Trinidadians and Tobagonians - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Colonial society was organized hierarchically by the valorization of things European. The hierarchy of race and color was not, however, scalar: it did not rank all non-Europeans on a single social ladder. Rather, the discourse of race inscribed two very different principles of subordination to Europeans. Africans, deemed lacking an ancestral civilization, could, through both education and sexual "mixing" with Whites, become at least partially Europeanized; paradoxically, they could also be seen as becoming "West Indian" or "Creole" through this mixing. By contrast, East Indians were considered saturated with an (inferior) ancestral civilization of their own and therefore not amenable to "mixing," "Europeanizing," or becoming "West Indian"—even when they adopted and developed lifeways that reflected their presence in Trinidad. This ideological image prevailed, notwithstanding substantial social and sexual "mixing" of Indians with both Whites and Afro-Trinidadians. Historically, this complex system of racial distinctions and identities has shaped class relations. This system of racial typifications has served to naturalize the value placed on being "White" or "European," to divide subordinated classes by masking the social entanglements of East Indians in the West Indies, and to define Trinidad as a "mixed" and/or "plural" society, in contrast to the imagined purity and homogeneity of European nation-states. These racial typifications and their consequences have been contested throughout Trinidadian history, and, since independence, racial stratification has been substantially attenuated.

Political Organization. Trinidad is a parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament comprised of an elected House of Representatives and an appointed Senate. Peaceful elections have taken place regularly since independence. The head of government is the prime minister; the presidency is a largely ceremonial position. For the first thirty years after independence, Trinidad had a single stable political party, the People's National Movement, and a frequently reorganized and renamed opposition alliance. During this time, political support broke roughly along racial lines, between Afro-Trinidians (in support of the PNM) and East Indian Trinidadians (in support of the opposition). Until his death in 1981, Eric Williams, an Oxford-trained historian, led the PNM. In 1986 opposition groups formed the National Alliance for Reconstruction. Under the leadership of A. N. R. Robinson, the NAR that year drew electoral support from nearly all classes and ethnicities. Once in power, however, the alliance and its wide support quickly eroded. In 1992 the PNN returned to power, with Patrick Manning serving as the new prime minister.

Social Control and Conflict. In 1965 new legislation limited the right to strike, and since then the government has intervened, with substantial success, to impose labor stability. High unemployment in the late 1960s led to widespread unrest by the urban proletariat and lumpenproletariat in 1970. The resulting demonstrations, supported by a segment of the small military force, posed a serious threat to the government and were dispersed by police and military intervention. The unrelated rise in oil revenues that began in 1972 led to a decrease in unemployment, a dramatic increase in government patronage for the urban underclasses, and, consequently, a substantial increase in mass support for the state. This patronage, however, declined dramatically during the recession of the 1980s. In July 1990 an attempted coup by about a hundred members of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, a relatively small group of Afro-Trinidadian Muslims, led to four days of unrest and considerable loss of state control. Although the coup had little mass support, it was symptomatic of widespread disaffection from the state among workers and the urban unemployed.

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