Tag Archives: USA

“A View From The Trenches: The Trinidad Economy As Reflected In Visa Applicants”

The below is a fascinating Wikileaks cable from 2008, sent by the US embassy in POS to the secretary of state in DC and outlining the average economic and educational status of applicants for US visas. I’ve added any bold.



While not completely scientific, information provided in visa interviews opens a window on the local economy. Recognizing the limitations of such information, but also its worth, the Embassy conducted a study involving 218 randomly chosen visa applicants. The data revealed income disparities and large informal and state economic sectors.




¶2. (SBU) Survey data was derived from 218 randomly chosen visa applicants. Data collected included gender, monthly income, household income, savings, employer, position, sector, housing status, and education level. The labor sector breakdown of those in the survey (which perhaps not coincidently largely mirrors GOTT Central Statistical Office estimates) was: -Clerical: 11% -Services: 9% -Security: 7% -Financial: 7% -Education: 6% -Energy: 5% -Transport: 5% -Health: 4% -Construction: 4% -Real Estate: 3% -Engineering: 3% -Utilities: 2% -Law: 2% -Self Employed: 14% -Retired: 18% Including companies in which the government invests and controls, either directly or indirectly, 47% of those sampled can be considered to work for the GOTT.

¶3. (U) Median annual income across the sample was $17,988 (all figures in this cable are in USD), broadly consistent with published reports of T&T per capita GDP of around $16,000. Men (43% of survey) earned an average of $23,412, while women (57% of survey) earned only $13,398. Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher comprised 21% of applicants and earned a median wage of $28,850. Seventy-two percent of applicants owned their own home, either via a conventional mortgage or through inheritance. It is worth mentioning that 28% of the sample was denied visas; their median wage was $10,125.



¶4. (U) Not surprisingly, those in the energy sector enjoyed the highest median salaries. Although only 5% of the population is directly employed in energy, the median income for that group of survey applicants was $25,935, over $8,000 more than the overall sample median. Comments from persons in that sector, though, suggest a looming slowdown that may impact on future salary stability or growth.



¶5. (U) The median wage for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher in our study is over $10,000 more than the overall median wage of $17,988. This makes manifest the value of higher education, a point apparently not lost on the GOTT. One recent GOTT effort that is making a quantifiable impact on the society as a whole is the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) program. Designed to provide an outlet to slow intellectual brain drain, GATE provides free tuition to qualified students at a variety of T&T based universities and training centers in exchange for a three year commitment from beneficiaries to work in the country after graduation rather than depart for opportunities abroad.

¶6. (SBU) Though other factors may be involved, including concern over visa rejections, the impact of the program seems to have been immediate — student visa numbers for U.S. study have declined between 5-10% a year over the past 3 years as more and more T&T students and parents choose the substantial financial benefits of free tuition. In addition, as a result of GATE, higher education is now available to lower income families. It should be noted, though, that some GOTT programs do exist to provide funding for education abroad (e.g., 170 students are in the U.S., and 95 in Canada, on government scholarships).

PORT OF SP 00000546 002 OF 002


——————————————— ——

¶7. (SBU) At 14%, the self-employed comprise the largest single segment of our study, with a median wage of $16,661, slightly less than the overall median. The self-employed work in a variety of areas, but the sector is dominated by building contractors, food service vendors/caterers, small shop or market owners and clothing resellers. (NOTE: Self-employed accountants, architects, engineers and doctors, for the purposes of this study, were accounted for in their respective fields of expertise.) While some register their businesses with the GOTT, many seem to not report income accurately. Those whose businesses are not registered or who do not pay taxes are included, by definition, in the informal economy.

¶8. (SBU) In a conversation with an official from the GOTT Board of Inland Revenue (BIR), CONOFF inquired about tax compliance rates for small businesses. The official indicated that tax compliance and accurate income reporting for the self-employed was largely non-existent and unenforceable from a resource perspective, mentioning that the BIR focused on large firms, multi-nationals, and larger family-owned concerns for revenue collection.

