Dr. Kwame Nantambu

Chambers wasn't 'duncy' after all

Dr. Kwame Nantambu
January 16, 2008

George Chambers Second Prime Minister of TnT (1981 -1986) 
George Chambers,
Second Prime Minister of TnT (1981 -1986)
As Calypsonians put the final touches on their compositions for C2K8, it is apropos to relegate to the ash heap of TnT's political history, the notion that has been bandied about by some Calypsonians that as Prime Minister of TnT, George Chambers was "duncy." The fact of the matter is that such a notion is not rooted in historical/factual reality but rather in mythology and facetious fiction.

Truth Be Told:

Chambers never went to UWI
But he sure as hell have a doctorate in diplomacy
'Cause as Prime Minister of TnT
He stood up against mighty imperialist United States hegemony

The fact of the matter is that Prime Minister George Chambers did what current Prime Minister Patrick Manning would never even think about doing, namely, say "hell no" to United States geo-political pressure.

Indeed, the record reveals that as Prime Minister of TnT and Chairman of CARICOM, George Chambers totally refused to collude with the United States in the illegal, immoral and unconstitutional invasion of Grenada on 25 October 1983.

Prime Minister Chambers not only refused to be a willing house-servant participant in that unholy United States alliance but also rejected any role to destroy/abort Grenada's successful and globally respected people's Marxist revolution.

Since fellow CARICOM members knew that Chambers opposed the invasion, TnT was left out of the final so-called "urgent request" to U.S. President Ronald Reagan on 24 October 1983.

This is what Prime Minister Chambers stated in Parliament on 26 October 1983 (one day after the invasion): "to date, I have received no notification from any CARICOM member country of any intention to request assistance from the government of the United States to intervene militarily in Grenada nor have I been informed by any CARICOM member country that such a request had in fact been made."

History will record Chambers' action as a bold move rather than a "duncy" foreign policy decision. Prime Minister Chambers stood up against the might of the United States and for doing so, TnT paid the ultimate price -- retaliation from the United States.

The United States' retaliation against TnT occurred in November 1988 when the U.S.-controlled International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed severe, draconian "conditionality measures" on a US$100m loan to the government.

Then President of the Public Service Association (PSA), Dr. Kenrick "Gus" Rennie warned that his 65,000 member union was going to bear the brunt of the IMF-imposed drastic cuts in government (public sector) jobs.

In fact, in December 1988, the TnT government implemented the following IMF-imposed draconian budgetary measures: (1) a 10 per cent cut in the salaries of all public servants, (2) a slash in all government subsidies to public utilities (water, electricity, telephone, bus fares), (3) elimination of personal income tax relief and allowances, (4) house rates, taxes fire insurance and maintenance repairs no longer allowed, (5) reduction of corporation tax from a maximum of 49.5 per cent to a consolidation of 45 per cent, (6) abolition of tax-free bonds, credit union/co-op shares and Unit Trust deductions, (7) phased reduction of the Negative List, (8) non-charitable deeds of covenant on or before 23 January 1987 not allowed, (9) a limitation on employment expense deductions, (10) a 100 per cent increase in postage for all mail, internal and external and (11) whereas, in previous years, students attending the University of the West Indies did not pay any tuition, for the next two years beginning with the 1989 academic year, all students must now pay 10 per cent of their tuition costs.

Indeed, reaction by the citizenry was swift, vociferous and ferocious. Basdeo Panday said then that the 1989 budget "reeks of an IMF prescription" and will cause "massive retrenchment, unemployment and underemployment, resulting in a feeling of hopelessness in our young people, collapsing business in the private sector, escalating losses in private enterprises and a rising crime rate."

Moreover, public servants took to the streets to protest the government's undemocratic and unilateral action to cut their salaries by 10 per cent. They got support from the Council of Progressive Trade Unions (CPTU) who charged that the government's decision was an illegal interference with the free collective bargaining process and a violation of the International Labour Convention Numbers 98 and 154.

The CPTU pointed out that "the (1989) budget is the most exploitative and oppressive to have been imposed on the backs of workers, farmers, teachers, public servants, daily paid workers, small businesses, the underemployed and the middle-income workers in our society."

On 30 December 1988, the Trinidad labour movement began to organize a mass mobilization programme against the draconian budget. On 6 March 1989, a nation-wide "day of resistance" took place during which 82 per cent of workers in the public sector stayed away from work, 75 per cent of workers in the private sector refused to go to work and 65 per cent of teachers stayed home.

In addition, internationally recognized economist Dr. Karl Levitt reported that "there were, in fact, statistical irregularities in the IMF's Staff Report on the Trinidad and Tobago economy in 1986 and 1987" and that there might have been "deliberate manipulation of the statistical data in order to impose Fund (draconian) conditionalities" on TnT.

These IMF "conditionality measures" created social chaos, unrest and strife in TnT and represented a deliberate attempt by the United States government to destabilize the democratically-elected government of TnT for the principled foreign policy stance it took against the U.S. invasion of Grenada.

In the words of David Abdulah then Treasurer and Education Research Officer of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union of TnT during a radio interview on station WPFW 89.3 FM Washington, D.C., on 29 November 1988: "the IMF action against Trinidad and Tobago is a bit of a punishment for (the government's) stand against the U.S. government's invasion of Grenada."

Prime Minister George Chambers of TnT regarded the U.S. invasion of Grenada as a gross violation of the tenants of international law and a frontal attack against the national sovereignty of Grenada. And that was the most potent, principled and provocative foreign policy decision to make; it was not a "duncy" decision after all.

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies and University of the West Indies.

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