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The Turks and Caicos Islands, sometimes just called Turks & Caicos, are a British overseas territory in the Caribbean. It is made up of two groups of islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The name Turks is derived from the autochthonous cactus Melocactus intortus (engl. “Turk’s-cap cactus”), a cactus with a characteristic red fruiting body, which the name givers associated with the then characteristic headgear of the Turks, the Fes. Caicos derives from the name caya hico for “chain of islands”, which the Lucayans gave to the archipelago.
About 153 km south lies the island Hispaniola with Haiti and the Dominican Republic, 64 km southwest the Bahamas belonging archipelago Inagua, 65 km northwest the island Mayaguana of the Bahamas. Although the Turks and Caicos Islands are geographically located in the Atlantic Ocean, they are still part of the Caribbean; the two small island groups form the southeastern foothills of the Bahamas. The total area of all islands is about 497 km². The capital is Cockburn Town on Grand Turk.
In April 2011, the population counted about 41,000 people, who call themselves Belongers, consisting of the descendants of African slaves and a mixed European minority.
The original indigenous population was the Taino, who were probably displaced or assimilated by the Lucayans. The indigenous population was extinct around the middle of the 16th century due to disease and slavery.
There are different theories about the discovery of the islands by the Europeans: Some historians believe that Christopher Columbus did not land in San Salvador or Samana Cay in the Bahamas in 1492, but in Grand Turk at today’s Hawks Nest anchorage. Officially, however, Juan Ponce de León, who first reported on the islands in 1513, is considered to be the European explorer of the islands.
In the 17th century the islands were settled from Bermuda and were later under Spanish, French and British control. From 1776 to 1848 they were part of the British colony of the Bahamas, and from 1848 to 1959 they belonged to the then still British Jamaica; in 1959 they were declared their own colony. Since 1946, the territory has been on the UN list of territories without self-government. Since about 1976 there have been repeated attempts to become independent, but since about 1982 these have been suspended.
In 1974 there were first attempts in the Canadian parliament to include the islands as the eleventh province in the Canadian state association. However, the bill did not find a majority and was thus rejected. Since 2003, however, there have been renewed efforts in this direction. For this to happen, however, Britain would first have to release the islands into independence and secondly each individual Canadian province would have to agree; the latter in particular has little promise of success due to the very complicated Canadian constitutional procedures.
In September 2008, the islands were hit hard by the hurricanes Hanna and Ike in quick succession. In particular, the Turks Islands and South Caicos suffered severe destruction.
In August 2009, the British Foreign Office declared the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands deposed on corruption charges. The parliament was dissolved and the constitution, which governs the autonomy of Great Britain, was repealed. Governor Gordon Wetherell took office. Ex-Premier Galmo Williams accused the government in London of recolonisation and breach of EU law.
An amended constitution was adopted in 2011 and entered into force on 15 October 2012. General elections were held on 9 November 2012, Rufus Ewing was sworn in as the new Prime Minister on 13 November 2012 and the new Parliament met for the first time on 28 November 2012. There Governor Ric Todd announced the establishment of a commission led by him to prepare for independence from the United Kingdom, which both parties represented in Parliament are seeking.
There are disagreements with London on several political issues, such as the introduction of VAT, which is rejected on the islands. London is, however, seeking to stabilise the islands’ finances in the long term, which will no longer be covered by British guarantees from 2016.
The Turks and Caicos Islands are an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. The 2011 Constitution has been in force since 15 October 2012.
The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who is represented by a governor appointed by her. The House of Assembly has 21 members: 15 members elected for four years, four appointed members, the Prosecutor General (without the right to vote) and the Speaker. For the parliamentary elections, the Turks and Caicos Islands form both a single constituency and ten constituencies. Of the 15 elected Members of Parliament, five are elected in the single constituency and one for each of the ten constituencies.
The majority leader in parliament is appointed prime minister by the governor. The government (cabinet) is composed of the governor, the prime minister, up to six other ministers from among the elected or appointed members of parliament, the deputy governor and the prosecutor general.
On 28 January 2016, the European Commission presented a package of measures to combat tax evasion, including the inclusion of the Turks & Caicos Islands on the black list of tax havens.