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Freedom in the World 2011 - Trinidad and Tobago

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 16 August 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2011 - Trinidad and Tobago, 16 August 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e4a322b1a.html [accessed 21 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Capital: Port-of-Spain
Population: 1,300,000

Political Rights Score: 2 *
Civil Liberties Score: 2 *
Status: Free

Overview

Facing a no-confidence vote, Prime Minister Patrick Manning called an early election for May 2010. The Peoples Partnership coalition defeated the People's National Movement, which was removed from power for the first time in nearly 40 years.

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) held the premiership from 1991 to 1995 and returned as prime minister in 2001. Disputed elections in that year resulted in an evenly divided lower house, and Manning sought to break the deadlock by calling fresh elections in October 2002. The PNM won 20 of the chamber's 36 seats, but the opposition United National Congress (UNC) also had a strong showing, reinforcing the dominance of the two parties.

Former prime minister Basdeo Panday was sentenced to two years of hard labor in April 2006 for having failed to declare London bank accounts that he held while leading the country in the late 1990s. He retained the UNC chairmanship while appealing his conviction, which was overturned in April 2007. Nevertheless, the UNC was embroiled in infighting, and several high-level defections fueled speculation that a three-party system could emerge. In September 2006, former UNC leader Winston Dookeran created a new party, Congress of the People (COP).

Manning handily won another term in office in the November 2007 elections, which were considered free and fair. A Caribbean Community observer mission reported that voting was orderly and peaceful, which represented a marked reduction in tension compared to previous elections.

In 2009, Trinidad and Tobago gained international attention by hosting the Fifth Summit of the Americas, a major meeting of the 34 elected leaders from the Western Hemisphere. While the government tried to frame the summit as a major diplomatic achievement, popular discontent with the costs of the event and the related disruptions for security purposes cut into Manning's support.

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 – which was made up of the UNC, COP, and the Tobago Organization of the People – won 29 of 41 seats, while Manning's PNM captured only 12 seats. 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 held local elections in July for the first time since 2003, after being postponed four times by the Manning government. The PP dominated in the country's 14 city, borough, and regional corporations.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Trinidad and Tobago is an electoral democracy. The 2010 legislative elections were generally considered to be free and fair by observers. 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.

The 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 under the 2000 Integrity in Public Life Act to uphold standards of transparency and accountability, 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 73 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 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, powerful, and politically active, although 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 investigations of extrajudicial crimes go unpunished.

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 police have won praise, however, for establishing a branch of Crime Stoppers, an international organization that promotes community involvement in preventing and informing on crime through a telephone hotline.

Trinidad and Tobago is one of the few countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that is grappling with the problem of Islamic extremism. In 2007, a four-person terrorist plot to blow up a fuel line at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City involved a Trinidadian suspect, but no formal links were found to Jamaat al-Muslimeen, a small radical Muslim group that had staged a coup attempt in Port-of-Spain in 1991, causing 23 deaths.

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 composing 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. Salary gaps continue to favor men. Domestic violence remains a significant concern. While serious crimes such as murder and rape are reported, other instances of domestic abuse go unreported. In September 2009, the Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women complained that the government was withholding a draft version of a new gender policy, a violation of the country's Freedom of Information Act.

* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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