Gay in the islands

Under Article 8 (18/1) of the Immigration Act, homosexual men and women are not allowed to enter the country. Section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1986 criminalises “buggery”. This Section provides a penalty of up to life imprisonment, if committed on a minor; up to 10 years’ imprisonment if committed on an adult (18 years) by another adult; up to 5 years’ imprisonment if committed by a minor on an adult. Section 16, relating to “serious indecency”, provides a penalty of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for homosexual acts between men and between women.

This is one of those topics that I have long sought to write about and never quite succeeded. I have drafts saved on this very subject dating back to 2002. What’s changed? Very little, and therein lies the rub.

And then there were these comments from Bruce Golding, the Jamaican Prime Minister, during an interview on the BBC’s Hardtalk program:

BBC: Do you in the future want to live in a Jamaica where a gay man or a gay woman could be in the cabinet?

BG: Sure they can be in the cabinet – but not mine.

BBC: Do you want to live in a Jamaica where they can be and they should be and it would be entirely natural for them to do so?

BG: I do not know that that is the direction in which we will go.

So far, so straightforward, right? No. It is more nuanced than that, because here’s the exchange that preceded those quotes:

BBC: What are you doing about [the violence toward homosexuals in Jamaica]

BG: Well, we have given instructions that crimes against persons because of their sexual orientation must be pursued with the same vigour of any other crime.

BBC: But they are not, are they?

BG: Generally speaking they are – they are now. We do have a long-standing culture that is very opposed to homosexuality. I think that is changing. I believe there is greater acceptance now that people have different lifestyles, that their privacy must be respected.

BBC: Are you more accepting now … because in 2006 you were quoted in the Sunday Herald newspaper: “Homosexuals will find no solace in any cabinet formed by me.”

BG: In appointing a cabinet, a PM exercises judgement. That is his exclusive responsibility. There is no right to be in a cabinet.

BBC: But you have just told me that Jamaica is on track to give equality before the law to homosexuals – but you yourself have said that “homosexuals will find no solace in a cabinet formed by me?” That has nothing to do with equality before the law? Do you not have a duty to consider people on their merits – for cabinet positions indeed in any part of government?

BG: No. I consider people in terms of their ability and the extent to which they are going to be able to exercise their function, their independence.

BBC: You also clearly and patently consider them in terms of their sexuality.

No. That’s a decision that I make. That’s a decision that every prime minister makes. A prime minister must decide what he feels would represent to the Jamaican people a cabinet of ministers who will be able to discharge their function without fear, without favour, without intimidation. I make that choice.

BBC: What kind of signal does that send about Jamaica to the outside world? Indeed, to potential investors, to countries that look at Jamaica.

BG: One signal that it sends is that Jamaica is not going to allow values to be imposed on it from outside. We are going to have to determine that ourselves and we are going to have to determine to what extent those values will adopt over time – to change in perception and to change in understanding as to how people live. But it can’t be on the basis that lobby groups far and away from Jamaica will define for Jamaica how it must establish its own standards and its own morals.

And that, in a nutshell, is why homophobia in the Caribbean is so difficult to understand, so easy to misconstrue, and so challenging to confront – it is a morass of Victorian prudishness and religious fundamentalism combined with an extreme interpretation of masculinity and imbued with a sense of developing-country nationalism and a post-colonial assertion of sovereignty.

And it is everywhere. The Barbados Underground blog, for instance, is apoplectic that the “homosexual agenda is gaining ground in Barbados,” noting:

The issue of homosexuality will predictably evoke a flurry of comments which will seek to label the Barbados Underground household as homophobic. By now it should be evident that the BU household is firmly moored to a traditional set of values which has served our household well. The unwillingness of Barbadians to be proactive in structuring the kind of society which it wishes to adopt on a moral front is disappointing and regrettable.

Unfortunately certain core values which have guided our society very well through the years are being diluted. We appreciate that we have to respect the sexual orientation of all of our people. However, there is nothing to say we have to agree with it. We may appreciate in the so-call free world market the need for Barbados to operate in a common economic space. What we don’t appreciate is the willingness by Barbados to prostitute its value system for thirty pieces of silver.

The argument there is similar to Mr Golding’s in its appeal to “core” values, the rejection of any attempt to superimpose an alien (read: non-Bajan) and “dilutive” set of beliefs onto the “traditional” way of doing things.

