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OUR CARIBBEAN: A sad division for Trinis’ 50th freedom year

Rickey Singh

OUR CARIBBEAN: A sad division for Trinis’ 50th freedom year

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In my article on the “Eric Williams factor” in Trinidad and Tobago as a 50-year-old independent nation, (published in the DAILY NATION, August 30), I chose to avoid mentioning an intended boycott by the People’s National Movement (PNM) of the official re-enactment of the historic flag-raising ceremony on the night of August 31, 1962 in Port of Spain.
My hope of such an occurrence being cancelled in favour of a government/opposition demonstration of national unity – out of respect for the patriot-historian Williams and Father of the Nation, and consistent with its national motto: “Together we Aspire, Together we Achieve” – was, while aware that in party politics all things are possible, it was difficult to imagine the party founded and led by Williams, who headed successive governments in Port of Spain for almost a quarter century before his death in office in 1981, would have done such a dishonour to the memory of the “Great Leader”.
After all, Williams was passionate in his recurring reminder that the multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multicultural citizens of the nation had the same and only “mother” – Trinidad and Tobago. But the ethnic/political division was allowed to surface, as happened on the night of August 31, 2012 by the opposition PNM under the leadership of Keith Rowley.
As today’s leader of the PNM Rowley, may have created unnecessary political problems for himself by influencing the party into boycotting the official ceremony. Rowley would have been just 13 years old when Williams led the nation into independence.         
But 50 years later, and against the backdrop of quite significant political, social and economic changes – including a “Black Power Revolution”; transforming T&T into a constitutional republic and its emergence as CARICOM’s dominant trade and economic partner – the PNM under Rowley’s leadership, chose to do its own political thing in preference to participating in the official programme marking the nation’s golden jubilee of political freedom.
Whatever real or perceived deficiencies there may have been in the planning and execution of the official programme by the People’s Partnership government for the historic occasion, a demonstration of social/political divisiveness should not have been an option for the PNM. But that was the case.
Rowley had told the local media that the PNM had no time for “feteing”. The party went on to stage its own re-enactment of the flag-raising ceremony of 1962 with the claim that the government had blanked his party’s overtures since March last year for collaboration in staging an appropriate national ceremony.
I cannot recall any of the previous leaders of the PNM betraying a divisive inclination for any national event to commemorate the birth of T&T as an independent nation.
And, at the risk of being proven wrong, I think former long-serving PNM leader and Prime Minister Patrick Manning – currently recovering from illness – may have disagreed, if necessary, with aspects of the official programme but would have strongly resisted any suggestion of a separate flag-raising ceremony by the party of Eric Williams, “Father of the Nation”.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.