Sunday, 26 May 2013
This series of articles, written by Gerard Besson and illustrated with images from the Paria Publishing Archives, was published by Newsday in a special magazine on 31st August 2013, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Independence of Trinidad and Tobago.
Click here to see the entire magazine!
Independence commenced at the moment of raising the Trinidad and Tobago flag, but this “big moment” required a lot of preparation. The entire apparatus of a state had to be adapted from British to local. It was also just a starting point of a journey that has taken us to where we are today, 50 years later. Let us look at some of the experiences, thoughts and comments connected to the “Big Moment.”
“My Government in the United Kingdom no longer has any responsibility for this country. We wish to maintain and strengthen those bonds of friendship which have existed for over one hundred and fifty years. ... I offer you and all the people of this country my warm personal congratulations on the achievement of your aspirations. I invoke the blessings of Almighty God to give you the strength and the wisdom to make a living reality for the inspiration of the world, of the stirring words of the National Anthem: ‘Here every creed and race, Find an equal place’.”
(Excerpt from the message from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to the Parliament and people of Trinidad and Tobago, delivered by the Princess Royal, on the morning of the 31st August, 1962 at the Red House.)
“On the night of 30th August, 1962, at the stroke of midnight, with an estimated 40,000 people present, I took up a position at the base of the flag staff on which the Trinidad and Tobago flag was to be raised. A petty officer of the Coast Guard was given the signal honour. I, however, noticed that the officer was unsteady and swaying, and realised that his nerves had gotten the better of him. I kept telling him, “Swallow your saliva, man, swallow your saliva.” He tried manfully, but just at the moment the British flag was lowered, he collapsed. I caught him in the crook of my left arm and with my right, pushed another Coast Guard man in position, telling him “pull the flag,” which he did. And so, Trinidad and Tobago became the 15th nation of the British Commonwealth.”
(Eustace Bernard, at the time of Independence Deputy Commissioner of Police who was in charge of policing at the Independence ceremony. Excerpt from: “Against the Odds”)
“At exactly midnight, the Union Jack was lowered and our own Trinidad flag hoisted high above. A gentle breeze caused into flutter and thousands and thousands of hearts (bursting with pride and overcome by the solemnity of the occasion) fluttered in unison. We were witnessing, first hand, the demise of Colonialism. Never did pride assail me more forcibly nor humility possess me more embracingly. To have been a signatory to the Independence Constitution at Marlborough House, London, on which her Majesty laid so much stress; to have contributed to this chapter of our history; to have taken part in the transition from Colonialism to Independence; to have put the seal on all the aspirations of our forebears; to have seen the end of an era. It was the proudest moment of my life.” (Lionel Seukeran, veteran politician, Parliamentarian. Excerpt from “Mr. Speaker Sir” by Lionel Seukeran, p. 310f)
“The Draft Constitution was submitted to Dr. Williams and was considered by the Cabinet. It was thereafter published for public comment. Public comments were unfavourable. People looked upon Independence with great misgivings, being very perturbed at the idea that Trinidadians and Tobagonians would be in complete charge of the affairs of the country. No longer would there be ‘Pater’ from the Colonial Office. We would need to look after ourselves and they wondered how could we possibly survive on our own? Because the Draft Constitution met with such disfavour, there arose the Queen’s Hall Conference.”
(Sir Ellis Clarke about early 1962 when he was instrumental in formulating the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago. The Queen’s Hall Conference led to several amendments of the document, which was taken by a delegation of 17 persons to Marlborough House in London, where it was approved and enacted into law by the British Parliament—the prerequisite for Trinidad and Tobago’s independence. Excerpt from “In the Fires of Hope” by George Collymore, p. 50f)
“What use will you make of your independence? What will you transmit to your children five years from today? Other countries ceased to exist in that period. Some, in much less time, have become totally disorganised, a prey to anarchy and civil war.
The first responsibility that devolves upon you is the protection and promotion of your democracy. Democracy means more, much more, than the right to vote and one vote for every man and every woman of the prescribed age. Democracy means recognition of the rights of others.
Democracy means equality of opportunity for all in education, in the public service, and in private employment—I repeat, and in private employment. Democracy means the protection of the weak against the strong. Democracy means the obligation of the minority to recognise the right of the majority. Democracy means responsibility of the Government to its citizens, the protection of the citizens from the exercise of arbitrary power and the violation of human freedoms and individual rights. Democracy means freedom of worship for all and the subordination of the right of any race to the overriding right of the human race. Democracy means freedom of expression and assemble of organization.”
(Dr. Eric Williams’ speech to the nation over the radio on 31st August 1962)
The Politics of Independence in the 1960s
“That does not change the price of cocoa. . . .” As a turn of phrase, it was now a thing of the past. In a more fundamental manner the price of oil was to replace the price of cocoa in the decades after independence. During World War II, the price of oil had hovered around $1.02 to $1.21 per barrel. In 1955 when the Soldado offshore production commenced, the price was $1.93, and from 1960 to 1970 the price was stable at about $1.80 per barrel.
The idea of becoming independent from Great Britain was to some considerable extent an unsettling one for many people in Trinidad and Tobago in 1962. Independence had been thrust upon us by a war-weary mother country, at a time when Empires, except for the one being created by the Soviet Union, were going out of style. What was coming in to replace the departing colonial model was a form of nationalistic idealism that tended to define itself by denigrating the previous system of governance, espoused by charismatic personalities. Dr. Williams was the quintessential charismatic nationalist politician. He was in fact among a relatively small political elite who became the professional politicians, the ‘vote manipulators’ of the Third World. This group included Kwame Nkrumah, Sukarno, Jomo Kenyatta, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Norman Manley and others. They acquired the ideology, the techniques and, above all, the vernacular of western politics in the immediate post-war period that was shared by successive British governments, both Labour and Conservative. The so-called ‘people’ were a huge walk-on crowd that seemed to some in T&T to represent one segment of the population. To the followers of the new political party, it appeared that they had received the mantel of the right to rule from the departing British Crown and expectations could not have been higher. Notwithstanding the mixed emotions there was about the time a feeling of excitement and boldness, and although Dr. Eric Williams and his PNM government were to be continuously challenged in a variety of ways, they would demonstrate their staying power, popularity, and a cohesion that was the envy of the other political groupings in the Caribbean and in the developing world, maintaining an enviable two-thirds majority in parliament until Williams’ death in 1981 and beyond.
Immediately after Independence, the government embarked on a programme to restructure the state of Trinidad and Tobago. In its second five-year plan, 1964–1968 (presented in 1963), it oversaw the establishment of some 100 new industries. This was called “industrialisation by invitation” and represented a capital investment in excess of $250 million, with the majority coming from Great Britain and the United States.
The net result of this was a lot of very good public relations for the new government, but not a lot of jobs, as just over 5,000 were actually created with another 2,500 anticipated. As historian Bridget Brereton wrote: “Clearly during this period, the new manufacturing sector had not generated anything like enough jobs to deal with unemployment, and a very large investment was required to generate just one job, although it is true that spin-off jobs were created by industrial development.” Notwithstanding, this initiative resulted in the introduction of new technologies, training and practical experience for both management and workers. The labour force had in fact increased by approximately 100,000. An unknown proportion of these were the children of the West Indian immigrants who had come in the 1920s and 30s. To deal with this, the government embarked on several high-profile construction initiatives. Large projects such as the construction of the Trinidad Hilton, the Piarco airport terminal, Queen’s Hall, the John Donaldson Technical Institute, the maternity block at the Port-of-Spain. General Hospital, a new Town Hall for Port-of-Spain and new roads and highways. Dr. Williams, on the newly launched TV station TTT, declared, “The basis of this expanded expenditure and of expanded revenue which permits this is an open secret. It is the strength, buoyancy and vitality of the economy of Trinidad and Tobago. . .” — a testament to the new nation’s one hundred year old private sector. Indeed, in spite of the changing political scenario, the economy remained strong, demonstrating that business leaders understood the difference between Dr. Williams’ rhetoric and his actual policies. The GDP in the opening years of the 60s demonstrated a high rate of growth with an annual increase of 8.5%, similar to that of other developing nations. The twin-island nation was to embark on what Paul Sutton, author of T&T– Oil, Capitalism, and the Presidential Power of Eric Williams describes as “the development and implementation of a foreign policy, the development of a sense of national community, public service reform and a reform of the economy by way of development planning, regulation of labour and capital and tripartite consultation.” In other words, the implementation of the new political model that was meant to replace the previous colonial model.
The government’s new five year plan 1964–1968 commenced with an attempt to reorganise the public-sector and the creation of a wide-ranging programme for the development of communities, which produced the annual Best Village competitions, in which what had been rustic, Afro-French-Creole folk festivals, dating from the post-emancipation period, together with nightclub entertainments, geared to the American forces stationed here during the war and afterwards and to tourists, were now elevated to the status of “the national culture”. This effectively left out a large part of the population. This policy also included a Special Works programme for seasonally and otherwise unemployed. As workers increasingly preferred to offer their services to road repair gangs who were looking after drains and culverts, this programme was to alter the work ethic and have a detrimental effect on agriculture.