Still, there is one aspect of these positions with which I do agree – any change in attitude or legislation cannot merely be a response to political or economic pressure from the UK or the US.

The Caribbean, in asserting sovereign rights, needs to take some sovereign responsibility.

So where to start? One suggestion comes from James Marchand, in a letter to the Jamaica Gleaner:

Put reasonable laws in place

The gay people of Jamaica do not need the permission of churches, Government or public figures to live our lives and have sex with whom we choose. However, we do want the Government to put its policy where its mouth is and ensure that violent acts against people of different sexual orientation and also other vulnerable members of society, such as the disabled, mentally ill and even people living with HIV and AIDS, are punished to the full extent that law provides.

This should be done with the creation of a hate crimes law which would serve specific penalties for persons accused of harming or murdering people because of their differences, whether perceived or otherwise.

In reality, it only takes an assumption or a suspicion of being homosexual in some Jamaican communities for someone to be attacked and brutalised. Of the many cases that have come to public attention of ‘gay’ men being beaten and even killed, very few have been as a result of these said men being caught in compromising positions. Yet, they are set upon and, in what might seem like sanctioned events, the all too familiar scene unfolds.


Further reading

  1. ‘What Jamaica wants‘ – Church, gays divided on PM’s BBC interview – Jamaica Gleaner
  2. Homophobic silliness and a failure of leadership– Jamaica Gleaner (Editorial)
  3. Preparing for the World’s Backlash – Francis Wade/Moving Back to Jamaica
  4. Jamaica is represented in our imaginations as a space in which heterosexuality is homogenised national identity” – Tino Pinnock / Raw Politics Jamaica Style

Audaciously Hoping

(to the tune of Better Than Ezra’s Desperately Wanting)

Barack Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucuses – the first major nomination contest for would-be US presidents – inspired a frenzy of comment in the international media and blogosphere (Caribbean bloggers included).

It should also inspire Trinbagonians – to demand more of our own politicians, and of ourselves.

Senator Obama’s campaign – the slogan of which is “hope, action, change” – is breaking all the rules. In Iowa, he won more support from women than did his chief rival, Hillary Clinton. He galavanised record numbers of young people and previous non-voters to seriously engage with politics. And of course, he proved a black man could win the hearts, minds and votes of white, Midwestern Americans.

The Obama campaign is based on a triple platform of change, unity and (the audacity of) hope – and I love it.

I love it because what he’s doing in America allows me to believe that the same can be achieved in Trinidad and Tobago – “a new type of politics”:

“Something different. A politics focused not on what divides us but on our common values and our common ideals, [focused] not so much on ideology, but practicality.”

A new type of politics, with a new kind of political discourse:

“I am convinced that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. For it’s precisely the pursuit of ideological purity, the rigid orthodoxy and the sheer predictability of our current political debate, that keeps us from finding new ways to meet the challenges we face as a country.”

One which ceases to cynically exploit – and create – division:

We think of faith as a source of comfort and understanding but find our expression of faith sowing division; we believe ourselves to be a tolerant people even as racial, religious, and cultural tensions roil the landscape. And instead of resolving these tensions or mediating these conflicts, our politics fans them, exploits them, and drives us further apart.


Maybe there’s no escaping our great political divide, an endless clash of armies, and any attempts to alter the rules of engagement are futile. Or maybe the trivialization of politics has reached a point of no return, so that most people see it as just one more diversion, a sport, with politicians our paunch-bellied gladiators and those who bother to pay attention just fans on the sidelines: We paint our faces red or blue and cheer our side and boo their side, and if it takes a late hit or cheap shot to beat the other team, so be it, for winning is all that matters.

But I don’t think so.

This man believes. He believes in the potential for change, and he is the change he wishes to see.

I cannot say this of Messrs. Manning and Panday, nor of any of their minions, not when their campaigns are less about actual policies and more about who had the better Jamaican artiste at their last fete.

Nor can I say this about my country, since we are so caught up with our expensive cars and designer clothing (Miu Miu rather than Meiling) that we are happy to overlook our failing infrastructure and rising inflation .

But Senator Obama gives me hope. He gives me the courage to question the state of things and to challenge the status quo.

To look at what passes for politics in Trinidad and Tobago and say – I don’t think so.