They are located southeast of the Bahamas, north of Hispaniola, and 914 kilometres (494 nautical miles) from Miami in the United States. The islands are geographically contiguous to the Bahamas, but are politically a separate entity.
Early inhabitants of the islands were Amerindians, including the Arawak people, who were, over the centuries, gradually replaced by the Caribs. The first documented European to sight the islands was Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León, who did so in 1512. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the islands passed from Spanish, to French, to British control, but none of the three powers ever established any settlements.
For several decades around the turn of the 18th century they became popular pirate hideouts. Bermudian salt collectors settled the Turk Islands around 1680. In 1765–1783 they were under French occupation. After the American Revolution (1775–1783) many loyalists fled to Caribbean colonies, including (in 1783) the first settlers on the Caicos Islands; cotton became an important crop briefly. In 1799, both the Turks and the Caicos island groups were annexed by Britain as part of the Bahamas.
In 1848, the Turks and Caicos were declared a separate colony under a council president. The last incumbent was maintained in 1873 when the islands were made part of Jamaica colony; in 1894 the chief colonial official was restyled commissioner. In 1917, Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden suggested that the Turks and Caicos join Canada, but this suggestion was shot down by British prime minister David Lloyd George. The islands remained a dependency of Jamaica until 1959
On 4 July 1959, the islands were again a separate colony, the last commissioner being restyled administrator, but the governor of Jamaica remained the governor of the islands. Until 31 May 1962, they were one of the constitutive parts of the Federation of the West Indies.
When Jamaica was granted independence from Britain in August 1962, the Turks and Caicos Islands became a crown colony. From 1965, the governor of the Bahamas was also governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands and oversaw affairs for the islands. When the Bahamas gained independence in 1973, the Turks and Caicos received their own governor (the last administrator was restyled). In 1974, Canadian New Democratic Party leader Max Saltsman tried to use his Private Member's Bill to create legislation to annex the islands to Canada, but it didn't pass in the Canadian House of Commons.
The islands have had their own government headed by a chief minister since August 1976. In 1979, independence was agreed upon in principle for 1982, but a change in government caused a policy reversal, and they instead approached the Canadian government to discuss a possible union, but at the time the Canadian Government was embroiled in a debate over free trade with the U.S., and little attention was paid to the suggestion. The islands' political troubles in recent years have resulted in a rewritten constitution promulgated in 2006.
The two island groups are in the North Atlantic Ocean, southeast of the Bahamas, north of Hispaniola, and from Miami in the United States, at . The territory is geographically contiguous to the Bahamas, but is politically a separate entity. The Caicos Islands are separated by the Caicos Passage from the closest Bahamian islands, Mayaguana and Great Inagua.
The eight main islands and more than 20 smaller islands have a total land area of , primarily of low, flat limestone with extensive marshes and mangrove swamps and of beach front. The weather is usually sunny and relatively dry, but suffers frequent hurricanes. The islands have limited natural fresh water resources; private cisterns collect rainwater for drinking. The primary natural resources are spiny lobster, conch and other shellfish.
The two distinct island groups are separated by the Turks Passage.
The Caicos Islands are the larger group, with almost 96 percent of the land area (589.5 km²) and 82 percent of the population (26,584 out of a total of 33,302 in 2006). The spatial arrangement of the islands around the large Caicos Bank (with an area of 7,680 km² ) resembles an atoll, with the six large islands in the west, north and east, and a few tiny reefs and cays in the south. The unofficial capital of the Caicos Islands is the village of Kew on North Caicos. There is no official capital because the island group is not an administrative unit. The Caicos Islands encompass four of the six administrative districts of the territory. Four of the six main islands are inhabited, plus two of the smaller islands:
Main islands, from West to East, with population estimates of 2006:
Inhabited smaller islands, in the Caicos Cays between Providenciales and North Caicos:
The Caicos Islands make up four of the six districts of the territory.
The Turks Islands, separated from the Caicos Islands by Turks Island Passage (more than 2,200 m deep), are a chain that stretches north-south. The total area is , with an estimated population of 5,753. There are two main islands, which are the only inhabited ones of the group:
Together with nearby islands, all on Turks Bank, those two main islands form the two of the six administrative districts of the territory that fall within the Turks Islands. Turks Bank has a total area of about 450 km².
The Turks and Caicos Islands are divided into six administrative districts (two in the Turks Islands and four in the Caicos Islands), headed by district commissioners. For the House of Assembly, the Turks and Caicos Islands are divided in to 13 electoral districts (four in the Turks Islands and nine in the Caicos Islands).
