Trinidad at 50: Respect is due
TRINIDAD and Tobago, like Jamaica, is celebrating 50 years of political Independence, the two sister nations having achieved this life-changing milestone within a month of each other in 1962.
In the ensuing 50 years, the small energy rich two-island state has made considerable economic progress in the things that money can pay for, such as a good education system and infrastructure.
True, it has made less impressive strides in the area of social issues. But successive governments have managed the economy well by avoiding the excesses of public spending and corruption known as the 'Dutch Disease' which seem to habitually afflict oil-rich countries.
There is corruption, not on a scale to disrupt the public finances, but which concerns the casual acceptance of waste in the public sector and complacency towards prosecuting the offenders. But then, Trinidadians are a relaxed people who take Carnival seriously, having shared with the world their very formidable invention in the form of the "steel pan".
Trinidad and Tobago has used its energy resources astutely to develop a major raft of downstream industries at Point Fortin, including steel, petrochemicals and fertilisers. Indeed, the country of 1.3 million people is the leading producer of some of these products.
This has given the people a per capita income of US$20,300 and admirable self-confidence which, some critics argue, borders on self-importance when Trinidadians speak about brilliant sons like Brian Lara, Sir Trevor McDonald, Geoffrey Holder, Dwight Yorke and Peter Minshall. And, even at that, it is leavened by an unfailing sense of humour.
Despite Dr Eric William's now infamous exit-Federation declaration: "One from ten leaves zero", Trinidad has been a consistent supporter of regional cooperation and regional integration. The much maligned former Prime Minister Patrick Manning, for example, put considerable financial resources into the region through aid to St Vincent, Grenada and Guyana, knowing that it will never be repaid; and notice that T&T bought Air Jamaica instead of just waiting for it to be closed.
It is true that there is some self-interest as Jamaica, and to a lesser extent the rest of Caricom, is a market for T&T-manufactured goods. The role of lender of last resort in Caricom was thought to have ended when the current prime minister declared that the ATM cash machine was closed. But the country has been a good regionalist by its willingness to accommodate economic refugees from the region without the rancour of work permits and deportations. This open door policy has blessed them with the likes of the Mighty Sparrow and Paul Keens-Douglas.
The downside for the Trinidadians, not unlike other countries, is that despite its economic well-being, it struggles with the concept of nationhood, except for brief moments such as the euphoria of winning an Olympic gold medal. It is a country divided into separate ethnic tribes -- Africans and Indians -- with different cultures, religions, lifestyles and economic occupations.
The two strongest political parties are firmly based on race with token participation from the other racial groups. There has been insufficient progress in the abatement of racism because of the ethnic cleansing seemingly practised by successive governments.
On balance, though, Trinidad has much to celebrate. Respect is due and we will get something and wave as we hail our brothers and sisters in the land of the hummingbird.