In 1964, the Central Bank Act and the Banking Act were passed with a view to creating a local banking sector, and in 1966 the controversial Finance Act, which increased taxation on businesses, was passed; this was withdrawn in 1967.
The most socially significant piece of legislation, one that would affect the future of the new nation the most, was the Education Act of 1968. This too was aimed at implementing the new political narrative to replace the previous colonial model, as it placed the school curriculum under government control.
This plan to place the education system under state control acknowledged that it was necessary to “produce citizens who are intellectually, morally and emotionally fitted to respond adequately and productively to the varied challenges of life in a multi-racial developing country.” As well as that, “education [is] a fundamental contributor to human resource development, to discipline and to economic progress in individuals, families and nations[. . .] education has to be both the foundation and catalyst of change.” This signalled the diminishing of the influence of the denominational schools and the beginning of the government-run secondary school system.
Also in 1965, during one of the several states of emergency that characterised the decade, the Industrial Stabilisation Act was introduced in an attempt to deal with the ongoing strike action taking place in the country.
During this formative period the opposition party, the DLP, fractured, some would say imploded. The Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Rudranath Capildeo, left Trinidad in January 1963 on a special leave of absence and took up a teaching position in London. However, he did not resign and continued to try to manage the DLP’s affairs from the UK. This led to all sorts of problems within the DLP, and a year later, in January 1964, three MPs resigned from the DLP and formed a new party, the Liberal Party of Trinidad and Tobago. Individualist, often self-seeking, having a lack of political maturity and no clear political philosophy or vision would now haunt an opposition increasingly characterised by the racial stereotypes created over a half a century before, now brought to life again for the purpose of institutionalising tribal politics to divide and rule in much the same manner as the colonials. This was a period when a great many people felt that T&T—having enjoyed a past that was still well within living memory, ‘the long time days’—did not deserve the upheavals of the time, the uncertainties, and most of all the collapsing standards that seemed to please some but filled others with alarm. Was this really what independence was all about?
The disintegrating opposition meant that the PNM had now two opposition parties in the Parliament: the DLP with 7 seats and the LPTT with 3 seats. Dr. Williams knew that he could handle that.
The Trade Union movement, particularly the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU), had seen itself as the conscience of the people since the 1930s. Its role was effecting important social and political changes, having to do with improving the standard of living of not just workers per se, but also of the people of the country on the whole. The movement dramatically insisted that the inherent humanity of people be recognised. Many leaders had emerged from strike action in Trinidad and Tobago, protesting against what they perceived to be a rapacious capitalist class that was being encouraged and protected by the government.
From 1959 on to1962, two significant work stoppages caused spikes in manhours lost. George Weekes, now President of the OWTU, opposed the government and its policies and called for a strike in the petroleum sector in 1963. The sugar workers’ union conducted a prolonged strike under Bhadase Sagan Maraj and Krishna Gowandan in 1965. In response, the government declared a state of emergency in Caroni in 1965, which was also extended to Barataria (where CLR James, Williams’ mentor, teacher and political guide, who had become an embarrassment for Williams with his outspoken communist diatribes, had been put under house arrest). During a state of emergency the Industrial Stabilisation Act (ISA) was passed, which regulated labour disputes to ultimate settlement by the Industrial Court. The trade unions opposed this Act, but several opposition parliamentarians and senators supported it, which split the DLP even further into several rival factions that fought each other over the replacement of senators and the Leader of the Opposition along radical, conservative and centrist lines.
Through the ISA, the industrial relations climate in fact was calmed at least for the time being. It was the times. The Cold War had heated up, the old guard in the unions was changing, and the new leadership had to show the membership that it meant business.
A radicalised Trade Union movement produced several strong personalities in this period, such as Joe Young, who emerged as the leader of the Transport and Industrial Workers Union (TIWU), situated in the north of the island. Joe Young and George Weekes joined forces eventually and led marches and mass demonstrations during the period 1967 on through 1968 defying the government and the ISA.
A fallout of the ISA debate was that the former Leader of the DLP, Dr. Capildeo, began to criticise his own party severely and accused it of hatching murderous plots, and praised the government for its handling of the labour unrest. His actions brought about further splits, with defections to the Liberal Party and the establishment of yet a new party, the Workers and Farmers Party in August 1965, put together by former Leader of the Opposition Stephen Maharaj, CLR James and George Weekes.
With this falling apart of the opposition, the next election in 1966 was contested by a much higher number of parties and candidates than the last election in 1961, and voter turnout decreased sharply. However, results were exactly the same in the House of Representatives. The effectiveness of the DLP continued to wind down, and it blamed its defeat on the introduction of voting machines.
The first decade of independence, through its politics, supported by a stable oil economy and a growing commercial sector, saw a new middle class coming into existence, possessed of high expectations, a modicum of disposable income, and in pursuit of a better quality of life. There was also a steady emigration of educated and talented people who, as the saying went, “voted with their feet”. This was to effect a great loss overtime, as those who left were the products of the island’s excellent colonial eduction system, which was regarded during these years as one of the best in the British Empire. They were also the culture bearers, having the accumulated memories of the 19th and early 20th centuries, so fundamental to nation-building. There also was, during this period, a steady immigration stream from the other islands into Trinidad. Previously, immigrants had been socialised into the island’s Afro-French Creole culture overlaid by British colonial racial prejudices; now they would be politicised by the post-independence political culture, and radicalised by the anti-establishment movements that were gaining ground towards the end of the 1960s.
The DLP leader, Dr. Capildeo, in 1968 was replaced in parliament in a by-election by Bhadase Sagan Maraj when he went on another leave of absence to write a mathematical textbook. Maraj forced the opposition to stop its non-cooperation strategy through silence in parliament and no-vote campaigns. In the general election of 1966, the PNM had secured a two-thirds majority in the house and appointed a PNM MP as Speaker. The PNM also won the local government elections of 1968 by a large margin. The Williams administration, clearly moving away from agriculture—some said for political/racial reasons as it in the rural areas that the French Creoles and Indians had property and influence—was striving towards large scale industrialisation with the nationalising of the oil and the sugarcane industries. It was evolving its own version of state capitalism with a view to the creation of a new technology-based professional middle class who would work for the state. The Williams administration was also putting into place the mechanisms for a modern welfare state. While this transition took place, he understood plainly the necessity of not only retaining, but encouraging and protecting the growth of the private sector. Williams did not want to destroy the “old money” in Trinidad and Tobago; he did not set out to destroy the family-owned import-export business that had been founded by the English and Scottish merchants in the 1830s and 40s, like Huggins, Alstons, Gordon Grant and others.
The private sector had developed with these old trading firms, which had worked in tandem with the cocoa economy and the mostly foreign-owned sugar interest with links to foreign controlled insurance companies and banks. From early in the 19th century, this sector had been the basis of the colony’s economy, employing thousands, from white collar clerks to blue collar longshoremen, managers, accountants, secretaries and office boys. Williams saved some of the old firms from foreign takeover bids and introduced the Alien Landholdings Act to protect the local private sector from foreign “predators”. He instituted the Industrial Court and passed acts and statutes that appeared to be specifically anti-trade union and obviously pro capitalist. Williams, unlike Forbes Burnham or Fidel Castro, did not want the merchants to leave. They were important to the economy, especially in this time of transition. He disapproved of their way of doing business, of them exporting capital, and of their links to British and Canadian banks. He accused them of being racially prejudiced in their employment practices, of forming monopolistic cartels with interlocking directorships, and of practising an incestuous oligarchic hold on opportunity. Nonetheless, he wanted them as well as the old French Creole families—the businesses they ran, the professions they practiced and the experience they possessed—to stay on as the non-oil sector; very important in an oil-based economy that generates wealth but not much employment. It became increasingly clear to the European-descended community that his “Massa day done” diatribes had been his attempt to exorcise his own demons, that they had served as rhetorical exhortations that had excited the gullible and those inclined towards anti-white and anti-Indian racism, and in so doing a die was cast, one that haunts and divides us still.
The French Creoles tended by and large to support Dr Williams increasingly. He was, after all, the devil they knew, and in a sense was one of them. PNM Party Group 13 was headquartered in Goodwood Park, an upscale, almost entirely white area.
The failing, at times incoherent opposition in the parliament perhaps opened the way to an increase in extra-parliamentary opposition by the mid-1960s. This was represented primarily by radical socialist and black nationalist positions. It would appear that the Williams political model that had been promulgated to create a new identity to replace the colonial model, had been rejected by the generation that was now coming of age, albeit orchestrated to some extent by older heads. Radical trade unionists continued to lead demonstrations in 1967 and 1968 and called for more strike action, even though the ISA had made strike action illegal since 1965. In 1968, the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), led by Geddes Granger, emerged from the Guild of Undergraduates at UWI. The Williams administration demonstrated throughout all of this a remarkable degree of tolerance, some felt indifference, compared to other newly independent countries.
From February to April 1970, the streets of Port-of-Spain saw the protest marches of tens of thousands of young people, mainly of African descent. They expressed feelings of betrayal by the government which, they clamoured, was responsible for the lack of social advancement and economic development among black people in Trinidad and Tobago. Dr. Williams had not anticipated this reaction from the youth whom he had told that “the future of the new nation was in their book bags.” The demonstrators demanded that institutional reforms, from the police force on through to the private sector, be implemented immediately.