The Turks and Caicos Islands are a British Overseas Territory, an autonomous part of the United Kingdom. The United Nations Committee on Decolonisation includes the territory on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. The islands adopted a constitution on 30 August 1976, which is Constitution Day, the national holiday. The constitution was suspended in 1986, but restored and revised 5 March 1988. A new constitution came into force on 9 August 2006. The territory's legal system is based on English common law, with a small number of laws adopted from Jamaica and the Bahamas. Suffrage is universal for those over 18 years of age. English is the official language. Grand Turk is the administrative and political capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands and Cockburn Town has been the seat of government since 1766.
As a British territory, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is the sovereign, represented by a governor. The head of government is the premier. The cabinet consists of three ex officio members and five appointed by the governor from among the members of the House of Assembly. The monarch is hereditary, the governor is appointed by the monarch, and the premier appointed by the governor.
The unicameral House of Assembly consists of 21 seats, of which 15 are popularly elected; members serve four-year terms. Elections in the Turks and Caicos Islands were held on 24 April 2003 and again on 9 February 2007. The Progressive National Party, led by Michael Misick holds thirteen seats, and the People's Democratic Movement, led by Floyd Seymour, holds two seats.
The judicial branch of government is headed by a Supreme Court and appeals are heard by the court of appeals and final appeals by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was Gordon Ward. The islands also have a Court of Appeal with a President and at least two Justices of Appeal.
The Turks and Caicos Islands participate in the Caribbean Development Bank, is an associate in CARICOM, and maintains an Interpol sub-bureau. Defence is the responsibility of the United Kingdom. In December 2004, the islands sought to become a new associate member to the Association of Caribbean States article
In 2008, after members of the British parliament conducting a routine review the administration received several reports of high level official corruption in the Turks and Caicos, Governor Richard Tauwhare announced the appointment of a Commission of Enquiry into corruption. The same year, Premier Michael Misick himself became the focus of a criminal investigation after a woman identified by news outlets as an American citizen residing in Puerto Rico accused him of sexually assaulting her although he strongly denies the charge.
However, in the mid-2000s, the issue of independence for the islands was again raised. In April 2006, PNP Premier Michael Misick reaffirmed that his party saw independence from Britain as the “ultimate goal” for the islands, but not at the present time.
In 2008, opponents of Misick accused him of moving toward independence for the islands in order to dodge a commission of inquiry that has targeted official corruption by the premier and his associates.
A great many of the tourists who visit the Turks and Caicos Islands are Canadian. Owing to this, the islands' status as a British colony, and historic trade links, some politicians in Canada and the Turks and Caicos have suggested some form of union between Canada (a Commonwealth realm, so they already share the British Monarch as Head of state) and the British territory.
In 1917, the Prime Minister of Canada, Robert Borden first suggested that Canada annex Turks and Caicos Islands. In 1974, Canadian New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Max Saltsman introduced a failed attempt at consolidating the islands.
The idea was brought up again in 1986 by Progressive Conservative MP Dan McKenzie, but it was rejected by his party's caucus committee on external affairs in 1987. The committee, chaired by MP David Daubney, looked at immigration, banking, health care and tourism issues in making its decision.
For the islands to join Canada as a full province would require amending the Canadian constitution, unlikely because it could provoke provinces to reopen debate on other aspects of Canada's constitution. On the other hand, small changes to the Constitution, such as renaming Newfoundland to Newfoundland and Labrador, have passed intact since 1949. The last new province, Newfoundland and Labrador, was brought into the country in 1949 by an act of the British Parliament. Joining as a territory would be easier, as territories can be created by an act of Parliament. In addition, its population of about 30,000 people is considered insufficient for provincial status. However, this attitude might change should the territories of Yukon or Nunavut, with about 30,000 people each, ever become provinces.
In 2004, Conservative MP Peter Goldring visited the Turks and Caicos to explore the possibility once more. He drafted a motion asking the Canadian Government to look into the issue, but his party declined, citing immigration, tourism, and economic issues. However, the Canadian government does not dismiss the possibility of a future union.
The province of Nova Scotia voted to invite Turks and Caicos to join the province in 2004, should the islands ever become part of Canada. This would bypass the problems with admitting Turks and Caicos as a separate province.
