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Comparing Puerto Rico with Trinidad and Tobago

Comparing the territory of Puerto Rico with the 50 states of the United States, we see that poverty is higher, food insecurity is higher, and healthcare is more limited. But when we compare the Island with its independent Caribbean nation neighbors we see a different picture. Puerto Rico comes out on top.

Trinidad and Tobago, which together make up a single nation, have been independent since 1962, when they separated from the United Kingdom. Like Puerto Rico, they were originally settled by members of Arawak and Carib groups, and were visited by Columbus and colonized by Spain in the 15th century.

In the 1700s, much of New Spain was populated by European settlers, but Trinidad was still mostly uninhabited jungle. The Viceroy of New Spain opened the island to other settlers, and French planters from Martinique took up the offer. They established sugar plantations, and Spain held Trinidad until the English overtook the island in 1796. By 1802, they were officially a British colony rather than a Spanish one.

Tobago had been under the control of the Dutch and then the French, but France ceded Tobago to Great Britain in 1814. Trinidad and Tobago were incorporated into one British possession in 1889.

A multinational population

Early planters relied on slave labor. When Britain outlawed slavery in 1883, the economy of Trinidad and Tobago nearly collapsed. The local slave population was replaced by Portuguese, Chinese, and Indian indentured servants, leading to a very rich multinational culture. The system of indentured servants recruited people living in poverty in their home countries to come live as something like slaves or sharecroppers for a period of time. This would pay for their passage to their new country. At the end of their period of indenture, they would be free to stay and make their permanent home in Trinidad and Tobago. Some 143,939 people from North India came to Trinidad and Tobago under this program by 1917, when India outlawed the program.

With the outbreak of World War II, the United States established military bases in Trinidad and Tobago, adding another element to the multinational flavor of the islands. Some observers believe that the American influence hastened independence, which was declared in 1962. In 1976, Trinidad and Tobago declared themselves a republic. Since that time, they have been troubled by political unrest and high crime rates.

The primary language in Trinidad and Tobago is English, but there are several common religions and several widely-spoken languages, presenting a more cosmopolitan population mix than is seen in Puerto Rico.

Economics and politics

Puerto Rico had a per capita GDP of $33,400 as of 2020, while in Trinidad and Tobago, the GDP per capita in 2020 was $23,700. The average yearly income in Puerto Rico is $25,560 and in Trinidad and Tobago it is $16, 330. The cost of living in lower in Trinidad and Tobago, as are taxes.

Health outcomes are significantly worse in Trinidad and Tobago, with life expectancies of 6-9 years less than in Puerto Rico. The chances of dying in childbirth are triple in Trinidad and Tobago compared with Puerto Rico. Still, there are just about the same number of hospital beds available in Trinidad and Tobago per 1,000 residents, and more doctors.

The WorldData ratings show that corruption is “moderate” in Puerto Rico and “bad” in Trinidad and Tobago. They give Puerto Rico a ranking of 68 for civil rights and Trinidad and Tobago a score of 50. Their scores on political stability are about the same.

Trinidad and Tobago are members of the United Nations, and they receive some assistance from the United States, especially in the form of technical support to deal with HIV. The U.S. is their most important trading partner. However, Trinidad and Tobago’s economy rests largely on oil and gas exports. They are more prosperous than most Caribbean nations, and have little public debt. They have less unemployment than Puerto Rico, and are identified by the World Bank as a high-income economy.

Among Caribbean nations, Trinidad and Tobago are fairly prosperous and stable. Puerto Rico is in a significantly stronger position economically and has faced far less political turbulence.

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