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The Great Betrayal

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 10, 2017

PART 1 - PART 2 - PART 3

I don't know where Keith Rowley, Colm Imbert, Stuart Young, Rohan Sinanan, Kazin Hosein, Faris Al-Rawi, Camile Regis-Robinson, Franklin Khan and Fitzgerald Hines were on April 22, 1960, but I was in Woodford Square when Dr. Eric Williams, in the presence of thousands of Trinbagonians, burned "the seven deadly sins of colonialism." As he dropped each document (including the constitutions of Trinidad and Tobago and the West Indies, the 1941 UK-US Chaguaramas Agreement, and a Democratic Labor Party statement on race) into an open fire near to the bandstand, he declared: "I consign it to the flames...to hell with it."

After this dramatic performance, Dr. Williams read out a five-point memorial that called for full internal self-government for T&T, an independent Federation of the West Indies, revision of the 1941 base agreement, and a return of Chaguaramas from the United States for the West Indian federal capital and use of Trinbagonians.

After his "hell-burning" performance as the Trinidad Guardian called it, Dr. Williams stepped down from the bandstand and raised the flags of T&T and the West Indies, symbolizing our "freedom in fact, if not in law." Then "in one of the biggest political demonstrations seen in Trinidad estimated to be a mile or more in length comprising many [60,000] thousands people, copies of the memorial were presented to the Governor-General of the West Indies, the Governor of T&T, and the US Consul-General. The memorial was dispatched to Washington yesterday evening" (Trinidad Guardian, April 23, 1960).

Eric William struggled to revise the UK-US base agreement and to have Chaguaramas returned to Trinidad. He faced opposition at home and abroad. I am concerned with the opposition he received from home. The editor of the Trinidad Guardian (the Guardian was one of the seven deadly sins) described Dr. Williams as "a Hitler" in the making. He noted: "If there are seven deadly sins in the Premier's estimation which are keeping back this country, there is one sin more deadly and one sinner it is needless to name. He sits in high places where his deeds unfortunately belie his lofty station. Like a certain gentleman named Schicklgruber [Hitler's father] he works on emblems, rituals and other devices to bewitch and befuddle the masses. Schicklgruber also burnt documents and books in public, though we have no record of his declaring 'To hell with it.'" (April 23).

Albert Gomes also criticized Dr. Williams fiercely. He accused him of having a "love-hate" relationship with the US and argued that he was "incapable of balanced judgment...Not satisfied with having done his best to create confusion and disarray in Trinidad and Tobago, he is seeking to extend his mischief into the [West Indian] Federation" (Trinidad Guardian, March 29, 1960). He stopped short of calling Dr. Williams a psychopath.

The DLP agreed that Chaguaramas "must be returned to Trinidad" in a legal, "civilized manner, and within the bounds of decent international obligations" (Trinidad Guardian, April 17, 1960). Dr. Rudranath Capildeo, leader of the DLP, believed his party should have been consulted on the issue thereby enabling the country to present a united front.

The DLP had a rather limited vision of what should be done if Chaguaramas was returned to its citizens. Theirs were primarily security concerns. It recognized Chaguaramas's tourist potentials but suggested that the American authorities should release as much land as possible "without impairing the efficiency of the base." It believed that Trinidad and West Indian personnel should be integrated with the American personnel "for the maintenance and operation of the base." In short, it (the DLP) believed that nothing should be done to anger the Americans.

Dr. Capildeo opposed the march. He believed it was an inappropriate way to achieve the return of Chaguaramas. He wrote that the march had been called "by one political party, and because it has done so it expects the other party to follow simply because it says the march is national." DLP would have nothing to do with it. Still, he hoped no harm came "to the many fine people who are to be found in the ranks of the People's National Movement."

Before the march began a Shouter Baptist devotee dressed in white scurried through the crowd with a wreath. She laid "a shrouded statuette, with flowers and a balisier" in front of the speakers' platform. After the march ended a groundnuts vendor picked up a discarded placard from the pavement, wiped it with her dress and a white handkerchief afterwards (Guardian, April 23). This was her sacred memento of the day.

When the groundnuts vendor and the Shouter Baptist devotee sanctified that national liberation day and blest it with their presence, they never believed a day would come when the land for which they fought so gallantly would be given back to the oppressor class, albeit local, for thirty pieces of silver. They could not have foreseen a new Keith Rowley PNM would resurrect the seventh sin that Dr. Williams "sent to hell in his personal 'Black Mass'" (Trinidad Guardian, April 23, 1960) to ensure their enslavement once more.

Dr. Williams must be crying in his grave! Dr. Capildeo might be offering him his sympathies.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is scudjoe@wellesley.edu. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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