This was not simply a spontaneous eruption, but in fact had had its genesis from since the mid-60s. It drew its impetus from diverse sources, such as the classrooms of the UWI, where young intellectuals were learning the new dialectic of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement, countries which were mostly aligned to the USSR in the context of the Cold War.
Another source was the black consciousness imported from the United States into the old neighbourhoods of east Port-of-Spain, where a previous generation had sought education and practiced respectability. These were increasingly referred to as ‘ghettos’ into which drugs, mostly Mandrax and marijuana, were coming into from the cartels expanding out of down the main. It also drew from a greater awareness of what was actually taking place in the world at large with respect to the living and working conditions of people of African descent in the USA, in England, Canada and in South Africa. This local movement had been spurred on by news of international incidents such as at the Sir George Williams University at Montreal, where West Indian students had alledgedly been discriminated against.
In the span of a few months, Black Power gave a voice to protests that had not been heard in T&T since the 1920s and 30s, when the strikes in the oil-belt had seen the death of several people, including police officers. The traditional trading houses and the British and Canadian banks, whose origins dated back to early colonial times, were perceived as representatives of the British colonial empire and seen as firmly in place as they had been in colonial times. They were still owned and run mostly by white Trinidadians, and black people held largely menial jobs. The adherents to Black Power felt that nothing had changed with the granting of independence eight years previously, and they were right in the sense that white society and white-run institutions were as impenetrable as ever. They felt that similarly to the freeing of the slaves in the British Empire in 1838, the granting of independence by the British had been a purely for their own economic reasons. England could not afford colonies anymore, and the process that led to independence and the subsequent running of the economy, and of the state and private institutions, lacked the realisation of practical ownership and accessibility by “the people”. But who were “the people”, especially in a multi-ethnic society such as Trinidad and Tobago? U.S. Black Power activist, Trinidadian-born Stokeley Carmichael (a.k.a. Kwame Ture, who had been barred from reentering Trinidad by the government), speaking in Guyana, confirmed suspicions of the Indian population, which numbered almost half of the overall population both in Guyana and in Trinidad, of not being included in the thinking of the Black Power Movement. This was widely reported in the newspapers in Trinidad. Neither were any of the other population segments regarded as “the people”, such as the Chinese, the Portuguese, the Syrians and Lebanese, the French Creoles, or even the very large proportion of black and mixed race people who had a different social and political outlook.
While Black Power platforms in Trinidad were not outspoken to exclude or antagonise people of East Indian descent, the majority of the Indian population did feel alienated from the movement, mainly for two reasons: either because many of them did not consider themselves as “black” (as the name Black Power suggested), although they shared a degree of anti-white sentiment, or because as Indo-Trinidadian business owners, they felt apprehensive about the socialist implications that Black Power promoted. Politician and Hindu leader Bhadase Sagan Maraj’s attitude was also important in this regard. By distancing himself from Black Power, he reflected and influenced the views of the Hindu, sugar worker, and Indian heartland. This was against the backdrop of acts of arson being carried out by Black Power protesters against Indian stores and homes. Black Power had failed to translate into a wider movement of social justice for all segments of the former colonial subject population in Trinidad and Tobago, and remained confined to a specific ethnic segment, appearing to some to be an extension of the PNM, which itself was perceived as just a phase in the overall development of black awareness and identity formation, having little to do with other ethnic groupings in the country.
During the daily marches in Trinidad, the branch offices of Barclays Bank and the Canadian banks, the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Nova Scotia, were attacked, and retail stores along the length of Frederick Street experienced their plate glass windows and doors broken. At times, these marches numbered tens of thousands of people. Confrontations with the police took place, and the intimidation of the business community as well as of some people of European descent in the streets worried many.
The Black Power demonstrations in Port-of-Spain and in other parts of the country affected business adversely, causing the permanent closure of retail stores and shops owned by Chinese and Portuguese families through intimidation and violence. Customer traffic in Port-of-Spain virtually drew to a close. They also affected the distribution of goods and foodstuffs throughout the entire country. As more marches and public meetings followed, becoming increasingly larger, Williams sympathised with the young people demonstrating and pointed out that change was happening. But for the demonstrators it was just not happening fast enough. The marches continued, the sugar workers went on strike again, and Deputy Prime Minister ANR Robinson resigned from the Cabinet. When the trade unions and NJAC closed ranks further and called for a general strike, the government again declared a state of emergency. A 750-troop segment of the Regiment under Lieutenants Raffique Shah and Rex Lasalle mutinied and took hostages, but was brought under control by the Coast Guard and by a loyal disciplined police force under the command of Deputy Commissioner Peter May. Hostages were surrendered. In all, five people were killed during the mutiny.
Williams announced more social and economic programmes and reshuffled the Cabinet, removing two white-appearing members. A new Ministry of National Security was formed. The National Security Act was drafted, which required permission for marches, gave the police power to search for and seize firearms, prohibited quasi-military organisations, and contained penalties for the incitement to racial hatred.
All this, together with an ensuing mutiny of a section of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment, almost toppled the government, and eventually led Dr. Eric Williams to respond to demands for state control and state ownership as called for by the protesters. He declared that he was opposed to a state-controlled economy or any “socialist blueprint”. “We must definitely avoid the mistake made by many so-called socialist countries in seeking state domination of the entire economy. On the other hand, if we adopt the system of liberal capitalism, the result will be increased prosperity for a relatively small group of people accompanied by increasing unemployment and the maldistribution of income and wealth.” What Williams strove for was a middle way of pragmatism and flexibility, “allowing us to change emphasis and move in a particular way in accordance with the international situation” The welfare state as envisioned by Dr. Williams would now begin to take form. The State of Emergency was lifted after seven months in November 1970. The PNM in a special convention arrived at the Chaguaramas Declaration which revised its People’s Charter of 1956.
In late 1970, the DLP moved a vote of no confidence in parliament, counting on a coalition with the ANR Robinson-led group ACDC. The early elections in 1971, saw Robinson call for a no-vote campaign which made the PNM hold all seats for another term, both in the parliament and in the equally boycotted local government elections. In view of a lack of a Joint Select Committee, a Constitution Commission under Trinidad and Tobago’s first Chief Justice Sir Hugh Wooding was established. This occurred as a the National Union of Freedom Fighters (NUFF), an armed extremist group, emerged in late 1971, led by Guy Harewood, and inspired, it was said, by C.L.R. James. It staged bank robberies and lethal shoot-outs to inspire more widespread resistance against the government. A flying squad, a special detachment of the police force under the leadership of Inspector Randolph Burroughs, was created to deal with the insurgents. Almost all NUFF fighters were killed in encounters with the flying squad.
In 1973 a politically inspired radical change in police working conditions, which was strenuously opposed by the Commissioner Eustace Bernard and the First Division, altered the nature of that institution forever. In 1971, labour unrest caused the government to call the third state of emergency since Independence. In 1973, after a fallout with the Deputy Chairman of the PNM, Karl Hudson-Phillips, a frustrated Williams decided to not seek re-election as political leader at the party convention, but he reversed that decision two months later.
The question is often asked whether Black Power as a social and political movement was successful. The answer would probably be yes: it succeeded in being a catalyst for changing a previous paradigm. While there were numerous examples of black and coloured people feeling encouraged to enter into business and shape institutions after 1970, the change in paradigm was probably nowhere more evident than in the mediatised popular culture. For example, after Black Power, black Caribbean cultural expressions found themselves in mainstream advertising; before, models of African descent were hardly chosen by advertisers, and if they did, only for very stereotyped roles.
Black Power served to change people’s minds. Employment patterns were significantly changed after Black Power, especially in the private sector, including the banks. But on the other hand, very shortly after the demonstrations, dramatic increases in the oil price totally altered the real economic situation in Trinidad and Tobago. This economic windfall so profoundly changed the status quo that it “fudged the issues” which Black Power had brought to the fore. By that time, the Yom Kippur War had happened and oil prices were on the rise, which, together with a new petroleum tax beginning on January 1, 1974, was to lead to a sharp increase in government revenue for Trinidad and Tobago. Williams saw all the possibilities.
The decade, which had begun with the dissatisfied voice of Black Power and an almost empty treasury, turned into a boom for Trinidad and Tobago, made possible by the sharp increase in the benchmark price of light sweet crude oil, which climbed from US$1.80/bbl in 1970 to US$34.00 in 1979.
The Hugh Wooding Commission’s report together with a draft constitution was laid in parliament in December 1974. Williams opposed the suggestion of proportional representation vehemently, as it would have meant, he believed, losses of seats for the PNM. In June 1975, a Joint Select Committee was convened to draft the suggested new constitution, which led to the proclamation of the Republic on September 26, 1976.
