Turks and Caicos Islanders



ETHNONYMS: none


The Turks and Caicos Islands are a British dependency consisting of forty islands—only eight of which are inhabited—located at the southern end of the Bahamas and north of Hispaniola. The total land area of these low coral and limestone islands is 430 square kilometers; only 2 percent of the land is arable. The Turks Islands are all much smaller than each of the five largest Caicos Islands. Early salt producers had deforested much of Grand Turk, Salt Cay, and South Caicos in the belief that trees bring rain. Precipitation ranges from 100 to 150 centimeters annually, most of it falling in the wet season (May through October). The temperature ranges between 16° C and 32° C.

Most of the 9,761 (1990) residents of the colony, who call themselves "Belongers," are descendants of African slaves. There is also a large population of illegal immigrants who work in the tourist industry; many illegal immigrants were deported in 1985 because of their social-welfare costs to the government. Forty-two percent of the Turks and Caicos islanders are Baptists, 19 percent are Methodist, and the rest are Anglican, Catholic, Church of God, and Seventh Day Adventist. The birthrate is 25.5 per thousand, infant mortality is 24 per thousand, and life expectancy is just over 70 years.

The islands were populated by Indians at the time of contact, but because of disease and slavery none survived past the mid-sixteenth century. The first Europeans to live on the islands were pirates, who used them as a base from which to attack Spanish shipping as it passed by. The first settlers were Bermudans who collected salt. They fought off invaders from the Bahamas, Spain, and France, although a second French attack in 1764 was successful, and the Bermudans were sent to Haiti. The British later gained control and have held it ever since. A governor was installed in 1972, and a constitution was approved in 1976. The Turks and Caicos legislature has two houses, and there is also a Supreme Court. In 1985 the chief minister, the minister of commerce and development, and another official were arrested in Miami on drug-related charges, an event that reduced investor confidence in the colony.

The economy of the islands has long been weak, owing in large part to poor infrastructure, the collapse of the salt industry in 1964, and the closure of a U.S. Navy base in 1983. Almost all consumer goods are imported, and even water is in short supply. There is some fishing, primarily for lobsters and conchs, which are exported to the United States and the United Kingdom. During the 1960s and 1970s, many people left the islands to find employment in the United States or the Bahamas. Offshore companies, particularly banks and other financial institutions, arrived in force in the 1980s, attracted by the absence of taxes on income, capital gains, and business; by 1990 there were more than 9,000 offshore companies registered in the Turks and Caicos Islands. This development, along with the growth of the tourist industry spurred by the construction of a new airport and hotels, brought back most of those who had left in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as laborers from Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Nevertheless, the colony has yet to become financially self-supporting; it still receives moneys from London, the European Community, the European Investment Bank, and the Caribbean Development Bank. The U.K. government has tried to improve economic productivity by privatizing industry.

Bibliography

Boultbee, Paul G. (1991). Turks and Caicos Islands. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio.


McElroy, Jerome L., and Klaus de Albuquerque (1988). "Migration Transition in Small Northern and Eastern Caribbean States." International Migration Review 22(3): 30-57.

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