Trinidad and Tobago is a two-island nation in the West Indies, located near the coast of Venezuela. Originally settled more than 7,000 years ago, the two islands were populated by people migrating from South America and other surrounding islands. The Arawaks and Caribs were residing in Trinidad when the Spanish arrived, in 1498. The Spanish all but wiped out the Arawaks and Caribs, and Trinidad and Tobago quickly became destinations in the busy slave trade of the 1600s and 1700s. Several Spanish explorers tried and failed to civilize the indigenous people on the islands, until they finally surrendered to the British in 1797. The British Crown offered land grants to former slaves who had rendered service during the War of 1812, which increased the population. However, plantation owners faced a serious labor shortage as a result of the end of the slave trade and the abolishment of apprenticeship. Because of this, indentured workers were imported and the cacao trade replaced sugar as the dominant crop. In 1857, oil was discovered in Trinidad, which resulted in the rapid growth of the economy and an increased standard of living. The two islands were incorporated into a single colony in 1888, and achieved full independence in 1962, joining the British Commonwealth. They became a republic in 1976. Though Trinidad and Tobago has undergone major changes in government during the past few decades, the country has worked with the US on issues such as the regional fight against narcotics trafficking,. Recent controversies have included the extradition of three terrorism suspects accused of plotting to bomb JFK Airport in New York, the investigation into a simulated rape onstage at a concert by “rape rapper” Akon in Trinidad, and outcry over plans to build an aluminum smelter in Trinidad.
Lay of the Land: Trinidad and Tobago is a two-island nation in the West Indies, lying 7 miles off the northeast coast of Venezuela across the Gulf of Paria. Mountainous and densely wooded, the islands are actually a continuation of the South American land mass. Trinidad has two unusual natural features: the maracas Falls, 312 feet high, and Pitch Lake, 105 acres of warm gray tar.
The island of Trinidad was settled approximately 7,000 years ago, by the Archaic or Ortoiroid. They are believed to have come from northeastern South American around 5,000 BC, and one of the oldest settlements in the Caribbean has been found on Trinidad by archeologists.
The US embassy was established in Port of Spain in 1962, replacing the former consulate general.
The 2010 US Congressional Budget requested $1.43 million for foreign military financing for Trinidad and Tobago, up considerably from 2009 when $500,000 was requested. An additional $750,000 was requested for international military education and training, a category in which no money had been asked for previously. Another larger change came in the stabilization operations and security sector reform category, where $930 million was requested, up $830 million from 2009.
Three Terrorist Suspects Extradited to US from Trinidad and Tobago
The US Department of State 2009 Human Rights Report found human rights violations in Trinidad and Tobago including police officers killing suspects, poor prison conditions, and unlawful detention. The situation with refugees also needs to be improved, as the government doesn’t protect those who may not qualify as refugees. The government has also postponed local elections for four straight years, with the last one being held in 2003.
Note: The Embassy in Port-of-Spain was established on Aug 31, 1962, with William H. Christensen as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim.
Glenda Morean-Phillip serves as Trinidad and Tobago’s Ambassador to the United States, and Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States. She assumed this position on June 6, 2008. Morean-Phillip enrolled as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago in 1974. She engaged in active private practice as head of her law firm up to 2001.
Like all his recent predecessors, President Barack Obama is appointing old friends and big party donors to diplomatic posts across the globe. The most recent example is his nomination of Beatrice Wilkinson Welters in November of 2009 to be the next ambassador to the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Wilkerson, her husband Anthony, and their then-teenaged sons all contributed the maximum amount of $2,300 to Obama’s presidential campaign in 2007 and 2008. Furthermore, the Welters gave $100,000 to the Obama inauguration and “bundled” contributions of at least $500,000 to Obama.