Freedom in the World
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Trinidad and Tobago
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In August 2011, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar declared a state of emergency in response to a spike in violent crime. The measure, which led to nearly 4,000 arrests and significant drug seizures, also raised concerns about violations of fundamental rights in the country.
Trinidad and Tobago, a member of the Commonwealth, achieved independence from Britain in 1962 and became a republic in 1976.
Patrick Manning of the People’s National Movement (PNM) was reelected prime minister in the November 2007 elections; he had held the position since 2001, and was also prime minister from 1991 to 1995. The 2007 elections were considered free and fair. A Caribbean Community observer mission reported that voting was orderly and peaceful, representing a marked reduction in tension compared with previous elections.
In the face of a no-confidence vote, Manning dissolved Parliament in April 2010 and called elections for May. Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s People’s Partnership (PP) coalition—comprising the United National Congress (UNC), the Congress of the People, and the Tobago Organization of the People—won 29 of 41 seats, while Manning’s PNM captured only 12. Persad-Bissessar’s campaign was based on pledges to bring transparency and accountability to all areas of government. The PP’s victory ended nearly 40 years of rule by the PNM.
Soon after becoming prime minister, Persad-Bissessar in July allowed the first local elections since 2003; they had been postponed four times by the Manning government. The PP dominated in the country’s 14 city, borough, and regional corporations.
In August 2011, a state of emergency was imposed to address an increase in violent crime. Related provisions included an 11 p.m. curfew and police authority to conduct searches and seizures without warrants. In September, the state of emergency was extended by three months, with the government citing continued security concerns. By early October, almost 4,000 people had been arrested and about TT$750 million (US$117 million) in drugs had been seized. The state of emergency was criticized by the opposition and civic groups. The Trinidad & Tobago Transparency Institute demanded the names and locations of detainees, and the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago called on the police to crack down on officers who used excessive force during the state of emergency.
Trinidad and Tobago is an electoral democracy. Tobago is a ward of Trinidad. The president is elected to a five-year term by a majority of the combined houses of Parliament, though executive authority rests with the prime minister. Parliament consists of the 41-member House of Representatives, elected to five-year terms, and the 31-member Senate, also serving five-year terms. The president appoints 16 senators on the advice of the prime minister, 6 on the advice of the opposition, and 9 at his or her own discretion.
Political parties are technically multiethnic, though the PNM is favored by Afro-Trinidadians, while the UNC is affiliated with Indo-Trinidadians. The PP coalition was multiethnic.
The country is believed to suffer from high levels of official corruption. Trinidad’s Integrity Commission, established in 2000, has the power to investigate the financial and ethical performance of public functionaries. Following the resignations of several commission members in 2009 after their legal eligibility to serve came under scrutiny, a new Integrity Commission was appointed in 2010. Trinidad and Tobago was ranked 91 out of 183 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed. Press outlets are privately owned and vigorous in their pluralistic views. There are four daily newspapers and several weeklies, as well as both private and public broadcast media outlets. Access to the internet is not restricted.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed under the constitution, and the government honors this provision in practice. Foreign missionaries are free to operate, but the government allows only 35 representatives of each denomination. Academic freedom is generally observed.
Freedoms of association and assembly are respected. Civil society is relatively robust, with a range of interest groups engaged in the political process. Labor unions are well organized and politically active, though union membership has declined in recent years. Strikes are legal and occur frequently.
The judicial branch is independent, though subject to some political pressure and corruption. As a result of rising crime rates, the court system is severely backlogged, with thousands of criminal cases awaiting trial. The government permits human rights monitors to visit prisons, which are severely overcrowded.
The government has struggled in recent years to address the problem of violent crime. Many Trinidadians of East Indian descent, who are disproportionately the targets of abduction, blame the increase in violence and kidnapping on government corruption and police collusion. Most abuses by the authorities go unpunished. In October 2011, Amnesty International released a report criticizing the use of excessive force by police, and noted that such violence was seldom investigated.
Drug-related corruption extends to the business community, and a significant amount of money is believed to be laundered through front companies. The 2000 Proceeds of Crime Act imposes severe penalties for money laundering and requires that major financial transactions be strictly monitored. The government works closely with U.S. law enforcement agencies to track drug shipments in and out of the country. Corruption in the police force, which is often drug related, is endemic, and law enforcement inefficiency results in the dismissal of some criminal cases.
The population is multiethnic, consisting of Afro-Trinidadians, Indo-Trinidadians, and those of mixed race. The Indo-Trinidadian community continues to edge toward numerical, and thus political, advantage. Racial disparities persist, with Indo-Trinidadians making up a disproportionate percentage of the country’s upper class.
Women participate in high-level politics, holding 12 seats in the House of Representatives and 8 seats in the Senate. Domestic violence remains a significant concern. The Amnesty International 2011 report on Trinidad and Tobago noted that while violence against women and girls has increased, the conviction rate for sexual offenses was only 3 percent in 2009. A draft National Policy on Gender and Development, first proposed in 2009, has still not been implemented.