What have we gained in the fifty years of independence, dominated as it has been by the Dr. Eric Williams political model? We have maintained the democratic institutions that were put into place at the time of Independence, institutions that some other countries that came into existence at that time no longer possess. We have an enlarged and racially very varied, upwardly mobile middle class, necessary to maintain social stability, intellectual capital and family values. We have a sound, highly-developed energy sector, diversified and very productive; together with an expensive welfare state, but one that is vital in energy-rich countries especially when the price of gas drops. All these are important platforms upon which to build a future, and a basically optimistic society that subscribes on the whole to the concept of progress that acts as a protective mechanism to shield us from the terrors of the future.
Sir Solomon Hochoy
lived at the equinox of history and oversaw the passing of Empire and the commencement of nationhood. Of Hakka Chinese background, his family emigrated to Trinidad from Jamaica when he was two
Born in 1905, he grew up in Blanchisseuse, Trinidad, but attended Pamphylian High School & Nelson St. Boys. R.C. in Port-of-Spain and Arima R.C. from which he won a Government scholarship to St. Mary’s College. Thinking about agriculture, he took a course. He started off his working life as a Depot keeper for the Gov’t Coastal Steamers Dept. Later he worked at William H. Scott, then J. Lai-Fook as a solicitor’s clerk. He joined the Civil Service, Harbours Dept. in 1927. In 1939 he became the Industrial Adviser’s clerk; in 1944 he was Labour Officer; in 1949 he was made Commissioner of Labour. During that period, he was awarded a scholarship to attend the International Labour Organisation wartime headquarters in Montreal, Canada. He represented Trinidad and Tobago and the West Indies at the 34th International Labour Organisation’s Conference in Geneva, Switzerland in June of 1951, as well as regional conferences on Labour relations. He was also advisor to the T&T delegation at conferences of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. He received the O.B.E. in 1952. He studied during this period, in London, methods of financial control and Ministry – Parliament relations. In 1954 he became the Deputy Colonial Secretary, and Colonial Secretary in 1956. In 1957 he was made C.M.G. and in 1959 he was created K.C.M.G. He represented T&T at the Federation Conferences, and was made a Knight of St. John in 1961. He was appointed Governor-General at Independence on the 31st August 1962.
In a life dedicated to public service, Sir Solomon’s interests included the Presidency of the Boy Scouts Council, the St. John Council, patron of the British and foreign Bible Society, the British Red Cross Society, to name a few bodies that benefited from his interest and his sense of responsibility to the society that had given him so much. Both He and his wife, Lady Thelma, née Huggins are buried in Botanical Gardens in Port-of-Spain.
Sir Ellis Clarke
Ellis Clarke's distinguished career is remembered best by those who were the recipients of the sage advice that he offered, indeed gave, so readily and so graciously. Both wisdom and grace were qualities that rested easily upon him. It would be true to say of him that he was born a gentleman. He came into this world on the 28th December 1917 at the house on the north east corner of Pelham and Megler Streets, Belmont. His parents gave him the names Emmanuel and Innocent, investing in him their own high hopes and sincere wishes. He did not let them down.
He received his high school education at St. Mary’s College, where he won an island scholarship in mathematics in 1938. He taught at the college for about a year before leaving for England. He subsequently attended the University College of the University of London where he received a Bachelor of Law degree and was called to the bar at Gray’s Inn in 1941. He returned to Port-of-Spain in that year and established his own practice which he was to continue until 1954. During the war and for some time after he was the legal advisor to the Control Board. Entering the Civil Service 1954, he served as Solicitor-General from 1954–1956, Deputy Colonial Secretary 1956–1957, and Attorney General 1957–1962. In 1960 he was made Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, C.M.B. and in 1963 he was created Kt. Bachelor. He acted as advisor to the Cabinet of the newly-created Independent Trinidad and Tobago and was involved in the creation of the draft Constitution, culminating in his attendance at the Marlborough House Conference from May 28 to June 8, 1962.
In March of 1961 Ellis Clarke was appointed Chief Justice; he served in that position for just a year. After Independence in 1962, he was made Ambassador to the United States, Canada and Mexico, and was this country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. In 1972 he succeeded Sir Solomon Hochoy as Governor General. When Trinidad and Tobago became a Republic in 1976, Clarke was unanimously elected the country’s first President by the presidential electoral college, which comprised the elected members of both Houses of Parliament. He was re-elected by the electoral college and completed his second term as President in 1987. He was one of the first to be awarded the country’s highest honour: the Trinity Cross, in 1969. He also holds El Gran Cordon, the highest national award in Venezuela. The UWI awarded him an honorary doctor of law degree. He was succeeded in the post of President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago by Justice Noor Hassanali. He was married to Lady Ermyntrude Clarke née Hagley of Grenada, (1921–2002) for almost fifty years. They had three children: Peter Clarke (married to Suzanne Traboulay), Margaret-Ann (married to Gordon Fisken of Edinburgh, Scotland) and Richard (who died as a young child). Sir Ellis also had four grandsons: John, Michael, Alexander and David, and one granddaughter, Katrina. John, Michael and David all carry Ellis as their middle name(s).
The Police Star
Contrary to various accounts, the ‘Police Star’ was not ‘given’ to the Police Force by Col. Arthur Mavrogordato, who in fact was the last Inspector General of Constabulary in Trinidad & Tobago. All ranks received the use of it as a cap badge and button when the Constabulary became the Trinidad & Tobago Police Force on December 19th, 1939 under the command of Col. W. Muller, the first Commissioner. The Star’s history is older, and far more interesting and colourful. According to Lieut. Gaylord Kelshall, military historian, it came into use during the tenure of Brigadier General Thomas Picton, the first Military Governor of Trinidad.
Between 1797, when the British captured Trinidad, and 1802, when it was confirmed British at the Peace of Amiens, Brigadier General Thomas Picton was the Military Governor of the island. During this time, the many dispossessed Spaniards and Republican French in Venezuela who had been forced to leave this island on the British capture, received Spanish government support to try and recapture Trinidad. Picton had a small force of regular troops alongside some unreliable German mercenaries as his garrison. Neither of these could withstand the rigors of the climate very well, and in any case, there were not enough of them to act offensively, and he assigned them to guard duty in his forts and barracks. He relied instead on his irregular forces to carry the war to Venezuela. These forces, unofficial until 1802 and paid for out of his own pocket, were the Royal Trinidad Rangers. This unit became the Police Force together with its secret service arm; it was made up of Free black men and gentlemen adventurers. These men raided Venezuela often, operated covertly on the docks in Trinidad, and carried out undercover operations on the mainland, with such success that they kept the enemy forces completely off balance and preempted any re-invasion of the island. This proud conglomeration of individuals took to wearing the Badge of St. David of Wales, Picton’s personal saint – a Welshman – as their emblem. Picton no doubt suggested the badge. When in 1802 the Militia and Police Force were officially
recognised and came under the control of the government, rather than Picton personally, they retained the Star of St. David of Wales as their cap badge which was confined to the first division. Constables wore as a cap badge their regimental number, corporals two stripes and number, etc. It was during the tenure of Col. Walter Muller, 1938–1948, that the Star of St. David of Wales was given to all ranks and so it has continued so to this day. Shako plates dated 1802 - 1842 exist in the Military Museum where they were part of the uniform of the Militia.
This series of articles, written by Gerard Besson and illustrated with images from the Paria Publishing Archives, was published by Newsday in a special magazine on 31st August 2013, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Independence of Trinidad and Tobago.
Click here to see the entire magazine!
Racial prejudice was institutionalised to a fine point during the time of African slavery and in the later colonial period when East Indian indentureship was introduced. It was the experience of all who were not European. It defined dependence.
Broadly speaking, racial prejudice in the European sense came to the New World with the Spaniards, who, after winning a long and cruel war against the north African Moors who had crossed the straits of Gibraltar and conquered the Iberian peninsula in the 8th century, had finally been driven out in the 15th. With this, a type of ethnic cleansing commenced, which meant persons with Moorish (i.e. Islamic or even Jewish blood) were driven out of Catholic Spain. Thus the notion of ‘purity of the blood’ became the criterion for ‘nobility’ in Spain and was thence transported to the Spanish colonies in the New World.
In Trinidad, racial prejudice after the British conquest in 1797 achieved a fresh nuance. The Woodford administration (1813–1829) directed it at the Free Blacks and People of Colour as a ‘class’, notwithstanding the protection of their rights which were guaranteed under the Law. The educated, well-off, slave and property-owning Free Black People, who at emancipation in 1838 numbered 11,000, the largest free segment, responded with petitions. Eventually, a delegation led by the coloured planter Jean Baptiste Philippe left for London and met with the Secretary of State to the Colonies, Lord Bathhurst. They did not propose emancipation of the slaves; slavery is different from racial prejudice. Slavery was seen as an economic necessity practiced in Africa and in the Middle East that they as well as the Europeans accepted and subscribed to. They were interested in their right to inherit property, practice their professions and work in the public service, among other things. The case as presented by them was sound in law, inasmuch as the terms of the Cedula of Population, under the Spanish government, guaranteed certain rights for Free Blacks. The Articles of Surrender to the British by the Spanish Government in Trinidad in 1797 had maintained those rights. As said, the Cedula could be seen as the first constitution of Trinidad. With the court’s decision, the Free Blacks as a group had won a civil rights case, more than likely the first in this hemisphere.
