Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Since achieving self-governing status in 1956, Trinidad and Tobago has followed a nationalistic and independent course in its foreign policy, and it has taken an active role in international and regional organizations, such as the UN and the Organization of American States (OAS). Trinidad and Tobago has made a point of insisting on its autonomy from United States foreign policy and its right to maintain relations with communist countries, especially Cuba. It has been an advocate of close Caribbean cooperation, as long as this did not adversely affect the domestic economy. Trinidad and Tobago was a founding member of the Caribbean Free Trade Association (Carifta) and is also an important member of its successor organization, Caricom, which was established in 1973.

Prior to independence in 1962, Williams took several positions that emphasized the islands' sovereignty and their right to make their own decisions. He fought for, and achieved, the right to sit as a sovereign member with the United States and Britain at the 1960 conference that decided the fate of the United States base at Chaguaramas (see The Road to Independence, this ch.). Prompted by economic considerations, Williams also made the decision to pull out of the West Indies Federation in 1962, thereby giving it the coup de grace. Both of these decisions illustrate fundamental policies of autonomy and zealous concern for a standard of living that is much higher than that of the other Commonwealth Caribbean islands. Implementation of both these policies was made much easier by substantial oil revenues and the stability of the government.

Since independence, Trinidad and Tobago has associated itself with, and participated in, many international organizations. Upon independence, it became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, and later that year it was admitted to the UN. In March 1967, Trinidad and Tobago became the first Commonwealth Caribbean member of the OAS, and the following June it signed the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) of 1947, thus becoming a part of the inter-American regional security mechanism under the framework of the UN Charter. In these organizations it has traditionally followed a policy of nonalignment and respect for sovereignty of states, a policy that in the late 1980s the Robinson government made a point of endorsing.

Trinidad and Tobago has taken an independent stance in the UN. In the fortieth UN General Assembly in 1985-86, only 17.8 percent of Trinidad and Tobago's votes supported United States positions. It opposed the trade embargo against Nicaragua and took opposing sides on other issues important to the United States.

Trinidad and Tobago has also demonstrated its independence from United States foreign policy initiatives in the OAS. In 1972 Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, and Guyana defied the United States and the OAS and established diplomatic relations with Cuba. After the OAS lifted sanctions against Cuba in 1975, Williams visited Cuba and also visited the Soviet Union, Hungary, Romania, and China. He was not, however, impressed with Cuba and, in the 1976 campaign, used examples from Cuba to demonstrate the superiority of capitalism. Trinidad and Tobago has been ambivalent about closer ties with Cuba, maintaining correct diplomatic relations but not encouraging Cuban initiatives.

Although Trinidad and Tobago denounced the 1983 coup against Grenadian leader Maurice Bishop and imposed sanctions against the Revolutionary Military Council, it opposed the subsequent United States-Caribbean intervention in that country (see Grenada, Foreign Relations, ch. 4). Prime Minister Chambers condemned the use of force as a "first resort," arguing that a nonmilitary solution should have been pursued. Chambers was angered that he had not been consulted before the operation, as he was serving as Caricom chairman at the time. The government took the position that the Grenada crisis was a Caribbean affair and, as such, was the sole responsibility of the people and governments of the Caribbean. Chambers and his external affairs minister, Basil Ince, felt that the United States-Caribbean intervention set a dangerous precedent for invasions of other states in the Caribbean. Nevertheless, the government expressed willingness for Trinidad and Tobago to be part of a peacekeeping force.

Public opinion in Trinidad and Tobago did not necessarily endorse the government's position on Grenada. A poll taken by an independent research group in Trinidad and Tobago showed that 63 percent felt that force was the only alternative. A majority (56 percent) thought that Trinidad and Tobago should have "joined the invasion;" 61 percent maintained that the decision by a majority of Caricom states to "invite" United States intervention was "justified."