The island's most popular sports are fishing, sailing, soccer and rugby is growing especially amongst the island's ex-pat population
In 2006, major sources of government revenue included Import Duties (36.51%), Stamp Duties from Property Transactions (19.79%), Work Permits and Residency Fees (8.93%) and Accommodation Tax (8.84%). The territory's gross domestic product as of late 2006 is approximately US$722 million (per capita $17,112), with an inflation rate of 3.7%.
The labour force totalled 12000 workers in 2006. The labour force distribution is as follows:
The unemployment rate in 2007 was 5.4%. In 2006-2007, the territory took in revenues of $202.5 million against expenditures of $199.5 million. In 1995, the island received economic aid worth $5.7 million. The territory's currency is the United States dollar, with a few government fines (such as airport infractions) being payable in British Pounds. Most commemorative coin issues are denominated in crowns.
The primary agricultural products include limited amounts of maize, beans, cassava (tapioca) and citrus fruits. Fish and conch are the only significant export, with some $169.2 million of lobster, dried and fresh conch, and conch shells exported in 2000, primarily to the United States and the United Kingdom. In recent years, however, the catch has been declining. The territory used to be an important trans-shipment point for South American narcotics destined for the United States, but due to the ongoing pressure of a combined American, Bahamian and Turks and Caicos effort has this trade been greatly reduced.
The islands produce and consume about 5 GWh of electricity, all from fossil fuel.
The government is pursuing a two-prong strategy to increase tourism. Upscale resorts are aimed at the wealthy, while a large new cruise ship port and recreation centre has been built for the masses visiting Grand Turk.
The French vacation village company of Club Mediterannee has a village called 'Turkoise' on one of the main islands. There, adults over 18 years are welcome to stay for a week at a time. They offer all-inclusive packages for hotel, sports activities, restaurant, and bar. Sports offered there are sailing academy, snorkleling excursions, scuba diving, organized landsports, kite surfing, and archery.
Several Hollywood stars have built homes in the Turks and Caicos, including Dick Clark and Bruce Willis. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner were married on Parrot Cay. Actress Eva Longoria and her husband Tony Parker went to the islands for their honeymoon in July 2007 and High School Musical actors Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens went for a vacation there.
On 31 January 2008, the Turks and Caicos Government signed a letter of intent with the Indy Racing League to host the Indy Turks and Caicos Grand Prix, slated for February 2009. A new race track will be constructed in Blue Hills, Providenciales to host the event. The islands only 18-hole championship golf course, Provo Golf Club was opened in 1992. The course hosted the Caribbean Amateur Golf Championship in 1999, and is due to do so again in 2009.
In an apparent effort to boost tourism during the Caribbean low season of late summer, the Turks and Caicos Tourist Board has organized and hosted an annual series of concerts called the Turks & Caicos Music and Cultural Festival since summer of 2003. Held in a temporary bandshell at The Turtle Cove Marina in The Bight on Providenciales, this festival lasts about a week and has featured several notable international recording artists such as Lionel Richie, LL Cool J, Anita Baker, Billy Ocean, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Kenny Rogers, Michael Bolton, Ludacris, Chaka Khan, and Boyz II Men. More than 10,000 people attend annually.
The islands have 121 kilometres of highway, 24 km paved and 97 km unpaved.
The islands have no significant railways.
West Indies Video (WIV) has been the sole Cable Television provider for the Turks and Caicos Islands for over two decades and WIV4 (a subsidiary of WIV) has been the only broadcast station in the islands for over 15 years; broadcasts from the Bahamas can also be received and cable television is available. The territory has two Internet service providers and its country code top level domain (ccTLD) is ".tc". Amateur radio callsigns begin with "VP5" and visiting operators frequently work from the islands.
WIV introduced Channel 4 NEWS in 2002 broadcasting local news and infotainment programs across the country. Channel 4 was re-launched as WIV4 in November 2007 and began providing reliable daily online Turks and Caicos news with the WIV4 News blog, an online forum connecting TCI residents with others interested in the islands, while keeping users updated on the TCI's daily news.
Turks and Caicos's newspapers include the Turks and Caicos Weekly News, the Turks and Caicos Sun, and the Turks and Caicos Free Press All three publications are weekly. The Weekly News and the Sun both have supplement magazines. Other local magazines Times of the Islands, s3 Magazine, Real Life Magazine, Baller Magazine, and Unleashed Magazine.
From 1950 to 1981, the United States had a missile tracking station on Grand Turk. In the early days of the American space program, NASA used it. After his three earth orbits in 1962, American astronaut John Glenn successfully landed in the nearby ocean and was brought back to land at this island.