The white French Creoles, a remnant of the royalists, were in a manner of speaking marooned here after the French Revolution. They worked mainly in the agricultural sector both in sugar and in cocoa, and despite being obsessed with the maintenance of pedigree, and never numbering more than 2,300 persons, identified with early forms of nationalism. The social and cultural influence of this group, sharing as they do the same historical narrative as both the slaves and Free Coloureds & Blacks, has been all-pervading in every aspect of civil society.
Out of these movements came a greater political awareness in the society on the whole. For people of African descent there was basically one way forward. First, an education must be sought at all cost. And second, European styles and mores, a certain French-ness, later, a more English manner had to be acquired as a method for identity formation. Law-abiding, with good Christian values, genteel manners, a much envied work ethic, and appreciation of western arts. All together, this meant respectability. Self-respect gave rise to a sense of responsibility. It was increasingly believed that having produced an educated middle class, it was time to reform the political status of the colony. Stringent controls of Crown Colony rule should be lifted and the introduction of democratic institutions should commence and be put into the hands of educated, responsible local men, notwithstanding their skin tone. This view was not accepted by the Colonial Office in London. There were calls for the recognition of Emancipation.
This call for change eventually became political and formulated itself into the Reform Movements of the 1850s on through to the turn of the century. The reformists expressed nationalists sentiments and were concerned with altering the nature of Crown Colony status so as to increase participation by local people in the colony’s political process. This was the hot-bed, the crucible of Afro-French-Creole politics of the late 19th century as expressed by people like Sir L.A.A. de Verteuil, Mzumbo Lazare, Maresse Smith, Phillip Rostant, C. Preudhomme David, Sir Henry Alcazar, Captain Cipriani, Albert Gomes and eventually C.L.R. James, Dr. Patrick Solomon and Dr. Eric Williams, to name a few. The genesis of the ‘politics of race’ was a natural reaction of the black intellectuals to the absurdity of British colonial prejudice which, more than anything else, insulted the intelligence of thinking people.
The East Indians of Trinidad, arriving from 1845 to 1917, had an entirely different political genesis. Living on the vast cane estates after the emancipation of the slaves, they escaped the emasculation of slavery, the loss of names and religion, which meant the loss of identity and the violence of the plantations. As the number of East Indians grew and their presence became more noticeable to the Creole population, it became obvious that the new-comers, as they were seen by the older inhabitants, were here to stay. Naturally, differences became obvious. In a place where miscegenation was the custom, it was noticeable that the East Indians kept to them selves. In a place where Christianity was seen as an important element of one’s identity, the worship of ‘gods’ was perceived as sacrilegious. In a society dedicated to spending so as to demonstrate status and a grasp on style, thrift was seen as meanness.
It came to a head over wages. The Indians became caught, through no fault of their own, in the politics of the day. The drama was being enacted in the island’s Legislature, between the planter and merchant interests, which promoted the idea of cheap labour, and the aforementioned other interests, which had formed around individuals who represented local concerns, meaning those who wanted reform of the island’s colonial status. Indian indentureship was perceived, especially by the black and coloured middle class professionals, as symbolic of the power and the privilege of the British colonial establishment.
There was hostility directed to the idea of imported Indian labour, because it affected black Trinidadian workers in the context of competition for wages in the labour market. Indians were at times vilified and stereotyped as willing to work for starvation wages; their frugal lifestyle appeared as ludicrous. It was felt that Indian immigration drove down wages and was the cause of unemployment and hardship among the black workers. Strong arguments were made that Indian immigration had become by then merely a weapon to allow planters to control the labour market by depressing wages to starvation levels. These ideas were popularised by newspapers such as the New Era and the San Fernando Gazette, which represented the view of the coloured and black middle class. This small pressure group consistently opposed Indian immigration publicly and at times bitterly, by enunciating the more offensive forms of racial stereotyping. The notion of perceiving the Indian population as not really belonging to the island’s overall population, when coupled with other negative stereotyping, produced in the minds of the generation of Afro-French/English Creole people born in the opening decades of the 20th century, as well as in the West Indian immigrants who were coming into Trinidad, a deep prejudice against a large and differentiating group of the population, in such a derogatory manner that when it was politicised in the 1950s and 60s, it would have lasting consequences.
The Reformists’ objection to the continued importation of free, or virtually free labour under the indentureship scheme in becoming an issue, created a lasting stereotype that became an accepted view. In such a manner are prejudices born and continue down through generations, even when the reasons and the purposes for them are no longer relevant and are even forgotten.
The start of Indian politics. Old roles of leadership, as practiced in the caste system in India, did not apply in the indentureship system on the estates. The mere crossing of the ocean had been enough to break that spell.
Conditions on the estates were also a great leveler. Leaders emerged from different quarters as necessitated by the managers’ requirements. ‘Surdars’, drivers and foremen, and shopkeepers of all and every condition and caste assumed leadership roles in estate yard and village life.
The earliest Indian organisation in this island, the East Indian National Organisation, came into existence in 1897, more than 50 years after J.B. Phillips petition to Lord Bathurst, to organise a campaign to protest an ordinance, No. 12 of 1897, which contained several sections that infringed on the rights of the East Indians. This body was to outlive its original purpose, and its efforts after 1898 served to increase East Indian self-awareness. It has to be remembered that this was now more than fifty years after the Fatel Rozack docked in Port of Spain, and a great number of families of Indian descent were by now in their second and third generation of being Trinidadians.
Also in 1897, a group of East Indians submitted a memorandum to the West Indian Commission, in which they requested for the first time direct representation by an East Indian member in the Legislative Council. This was unsuccessful. But as Dr. Bridget Brereton observes in her book Modern Times, “The request highlighted a growing political awareness; it indicated that Indians were beginning to consider themselves as an identifiable group with its own interests, different and separate from those of other groups and with demands to be articulated.”
By and large, East Indian politics was fifty years behind the Reformist Movement of the Creoles. Leaders like Sir Henry Alcazar, Maxwell Philip K.C. and Vincent Brown K.C., for example, were already practiced speakers on the nominated benches of the Legislative Council in the 1880s and ‘90s.
It was out of the organisation of labour that East Indians were to assume leadership roles that were larger than the estate yard or village life. This process commenced with lowering of wages and the increase of task work. Professor Kusha Harraksingh states:
“This was a recurring planter strategy which the nature of the task system itself conveniently accommodated.”
Many factors contributed to the unionisation of sugar workers that eventually occurred in 1937, not the least of which was the end of indentureship in 1917 and the switch over to free, unindentured labour.
Professor Harracksingh also notes that the “concentration of ownership of the sugar industry was in a few hands ... the growth of a peasant sector of small and middle-sized cane farms without their own processing facilities; the development of party politics ... and the identification of sugar workers with a particular ethnic and cultural group.”
The East Indian National Association in Princes Town was joined by another organisation, called the Indian National Congress, which was centered in Couva. The aim of these bodies was to encourage Indians to take an active and intelligent part in both community life and in the broader scheme of things. The Trinidad Citizens League, formed by Adrian Cola Rienzi (Krishna Deonarine), was a party that mainly appealed to sugar workers. It was branded as communist by the colonial government.
In 1942, almost a century after East Indians had settled here, the right of adult franchise was granted by the colonial authority, hard won and hard fought for by the 19th century reformists and the trade unions, produced from their ranks, in the strikes of the 1920s and 30s and in the killing fields of the Red House fire, Apex and Fyzabad.
For the East Indians, it created a great political impasse. The ordinance demanded that the voter could cast a vote only if he was qualified in the English language. The majority of the East Indians were illiterate and very few of them had a command of English. As V.M. Vidyarthi, columnists, wrote in his article ‘Indian to Trinidadian’: “The language test therefore would have almost exclusively and adversely affected the Indian Community in the exercise of its votes, should it be allowed to function.” It was perceived as the most notorious element in the political setup and called for a united force to fight it. It united the East Indians, and their organisations finally succeeded in removing the test. Thus, equal opportunity for all races to participate fully in the political process was achieved, albeit within the structure of colonial Trinidad. The small steps taken by the Indian community in contributing to the creation of the colony’s political life were to be conveniently forgotten by many after Independence.
The first election with universal adult suffrage was held in 1946. A large number of independents and various political groupings contested the election.
Men of Indian descent obtained four out of the nine elected seats. At this point, East Indians formed 35% of the island’s population. It is thus very significant that they actually captured 44% of the elected seats.
In 1950, the second election was held under a new constitution. The entire colony was divided into 18 constituencies with an almost equal population. Fifty-one candidates were put up by five different political groups, and 90 independents contested. Five independents and 13 party candidates were elected. Among these seven were East Indians (four Hindus and three Christians). This represented 39% of the total elected seats. In his article, Vidyarthi writes: “A Constitutional Reform Committee under the chairmanship of Ashford. Sinanan, a member of the Legislative Council, was appointed in 1955. This committee recommended the creation of a British type of cabinet government under an elected Chief Minister.
After minor modifications, the recommendations were implemented and the introduction of these reforms were hailed as a significant political advance. It gave rise in the minds of some that the age of Party Politics had commenced.”
In 1956, the elections were held under the new constitution, in which 8 parties put up 89 candidates to contest 24 seats. Among these, the Trinidad Labour Party and Uriah Butler’s Party were the oldest. The Trinidad Labour Party was founded by Captain A.A. Cipriani and advocated self-government.
The East Indian leadership at this point was divided into two groups. Leaders like Sarran Teelucksingh, Timothy Roodal and Adrian Kola Rienzi formed an association with Cipriani and the T.L.P. and had the support of East Indian organisations.
The other party in the race was the People’s Democratic Party, formed by Bhadase Sagan Maraj. For many years he reigned supreme as one of the top East Indian leaders in Trinidad.
Bhadase was a man of wide influence and dynamic personality, who advanced the status of the entire East Indian community. First elected as an independent to the Legislative Council in 1950, in ‘53 he founded the Peoples Democratic Party and in the same year became the leader of the Sugar Worker’s and Cane Farmer’s Union.
The most significant entry into the political arena in 1956 was the People’s National Movement, PNM, under the leadership of Dr. Eric Williams. He changed everything in Trinidad & Tobago’s politics.
The P.N.M. entered the election campaign with a clear-cut programme. It declared that the people of Trinidad had had six years of corruption, mismanagement and party acrobatics in public affairs.
It presented a multiracial slate of candidates and based its appeal on West Indian nationalism. It commanded black professional, black labour and black urban support. Dr. Williams also commenced an educational programme at Woodford Square in an atmosphere that may only be described as messianic.
Under pressure to gain popular support from the P.N.M., the leadership of the P.D.P. tried to modify its purely East Indian character and promoted multi-racialism and secularism from its platforms. It lent its support to the Party of Political Progress Groups, headed by Albert Gomes, the most significant person on the political scene since Captain A.A. Cipriani. The P.D.P. also supported the Butler Party and the Trinidad Labour Party as well as several independents.
From the results of the 1956 election, in which the P.N.M. secured the majority of seats and formed the government, it was clear that the time of the independents was over. The P.N.M. victory was the result of better organisation and leadership that was speaking to a well prepared constituency. It was also the result of an assertion of Black self respect and self confidence that felt it self ready to leave behind an identity shaped by the depredations of the British colonial experience that had created the ‘Afro-Saxon’ identity. A new ‘national’ identity was in the offing, designed and created by the charismatic Dr. Eric Williams, supported by a confident black middle class that had struggled against colonial dominance for close to 150 years, with its roots firmly placed in the 19th century colonial reform movements, buttressed by substantial West Indian immigration (appox. 80,000 in the 20,&30s) that had a much longer history of slavery and had known harsher oppressions in the other islands.
On July 18th, 1957, at a special meeting of the representatives of the P.D.P., the F.L.P. and the P.O.P.P.G., a decision was taken to dissolve their parties and form the Democratic Labour Party. On January 8th, 1958, Badhase Sagan Maraj, the former head of the P.D.P. and the President-General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, the largest Hindu religious body in Trinidad, was elected leader of the parliamentary wing of the D.L.P., which by this time was recognised as the official opposition party in the Legislative Council.
With this development, the two-party system came into being, shared between the P.N.M. with its ‘African’ support and the D.L.P. with its ‘Indian’ base. The D.L.P. was successful in the federal elections. However, times were changing. Despite Bhadase’s popularity and his influence on the East Indian masses, the younger generation of educated and enlightened groups found him to be an embarrassing leader. He was uneducated and no match for Dr. Eric Williams. They thought that Bhadase’s manners crude and his methods suspicious.
To match the intellectual glamour of Dr. Williams, a section of the D.L.P. looked for leadership elsewhere, as the old “chief” had become less effective and increasingly unwell. The D.L.P. was divided upon itself during this period (as in later years) and A.P.T. James of Tobago took the helm.
He too was no match either for the brilliance or eloquence of Dr. Eric Williams. During this period, there were many defections to the P.N.M., as both Christian and Muslim intellectuals crossed over to the winning side. The D.L.P. leadership passed to Dr. Rudranath Capildeo, a staunch Sanatanist Hindu. Dr. Capildeo, like Dr. Williams, was an island scholarship winner. He had earned his Ph.D. from London University. He was an acknowledged mathematician and physicist. It was felt that if Dr. Capildeo headed the D.L.P., he would be able, together East Indian intellectuals and professionals, to exert enough influence on the rural masses to achieve cohesion as well as satisfy non-Indians alienated from the P.N.M. with the intellectual capacity they wanted. Despite fierce factional fighting between the Bhadase supporters and the young intellectuals, concern of another P.N.M. victory eventually forced the closing of the ranks behind the new leader.
But Dr. Capildeo was no politician. Unlike Dr. Williams, he had not created a political party of his own, but was rather placed at the head of a party by a group of shrewd and experienced politicians who wanted to use him and his academic achievements for getting votes. Dr. Kenneth Lalla comments on the 1961 elections and quotes Dr. Selwyn Ryan:–
“As a forerunner to the 1961 general elections, the P.N.M. government announced its intention not only to re-draw the electoral boundaries but also to compile a new voters’ register and to introduce voting machines.”
The Indians’ reaction to those proposals was that they pointed out that these new voting arrangements were calculated to curtail the voting strength of the Indians, which had been demonstrated against the P.N.M. in the 1958 federal elections. They further argued that the replacement of the ballot box by voting machines was also designed to frustrate illiterate Indians. Did the P.N.M. manipulate the distribution of the voting population on a racial basis so as to give more seats to the P.N.M.? On this issue Dr. Selwyn Ryan commented:
“The P.N.M. took no chances even in Port of Spain, where the boundaries were redrafted, to make sure that all potential D.L.P. areas, i.e. the upper class and upper middle-class residential areas, were attached to working class areas where the P.N.M. had been consistently strong. The D.L.P. was not given an outside chance to gain a seat in the capital city as they had done in the 1958 and 1959 municipal elections. In the countryside, there was strong evidence to substantiate the D.L.P. claim that the P.N.M. had herded as many Indian voters as was possible into constituencies which they could not possibly win, and had extracted from such areas large blocks of Negro voters who were then recombined into the other constituencies.” (from Race and Nationalism 1961, pp. 144-45)”
Dr. Capildeo as Prime Minister! This was the dream of many and perhaps it was his dream as well, an Indian Prime Minister, just imagine!
Under his leadership, the D.L.P. captured ten out of thirty seats. The highest voter turnout was in St. Augustine, where he was the candidate. The D.L.P. candidates were returned from the rural areas, mainly the sugar belt. Out of the ten seats gained, eight were East Indians and two were of African descent.
The eight East Indians consisted of three Hindus, one Muslim and four Christians. Among these Ashford Sinanan, Simboonath Capildeo, Lionel Frank Seukeran and Stephen Maharaj were elected to the Legislative Council. The other six members, new to the political arena, were Dr. Capildeo, political leader, Tajmool Hosein, Vernon Jamada, Balgobin Ramdeen, M. Forrester and Peter Farquhar.
In 1962, Trinidad and Tobago achieved full independence. Some of the opposition’s demands were rejected. Dr. Capildeo had failed at the Marlborough House talks in London, and in many quarters it was felt that their cause had been betrayed.
Captain Arthur Cipriani
was born in 1875.Coming from an upper class French Creole family, he had open to him a choice of careers. He instead opted to devote his life to public service. By the turn of the century, he had become a solicitor and was already earning a reputation as the ‘champion of the barefoot man’. His prestige was such that he was able to raise three contingents to serve in the Great War, leaving with the third. Upon his return he accepted the Presidency of the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association, which had been started some 20 years previously. C.L.R. James, who wrote of Cipriani’s career, said, “if there is anything which can prove the fitness of the people of Trinidad for self-government, is the progress of this Association.” Determined to make meaningful changes in civil society, Cipriani took the Association island-wide. From one section in P.O.S. he established 42 sections, with 6 in P.O.S. and 13 in Tobago. He established the Assoc.’s paper, ‘The Labour Leader’, which was circulated to the thousands of members, in which matters of government policy were discussed and explained, labour issues addressed and strategies outlined. As such legislation was passed under which workers were granted compensation for injury and death. He secured shorter working hours for workers in the retail sector, and among other gains saw to the creation of an Agricultural Bank that could facilitate low-interest loans for farmers. He was seven times Mayor of P.O.S. and oversaw many of its major improvements. Regarded by his peers as an officer and a gentleman, ‘the Captain’ definitely had the common touch. He was the spokesman for the people in the Legislative Council in which he served for 15 years. C.L.R. James wrote of him, “No public man is more widely known in Trinidad. . .Many West Indians, and a few Englishmen too, have worked for the emancipation of the West Indies. Their stories will be told in time, but no one has worked like Captain Arthur Andrew Cipriani.”
