By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 04, 2020
In 1955 when I was growing up in Tacarigua Michael Kangalee, who lived in El Dorado, a nearby village, was one of my best friends. We attended Tacarigua A. C. School and were members of the St. Mary’s Anglican Church. As soon as the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) came into being we were forced to take sides. I supported the PNM and Michael supported the DLP.
Michael and I were twelve years old at the time. Our decisions were not based on any objective criteria or the virtues of each party. I did not read the PNM party’s brochure fully nor was I super informed about its ideology. I supported PNM because my mother, my neighbors, and our friends did. I suspect that Michael supported the DLP for similar reasons.
Over the years I came to believe that PNM was superior to the other parties that were formed during that period in terms of its political philosophy (that is, its nationalist ideology) and its practice (how it conducted governmental affairs). I have never swerved from that path or belief.
In 2015 I predicted PNM’s victory because I thought it was better equipped to govern than the UNC, DLP’s successor, which was mired in corruption (or so we were told) and wrong-headed in its political philosophy. I wrote: “One only has to cite Section 34, $30 million dollars given to work not performed, the wholesale arrests of black men on the pretense they had broken state of emergency laws, an obscene amount of money paid to lawyers by the former attorney general….
“Anyone hearing the cries of Gypsy, Dave Persad, Inshan Ishmael, or the dissident members of COP, can only conclude UNC has lost its way and ended up in the clutches of a narrow, partisan minority. Such a shameful internal coup d’état pushed Muslims and other dissenting elements in the party into closer political association with the PNM, a formula that ensured PNM’s victory in 1956 and 1961;”
I accused Kamla Persad-Bissessar of turning the PP coalition “into a one-woman directorate” and argued: “There is no doubt that the hostile, recalcitrant minority within the UNC has pushed the party to an extremism that is inconsistent with the progressive democratic traditions of Trinidadians and Tobagonians” (trinicenter.com, September 1, 2015.)
In 2020 UNC removed the negative forces within the party which allowed it to deal better with the aspirations of all Trinbagonians. Kamla emerged as a more mature leader with a broader national horizon although she should avoid specious generalizations. She is abled assisted by the energy, intelligence, and hard work of Jerlean John who will emerge as one of our next national leaders. UNC’s candidates are exciting.
I believe UNC is best prepared to deal with the challenges that face Black people today. I do not think Kamla and the UNC like Black people more than PNM leaders but her party would come to recognize that it is in her party’s (and the country’s) best self-interest to attend to the needs of its Black citizens.
Two days ago Robert Le Hunte referenced the disparities in the financial, justice, and educational sectors that keep Blacks at the bottom of the national ladder.
He writes: “Africans in Trinidad and Tobago do not enjoy the same levels of success as other ethnic groups….Confronting the current reality, however, is the only way meaningful change can be effected….Due to the way in which our society is structured, persons of African descent are often unable to access support systems that help members of other ethnic groups” (Express, July 31).
This raises the question: If the PNM failed to improve the conditions of Black people over the last umpteen years, what leads one to think it would confront these issues in a meaningful way over the next five years? This is a challenge with which UNC must come to grips.
Although PNM began as a movement that was cognizant of the needs of the under-class-Indians and Africans alike—over the years it has come to take the support of Black people for granted. One only has to look at the conditions under which many Black people in depressed communities live to recognize that they have not been the recipients of PNM’s loving and tender care.
Sixty years ago Williams and the PNM laid the foundation of modern T&T and set out to create a society in which every creed and race finds an equal place. Today, Kamla and the UNC have an opportunity to close the racial gap, enhance the well-being of Afro-Trinbagonians, make Indo-Trinbagonians feel more at home, and create a society in which there is increased national harmony.
I do not know where Michael is now, what his politics are, or which party he supports. After all these years I hope he has made his political choices based on the quality of the party, what it represents, how it treats his group, and what it means for the future of our society.
I remain a member of PNM but membership of this great institution demands more than blind loyalty. In this day and time, no one should vote for policies that ensure one’s enslavement. One should support what’s in the best interest of one’s group and the society at large. Habit should not be the major criteria for supporting a party.
The election of UNC to office on August 10 offers our society an opportunity to move a step closer to making it more whole which is why I support UNC this time around. I hope UNC constructs a comprehensive program that speaks to the needs of its Black citizens.