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.