Sir Hugh Wooding
was just 38 years old when he became Mayor of P.O.S. in 1942. The photo at left shows him wearing the Mayoral chain. In a very real way, both the youthful vigor and the sense of civil responsibility depicted here characterised the career of this most outstanding of men. Born in 1904, he attended Moulton Hall Weslyean School and then Queen’s Royal College. An island scholarship winner in 1923, he left for London and the Middle Temple, where he gained First Class honours in all his Bar examinations. And, because fortune favours the brilliant, he was also able to capture the first prize for Constitution Law and Legal History, 300 guineas. He was called to the Bar in 1926 and entered the Chambers of Sir Lennox O’Reilly. He was appointed K.C. in 1948. He was a member of the Bar Association and became the first Vice President in 1957 and President in 1960 of the West Indies Bar Assoc. He received the “Special 1960 Citation of Honour” from the Caribbean League of America. In 1963 he became Kt. Bachelor, having received the C.B.E. in 1957. Wooding served on a number of important public bodies, boards etc., during his career, notably the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission; the Planning and Housing Commission; the Central Board of Health; Trinidad and Tobago Welfare Ltd.; the Railway board and was Chief Registration Officer of Constitutional Reform Committee. An eminent Freemason, he left an indelible inscription on the Craft. He was a Director of several important business organisations, notably Trinidad Broadcasting Co. Ltd., President of British West Indian Airways as well as of the Caribbean Development Corporation, founded by Sir Gerald White, and the Chairman of Alstons Ltd.
In 1962 he was appointed the first Chief Justice of newly independent Trinidad and Tobago. The ‘Wooding Court’ included Justices Achong, Reese, McMillian, Peterkin, Scott, de la Bastide, Malone, Hassanali, Fraser, McShine, Phillips, and Corbin. Several of these distinguished personalities would go on to serve this country in its highest offices. Sir Hugh Wooding became Chancellor of the University of the West Indies in 1971. He will be remembered as a man who pioneered the route which many were to follow.
The Birth of Pan
Modern times also brought the innovative nature inherent in all of us to the fore with the invention of the steel-pan. It just had to be. Berti Gomes said of it: “The Second World War saw the birth of the ‘steelband’. It was both an innovation in musical expression and a social explosion in Trinidad. It also provided an unparalleled instance of puritan humbug. It would be impossible to trace the origins of the steel bands. These must always remain shrouded in mystery and the subject of endless speculation—all things considered, a not surprising genesis for this musical aberration and gimcrack orchestration, whose romantic odyssey spans an arc of picaresque adventure that began in the slum areas in Port of Spain, recently reached Cape Kennedy, and is still orbiting.” (Excerpt from ‘Through a Maze of Colour’.)
was one of those ‘born Trinidadians’ who fitted in everywhere in the 1940s and 50s, and somehow didn’t. Born of poor Portuguese parents in the rough part of Belmont, at a time when the Portugese were not considered socially white, Berti grew up hard. From young he had a lot of social conscience and spoke out against ingrained colonial attitudes, particularly when it had to do with racial prejudice and the stereotyping of black people. This led him into politics. Demanding workers’ rights, more pay, and criticizing the colonial power structure with what was considered revolutionary arguments, Berti was seen by the authorities as a leftist and a threat to the system. In the early 1930s he joined the Federated Workers Union and became its President. He was elected to the Port of Spain City Council in 1938 and served there for some nine years. He challenged the colonial establishment and resisted all attempts by the Government to dominate the Council, sometimes using his considerable size and weight to accomplish these ends, such as when he lay down upon the Council’s table and refused to budge until his intentions were agreed upon. He worked tirelessly for West Indian integration. Naturally this made him very popular.
In 1945 he was elected a member of the Legislative Council, and in 1946 he became a member of the Executive Council. From 1950 to 1956 Gomes was re-elected to the Legislative Council . He was the leader of the conservative Party of Political Progress Groups (POPPG). From 1958, he served as a member of the West Indian Federal House of Representatives, which was dissolved at the break-up of the Federation in 1962. When the POPPG was defeated by the only nine-month old People’s National Movement (PNM) in the 1956 election by winning 13 out of the 24 seats (with just 1,458 votes more than the POPPG) Berti took the defeat very badly and left to live in England where he died some years later. Gomes also had an outstanding literary career being the author of several books and published articles.
Dr. Eric Williams
was an exceptional person. Understanding the relationship of history to politics, he single-handedly and successfully set out to de-construct of the British interpenetration of history.
He commenced this task while still a young man with his doctoral thesis, “The Economic Aspects of the Abolition of the Slave Trade and West Indian Slavery’ Oxford, 1939. This work was later published as ‘Capitalism and Slavery’. Williams’ thesis debunked the notion that slavery was abolished because of ‘Justice and humanity’ as claimed, but solely for economic reasons.
He went on to politicise his views upon his return to home, taking his theories to the public in a unique way by embarking on a series of lectures which he delivered in a professorial manner from the bandstand of Woodford Square. Williams was an excellent speaker and a charismatic personality who both entertained his listeners but also enlightened them as to their condition of colonial victimhood. His nationalistic exhortations, patriotic in content, emotionally appealing and racially biased, were pivotal to his becoming the outstanding Caribbean populist leader of his generation. The political party created by him in 1956, the People’s National Movement, went on to dominate the political landscape of Trinidad and Tobago for decades.
Eric Williams was born on the 25th September 1911 at 16 Dundonald Street, P.O.S. He came from what was know at that time as the Afro-French-Creole educated middle class, as both his mother and father were products of the Free People of Colour recorded from the late 18th century of Grenada and Trinidad. He attended Tranquillity Boys Intermediate School and Queen’s Royal College. Winning a scholarship, he attended Oxford University, he was later to lecture at Howard University, U.S.A.
In 1964 he was admitted to the Privy Council. He would refuse a knighthood but accept the more acclaimed award of Companion of Honour.
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Trinidad and Tobago came under British rule at the end of the European wars that marked the close of the 18th century. It is interesting to observe how our population developed over the next century and a half. To understand why so many people came here from so many corners of the world, one needs to take the various economies that were developed here into consideration, as these shaped our collective characteristics and the uniqueness of the variety of cultures which have contributed in the formation of our national identity. However, to begin, it would be suffice to say that “We are all here because of sugar, cocoa and oil” in that historical sequence.
The Cedula of Population of 1783 and the Sugar Economy
The sugar, cotton and tobacco economies brought the first Europeans, mostly French families and “Free Blacks and Coloureds” (meaning people from the French Antilles, some of whom were of mixed European, mostly French and African heritage, but were free and slave-owning), and African enslaved peoples to Trinidad in the closing decades of the 18th century. The Cedula of Population of 1783, which was the endeavour of a French Creole Grenadian by the name of Phillip Roume de St. Laurent, was the legal instrument that made their settlement possible. This document, according to Professor Carl Campbell of the UWI, must be viewed as our first constitution, as it outlined the legal framework that made the populating and settlement of a Spanish colony by a non-Spanish people possible, thus putting into place an Afro-French-Creole population that expressed a French identity.
Upon arrival, the cedulants encountered the remnant Spanish colonists as well as the remainder of the Amerindian population which pre-dated Spanish colonisation. This influx of farmers and unfree labour, which occurred against the backdrop of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, led to large-scale cultivation of the countryside mainly with sugar, but also with all sorts of other agricultural produce for export and domestic consumption. French and Creole Patois speaking, the free population was in the main Catholic, and apart from some Republican elements, was almost entirely French Royalist in outlook, a distinguishing quality that would endure for some one hundred and fifty years, influencing cultural mores, manners, cuisine and the Carnival arts.
Tobago and Emancipation
Tobago, our elder sister, with her older history of European colonisation and African slave importation, was already an established plantation economy in the 1780s, possessing representative institutions, albeit very limited. Tobago had in fact changed hands several times as a result of the various European conflicts. From the time it became a British colony in 1814 until its eventual union with Trinidad, Tobago had sugar and cotton as the main crops until these were replaced by coconuts. Tobago, one could say like Barbados, is a Protestant island. Over the generations, Tobagonians became a conservative, hard working, land-owning Yeomanry, who are well known for their hospitality and their sense of serenity. Towards the end of the 19th century, Tobago, despite possessing its own representative systems was ignoble reduced to becoming a Ward of Trinidad.
In 1807, ten years after the capture of Trinidad, the British government abolished the trade of African slaves in the Empire, and thirty-one years later, in 1838, all enslaved people were given their full freedom. This action—for whatever the reasons given or the causes explained, whether an expeditious economic necessity, a political trick to achieve a moral position, or an act that was based on a sense of ‘justice and humanity’—when passed into law by the government of the United Kingdom was in truth significant moral achievement. These laws, when enacted, demonstrated a major advancement of Western civilization.
Emancipation signalled the end of that first plantation economy. For the sugar planters—mostly French, although by this time there were some English—this meant an acute dearth of labour on the estates. Many were reduced to poverty, despite being paid large sums for the loss of free labour. The former enslaved people received nothing. Understandably, the former slaves did not feel inclined to continue the hard labour in the cane fields for their former masters, even for wages. After the horrific experience of slavery, they preferred to set up themselves in their own small-scale operations, as artisans, labourers, gardeners, clerks, minor trades people, or simple just to do nothing at all.