Trinidad and Tobago's Grenada policy affected its relations with some of its Commonwealth Caribbean neighbors. Following the coup against Bishop, Trinidad and Tobago deployed soldiers along its northern and southern coasts to prevent illegal landings by refugees from Grenada and put extra restrictions on Grenadian immigration. Relations with Barbados were also strained, as the two countries argued about whether or not the Trinidadian ambassador in Barbados had been fully informed of the plans to send a task force to the Caribbean.

Although nationalistic and independent, Trinidad and Tobago has maintained a strong attachment to Britain. In April 1982, Trinidad and Tobago joined Chile, Colombia, and the United States in abstaining from voting on an OAS resolution recognizing Argentine sovereignty over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. The following month it joined the same three countries in abstaining from a resolution that condemned the British military operation and called on the United States to halt its aid to Britain.

Trinidad and Tobago also demonstrated its respect for the British in its Constitution by retaining the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London as the highest court of appeal. Polls taken just before the Constitution went into effect showed that many citizens felt that resort to the Privy Council in London would achieve a more just solution than that found in courts in Trinidad and Tobago. The poll also revealed that 52 percent of those answering agreed with the statement that "Trinidad and Tobago would have been better off if it had not become independent." Only 18 percent disagreed.

Policy in Trinidad and Tobago has favored Caribbean economic cooperation as long as that cooperation did not threaten the nation's standard of living. After Jamaica's withdrawal from the West Indies Federation in 1961, Trinidad and Tobago followed suit the following year because it did not want to be responsible for eight small, much poorer islands. Half of all Trinidadians interviewed in a 1976 poll agreed with the statement that "Trinidad and Tobago should go its own way and not worry about the Caribbean." Nonetheless, Trinidad and Tobago was generous to its Caribbean neighbors during the oil-rich years. Assistance from Trinidad and Tobago totaled nearly US$300 million and included issuance of grants to the CDB, establishment of an aid council to provide loans to other countries, and creation of an oil, asphalt, and fertilizer facility to help its Caricom partners pay for the increased cost of imports. In the 1980s, however, oil prices fell, and the Chambers government instituted a system of import licensing and dual exchange rates that severely restricted Trinidad and Tobago's importation of goods from Caricom. By 1986 intraregional trade accounted for only a little over 5 percent of total imports.

Shortly after his December 1986 electoral victory, Robinson promised that the NAR government would increase intraregional trade. Robinson signaled his desire for closer relationships with the Caribbean by inviting all the Caricom leaders to a ceremonial opening of Parliament in January 1987. Six Caribbean leaders accepted the invitation, among them Prime Minister Errol Barrow of Barbados, who met with Robinson in April to discuss fishing rights and to sign an agreement on Caribbean air service. Robinson also offered to host the Caricom conference in May 1988. By mid-1987 the Trinidad and Tobago government had removed the 12-percent import duty for 8 of the other 11 Caricom countries.

Trinidad and Tobago's relations with Venezuela in the late 1980s were cordial but surprisingly distant, considering the physical proximity of the two countries. President Jaime Lusinchi of Venezuela visited Trinidad and Tobago in September 1986 at Prime Minister Chambers's invitation, the first Venezuelan president ever to visit the islands while in office. Disputes over fishing rights were addressed in a 1985 fishing agreement, signed at the time of Lusinchi's visit, along with a number of other agreements on industrial and technical collaboration. At the same time, Spanish- language courses were arranged for members of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force coast guard. By 1987, however, the NAR government was criticizing the fishing agreement as detrimental to Trinidad and Tobago's interests. On a number of occasions, Venezuelan guards detained fishing boats from Trinidad and Tobago and seized the cargo. Both countries hoped to remedy this problem by organizing joint patrols of disputed areas.

Trinidad and Tobago has strongly opposed apartheid in South Africa. This has been a tenet of foreign policy with grass-roots appeal, expressed in 1986 in a popular calypso chorus that chanted "Botha, you need a kick in the bottom."

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress