Trinidad & Tobago has yet to totally fulfill the promise of independence or the vision of its founding father, the late Dr. Eric Williams, says Erica Williams-Connell, the daughter of the twin-island republic’s first prime minister.
In a tribute to her dad at the T & T Heritage Group gala last Saturday night to observe the country’s 50th independence anniversary, the youngest of Dr. Williams’ children pulled no punches, saying the country has failed to fulfill his mandate of nation-building as it celebrates its golden anniversary.
T & T achieved independence on August 31, 1962.
“While Eric Williams was alive and, arguably, at no time since, Trinidad & Tobago owed its unrivalled reputation of harmony to the apparent ability of a number of races, colours and creeds to live together in relative tranquillity.
“Since my father’s demise, however, the ugly spectre of race has consistently raised its head in our polyglot society with existing tensions exacerbated as political parties often seek to stake out their ethnic turf and to emphasize our differences rather than to celebrate our similarities,” said Williams-Connell.
She reminded the audience that it was her father who proposed the idea of establishing a chair in Indian Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), where he was the pro-chancellor. The Indian government still provides a scholar for the chair, established in 1966.
Williams-Connell also said her father was responsible for the inclusion of African and Latin American Studies courses at UWI and it was his People’s National Movement (PNM) administration that introduced national religious holidays for Muslims and Hindus.
“Today, while we have not yet experienced the violent conflicts rife in some countries, race appears to perpetuate every aspect of the society and in a manner not evidenced in Eric Williams’ era.
“Now, politicians routinely play the race card for their own end and with a flagrant disregard for the consequences of their actions. Now, depending on which political party is in the ascendancy, you will undoubtedly hear the mantra, ‘is we time now’, a vulgar reference to the notion ‘it’s our turn to be on top’,” said Williams-Connell.
Williams-Connell also listed other factors which she said her father would not be proud of as the twin-island republic marks its golden jubilee independence anniversary.
“Crime continues to spiral out of control in excess of one murder a day in a country with a population of 1.3 million, our culture is being eroded at every turn, particularly in the declining standards of carnival and the art form that is calypso and mediocrity is the order of the day, be it in politics, leadership or services,” she said.
An Oxford graduate and assistant professor at Howard University, Dr. Williams returned to T & T in 1955 and a year later formed the PNM, which won the national elections that year. Williams served as the country’s Chief Minister for three years until 1959, premier for another three years and Prime Minister from independence to 1981, when he died in office.
Trinidad & Tobago-born, New York-based singer and recording artist, Carol Addison-Lewis, paid tribute to Williams at the event, which was attended by former prime minister, Basdeo Panday, former senator Canute Spencer, Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary, Orville London and T & T Consul General, Dr. Vidhya Gyan Tota-Maharaj.
Former Ontario minister, Dr. Alvin Curling, MPP Bas Balkissoon and Senator Don Meredith also took part in the celebration.
“Over the past 50 years, Trinidad & Tobago has demonstrated both a sense of vision and creativity which has positioned the country as a recognized leader in the Caribbean region,” said Meredith. “As a nation, you have much to be proud of…Your vast amounts of natural resources will be needed over the coming years as the region and world turn to T & T as a strong energy partner.”
Calypsonian, The Mighty Sparrow, headlined the event’s entertainment, which also included Anselm Douglas and calypsonians Macomere Fifi, Connector, Jayson Perez and Dick Lochan.
By RON FANFAIR