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Trinidad and Tobago

Map Courtesy CIA World Factbook

The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a nation located in the southern Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Venezuela. It is an archipelagic state consisting of two main islands, Trinidad and Tobago, and 21 smaller islands, the most important being Chacachacare, Monos, Huevos, Gaspar Grande (or Gasparee), Little Tobago and St Giles Is. The larger and more populated island is Trinidad, while the island of Tobago is smaller (303 square kilometres; about 6% of the total area) and less populous (50,000 people; 4% of the total population). Citizens are officially called Trinidadians or Tobagonians or Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, but are informally referred to as Trinis or Trinbagonians.

Prior to European contact, the island of Trinidad was occupied by various Amerindian tribes including the Arawak-speaking Nepoya and Suppoya and the Carib speaking Yao. Tobago was inhabited by Island Caribs (Kalinago). The aboriginal name for Trinidad was Kairi or Iere which is usually said to mean The Land of the Hummingbird, although others have reported that it simply meant island. Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Trinidad on July 31, 1498 and named it Trinidad after the Holy Trinity; Tobago was named Bella Forma by him, but this later became Tobago (probably derived from tobacco).

The Spanish settled on Trinidad, while Tobago frequently changed hands between the European sea powers, but the settlements on both islands were small and underdeveloped. The changing of hands of the European powers was mainly to keep Tobago free of pirates. After changing hands between the British, French, Dutch and Courlanders, Britain consolidated its hold on both islands during the Napoleonic Wars, and they were combined into the colony of Trinidad and Tobago in 1889. Because of the colonial struggles, English, Spanish, and French place names are all common in the country. African slaves and Indian, Chinese, Portuguese and free African indentured labourers were imported to supply labour in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Immigration from Barbados and the Lesser Antilles and from Syria and Lebanon also impacted on the ethnic make-up of the country.

Although originally a sugar colony, cacao dominated the economy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. After the collapse of the cacao crop (due to disease and the Great Depression) petroleum increasingly came to dominate the economy. The Depression and the rise of the oil economy led to changes in the social structure.

The presence of American military bases in Chaguaramas and Cumuto in Trinidad during World War II profoundly changed the character of society. In the post-war period, the wave of decolonisation that swept the British Empire led to the formation of the West Indies Federation in 1958 as a vehicle for independence. The Federation dissolved after the withdrawal of Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago elected for independence in 1962.

In 1976 the country severed its links with the British monarchy and became a republic within the Commonwealth.

Petroleum, petrochemicals and natural gas continue to be the backbone of the economy. Tourism is the mainstay of the economy of Tobago, although it has declined in the environment after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Trinidad and Tobago is one of the most prosperous nations in the Caribbean, although less so than it was during the "oil boom" between 1973 and 1983.

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