles at a vigil for Andrea Bharatt, who was abducted and killed on her way home from work in Trinidad and Tobago in January 2021

 
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