The French-Patois speaking Free Blacks and People of Colour, who had benefited from the generous terms of the Cedula of Population, having survived attempts by the British colonial government to reduce their legal rights and other privileges, also suffered as the result of this first plantation economy coming to a close. They were joined, however, by the more upwardly mobile former slaves and commenced the ardorous process of gaining an education and establishing themselves in the new post slavery society. In fact, they, by the end of the 19th century, had created a core professional class, from which a university-trained intelligentsia would eventually emerge.
After some “experimentation” (in fact, British Prime Minister Canning described Trinidad a few decades later as an “experimental colony”) with people from China and Portuguese Madeira and other improvished Europeans, all groups having proven unsuitable for work in the cane fields, the British government began from 1845 to 1917 to “import” people from the Indian sub-continent as indentured labourers for the sugar estates. This scheme worked very well for the British investors and a new thriving sugarcane economy was reestablished and continued to flourish well into the 20th century.
The Cocoa Economy creates the first Trickle-down Economy
Towards the last quarter of the 19th century, cocoa farming came into its own as significant acreages in the northern, central and southern regions were devoted to this crop. Cocoa was an important addition to the agricultural economy of these islands, because it involved many levels of the society. It meant that a much larger cross-section of society were able to enjoy what could only be described as a windfall. Cocoa formed the livelihood for people of various ethnicities, including those of Amerindian descent, known to us as cocoa pañols. From small holdings—and these were in the vast majority, belonging to ‘ordinary’ people—on to the large estates, belonging to the French Creoles and foreign firms such as Cadbury’s, people of all backgrounds were able to benefit materially and so improve themselves and educate their children as a result of the cocoa economy. Cocoa was a genuine trickle down economy. From the countryside to the towns, particularly as the railways were extended, Trinidad bustled with agricultural activity. Small and large businesses were set up in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando to export the island’s produce, of which its cocoa was regarded as the best in the world. By the end of the 19th century, King Cocoa had dethroned King Sugar as the colony’s most profitable export. It was at that time that Tobago and Trinidad were joined together as a twin-island colony by Colonial Office decree.
Commerce flourished with the growth of the import-export houses that lined Marine Square, now Independence Square, and saw the introduction of numerous insurance companies and commercial banks. All this served to produce an enlarged and more specialised Civil Service. These all provided jobs and increased income streams for the emerging middle class, which grew exponentially in this period, thus making Trinidad and Tobago one of the more prosperous colonies in the British West Indies. The pretty suburbs of Port of Spain and San Fernando with their gingerbread house architecture emerged during this time, and grand public buildings were erected. It was during this era, towards the end of the 19th century, that Port of Spain, which still possessed its original Spanish and French architecture, with its Grand Savanna, tree-lined streets and spacious parks, was known as the most attractive town in the British West Indies.
This greater spread of wealth and access to education led the population to a more vocal demand for greater self-rule, reform of the colony’s administration, and participation in the affairs of government by the local intelligentsia and the emerging Labour movement.
In the meanwhile, people continued to come to Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, no other territory in the West Indies has experienced such a constant stream of immigration over the last two centuries. Besides the Indian indentured workers, immigrants in quantity came from the other West Indian islands from the late 1840s and indeed from all over the world. From Europe came Germans, Corsicans, the Scots and some Irish, from Asia came more Chinese, and from the Middle East, as the 20th century dawned, came the Lebanese and Syrians.
Oil Discovery and the Birth of the Trade Unions
Trinidad was famous from early times for its pitch lake at La Brea. Sir Walter Raleigh in caulking his ship there in the 1590s, could be regarded as our first exporter of petroleum. Oil, however, was extracted in Trinidad in commercial quantities in the early 20th century in the south of the island, adding yet another facet to the colony’s overall wealth. This attracted yet another wave of immigrants. Social inequalities and low wages that had always existed emerged more dramatically during this period, particularly in the years between the world wars, which led to the coming into being of a strong Trade Union movement that fought not only for the rights of workers, but for a greater say and a deeper involvement of everyone in the colony’s affairs. The Trade Unions’ new and robust involvement in civil society, notably headed by the oil and sugar workers, together with the Reform Movement, was instrumental in putting into place the foundation for the political movements that were to form the features of our nascent national identity and later the Independence movement, as our earliest politicians were invariably Trade Union leaders.
The First and especially the Second World War made Trinidad and Tobago’s oil a precious commodity, making us doubly blessed by having a two-tiered economy comprising agriculture and petroleum, unique in the Caribbean. The refineries at Point Fortin and at Pointe-a-Pierre led the way in the world’s development of high grade aviation fuel. This 100 octane aviation fuel was instrumental in the overall successful war effort, and in particular in the winning of the Battle of Britain, where the Spitfires and the Hurricanes were flying on ‘Trinidad oil’. This period saw the establishment of American bases in Trinidad which provided jobs for skilled and unskilled workers, both blue collar and white collar. And also left its mark on the social fabric of these islands many felt in a negative way.
The post-war era witnessed the de-colonisation of the former British Empire, when within a decade the most amount of nations came into existence since the Wars of Liberation broke Spain’s domination of the New World.
Agriculture just before Independence
In 1955 there were 409 agricultural credit societies with 16,000 peasant membership, assets $300,000 and working capital of $1,067,140. Sugar Estates canes acreage 36,000. Farmers’ canes acreage 44,000; number of farmers 111,000. Citrus acreage planted 13,000, 432,000 crates of citrus handled in 1954. Bananas 45,546 stems exported in 1953, Rice; 18,000 acres devoted to rice production in 1953, 288 mills produced 12,000 tons of rice. Coconuts, 40,000 acres under cultivation, 21,400 tons of copra valued $1,840,509, 1953. Cocoa 120,000 acres under cultivation produced 200,000 cwt., in 1954. Forest production reserves in 1953 were 49,000 acres; protection reserves, 194,900 acres; Teak plantation 7,000 acres. Timber production for 1954 all woods, 5,607,000, ft. Life stock population; 1954, cattle, 37,900, water buffaloes, 3,000, goats, 39,000, sheep, 5,000, swine, 35,000, horses, 2,400, mules,2,800, donkeys, 6,000, poultry, 1,134,244.
“Because of the perception that industrialisation by invitation was the motive force for growth and development, agricultural production in general received little emphasis. The combined result of these foreign policy strategies was that from being net exporters of food, Trinidad and Tobago became net importers of food from 1963.”
(Rosina Wiltshire-Brodber, Institute of International Relations, UWI. Excerpt from “The Independence Experience 1962–1987” by Selwyn Ryan (editor), p. 298)
Bhadase Sagan Maraj
Born in Caroni on 28 February 1919, losing his father as a lad of 13, he was looked after by loving relatives. Bhadase Sagan Maraj understood that education was the ticket to independence, first a Canadian Mission School in Caroni, later Pamphylian High School in P.O.S. As a young man he became a wrestler, set himself up as a contractor, by 1939 he was working for the U.S. Army on the Bases. He entered warehousing, he went into trucking. He became involved with the development of the residential area to be known as ‘Champs Fleurs’. Representing the Hindu Sanatam Dharma Association he travelled to the U.K. in 1949. He was elected President, Caroni East Indian Association and served as patron and member of several East Indian organisations. He entered politics and won the Tunapuna seat in the Legislative Council ‘handsomely’ in 1950. In 1952 he formed the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, a religious organisation which had as its goal the preservation of Hindu philosophy and possessed a political wing, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). A great wellspring of support rose about him. He was, however, not without detractors, who accused him of using his “Indianness” for political ends. It touched him, and he declared that he was a Hindu and could do nothing else but. He embarked on a school building programme. He became the leader of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in 1953. He passed the reins of leadership to Rudranath Capildeo in 1960.
His name is famous, in fact synonymous in the struggle for improvements in the lot of the working classes in Trinidad and Tobago. Born in Grenada in 1897, he worked as a telegraph clerk there and saw service in the West India Regiment in World War I. He came to Trinidad in 1921 and found employment in the oilfields, where he was injured on the job. He then became a Spiritual Baptist preacher. In 1936 he was expelled from the Trinidad Labour Party for his “extremist tendencies”. He formed the British Empire Citizens’ and Workers’ Home Rule Party. He was also the founder and President of the British Empire Workers and Ratepayers Trade Union. He was instrumental in the organisation of hunger marches in 1935 for the unemployed, taking the march into Port of Spain. He style was courageous and confrontational, and he fearlessly challenged the Imperial might of Great Britain. Organising workers in the oil industry, he led the oilfield strikes of 1937 for improved wages and better working conditions in which several workers as well as police officers were killed. As a result of these riots, a Royal Commission of Inquiry was held in 1938, resulting in some modest improvements in working conditions for workers on the whole. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Butler was interned on Nelson Island for alleged seditious practices and served 18 months for inciting to riot and sedition. Butler visited the United Kingdom in 1948 where he lectured, returning in 1950. He was elected to the Legislative Council 1950–1955 for St. Patrick West. He served as a member of the Standing Orders Committee. The Butler Party captured the largest block of seats in the Legislative Council, but the Governor of the day chose to exclude Butler, and instead Albert Gomes became the first Chief Minister. Butler is looked upon as the founding father of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) and the labour movement and is honoured with a statue in Fyzabad. He was awarded the Trinity Cross, the nation’s highest honour, in 1970. Butler passed away in 1977.
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