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Trinidad and Tobago
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After the December 2011 lifting of a state of emergency declared in response to a spike in violent crime, serious crime rates rose again in 2012. Minister of National Security Jack Warner ordered the police in October to stop publicizing crime statistics.
Trinidad and Tobago, a member of the Commonwealth, achieved independence from Britain in 1962 and became a republic in 1976.
In the November 2007 parliamentary elections, the People’s National Movement (PNM) captured the largest number of seats. A Caribbean Community observer mission reported that voting was orderly and peaceful, representing a marked reduction in tension compared with previous polls. The PNM’s Patrick Manning was reelected prime minister.
Faced with a no-confidence vote, Manning dissolved Parliament in April 2010 and called for elections in 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 the PNM took only 12. The PP’s victory ended nearly 40 years of PNM rule. Persad-Bissessar pledged to bring transparency and accountability to all areas of government.
Soon after becoming prime minister, Persad-Bissessar in July allowed the first local elections since 2003; the Manning government had postponed them four times. 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 continuing 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 Trinidad & Tobago Transparency Institute demanded the names and locations of detainees, and the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago called on police to discipline officers who used excessive force during the state of emergency, which was lifted on December 5, 2011. Serious crimes rose subsequently; in 2012, there were an estimated 383 homicides, but the police department claims actual figures were probably lower.
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 and the 31-member Senate; members of both houses are elected to 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-level corruption. Trinidad’s Integrity Commission, established in 2000, has the power to investigate public officials’ financial and ethical performance. Following the resignations of several commission members in 2009 due to suspicions of their ineligibility to serve, including because of allegations of malfeasance, a new Integrity Commission was appointed in 2010. 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. Trinidad and Tobago was ranked 80 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed. Press outlets are privately owned and vigorously pluralistic. There are four daily newspapers and several weeklies, as well as private and public broadcast media outlets. Internet access is unrestricted.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and the government honors this provision in practice. 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. Rising crime rates have produced a severe backlog in the court system. Corruption in the police force, which is often drug-related, is endemic, and inefficiencies result in the dismissal of some criminal cases. Trinidad and Tobago is the only country in the region which imposes a mandatory death sentences for murder. In 2012, the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against the Death Penalty called for a reconsideration of such sentences, which are prohibited under international human rights law. Prisons are severely overcrowded.
The government has struggled in recent years to address violent crime. Many Trinidadians of East Indian descent, who are disproportionately targeted for abduction, blame the increase in violence and kidnapping on government and police corruption. Most abuses by the authorities go unpunished. An October 2011 Amnesty International report criticized the use of excessive force by police and noted that such violence was seldom investigated. In October 2012, Minister of National Security Jack Warner controversially ordered the police to stop publicizing crime statistics.
The multiethnic population consists 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 comprising a disproportionate percentage of the country’s upper class.
Women hold 12 seats in the House of Representatives and 7 seats in the Senate. Domestic violence remains a significant concern. A draft National Gender and Development Policy, which will provide a framework for promoting gender equality, was submitted to the Cabinet in 2012 for approval. Human rights groups have criticized the government’s unwillingness to address the question of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights in Trinidad and Tobago.