Staining the Soul of Our Nation

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 15, 2014

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeTo hear Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Anand Ramlogan tell it, one would think that August 12, 2014, was a red-letter day for Trinidad and Tobago’s democracy. They seem to indicate that somehow our society realized one of its brightest moments when the PP voted legislation to recall parliamentary representatives after three years of service if the needs arises, to creating time limits for the prime minister and, most important, to require that each parliamentary representative receive more than 50 percent of the votes cast at a general election though not necessarily more than 50 percent of the total voters of that constituency. Although I have no problems with the first two resolutions, I don’t know what democratic magic occurs when 50.1 percent rather than 49.50 percent of a constituency votes for a candidate of their choice.

Yet, in all of the heart-wrenching debate no one told us why this magic number is supposed to deepen our democracy and lead to a more just and caring society. Commentators drew on examples from France, although we never stormed the Bastille or experienced the savagery of a Robespierre; examples from the United States although we never experienced a Civil War or the wrenching trauma of a Civil Rights struggle; nor as in England, where a Seven Years War and an Industrial Revolution shaped much of its history. All we are told is that the measures taken by our government are good for us because they have been adopted in part or whole by France, the United States, and England.

While there might be some relevance in those examples to our society–we don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel–the nurturing of democracy has more to do with the specific needs of a society, how we draw on our history and its culture, and how, as Gypsy says, we seek to safeguard “the soul of our nation.”

This is why I am always so troubled that whenever we launch into a discussion of the future possibilities of our nation it seems we can never look any farther than Eric Williams and the PNM as though our political history began in 1955 and everything that happened before then is of little importance to our conversation. It almost seems as though two hundred and seventeen years of political history (I prefer to begin our history in 1797) have nothing to teach us as we seek to move our nation into new phases of social development.

As I listened to the PM and the AG discuss the glories of this new paradise, I recalled a debate that took place in our Legislative Council on November 2, 1848, as the ruling elite, under the leadership of Charles Warner, the attorney general, sought to convince us that the enslavement of East Indians was necessary for the strengthening of the island’s wellbeing (we were then a colony of England) and the material progress of the island.

Among other things, Warner’s legislation bounded Indians to their estates; set their workday from sunrise to sunset except some time for meals; demanded that Indians receive a pass from their master before they left their plantation; be imprisoned with hard labor for any wilful neglect of work or disobedience; and other such demeaning aspects. Believing in the righteousness of his position, Warner declared: “So far as this system may be open to the objection of coercion I will not be deterred by objections.”

It took the courage of John Scoble, the secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, to point out the cruelty of this legislation; the undue haste under which it was undertaken (it was passed in a day); its similarity to the slave codes, and why its adoption would throw the society back into slavery “under the pretense of organizing an efficient system of labor in the island.” Having no other alternative, Scoble wrote to Earl Grey, the secretary of state, demanding that the government withdraw this pernicious piece of legislation from the law books.

There is no doubt that the legislation Warner passed was not in the interest of the laboring population, “whether Creole or immigrant,” as Scoble noted. Yet, Warner was certain that such legislation was in the benefit of the laboring population because it regulated their terms of employment and made it easier for the planters to extract their surpluses. I am sure that if Errol McCloud and his legislative colleagues were around they would have given their stamp of approval to such a noble bit of legislation.

Any legislation that seeks to deepen our democracy must possess one cardinal virtue: it must bind our people together and create one nation out of diverse loyalties. Demanding a Parliamentary representative receive more than 50 percent of the votes cast does not reach the threshold of what constitutes real rather than formal democracy. Trinidad would not necessarily be more democratic if five or even ten of our parliamentary representatives received less than 50 percent of the votes cast during any given election.

Democracy is a process where dialogue, consensus, and trust are more indicative of its strengths than the number of votes a candidate receives. A strong man in an autocratic society who gets 95 percent of the vote does not reflect a more democratic state than someone who receives 61 percent of the votes in an open society. Democracy is not diminished if, in a race of three or more candidates, the winning candidate receives less that 50 percent of the votes.

I do not know how the Senate will vote when it debates the motion on August 26. I would hope that it votes against this renegade piece of legislation that seeks to divide rather than bring our society together. Yet, I have so much faith in my nation that whatever the Senate does come June 2015 the PP will fade into the sunset, just another aberration that sought to take us back to a servile past.

13 Responses to “Staining the Soul of Our Nation”


  • Instead of beating up on the PM and AG I thought the goodly professor would have presented instances where this has not work. Some 92 nations use the “run off” system have they all failed and become undemocratic as a result of it?

    The “run off” system in my view can work for either major or minority parties in Tnt. No party will have a monopoly on it because there is now a strong “floating vote” component in the politics of tnt. This has been shown from the sound trashing the historical PNM party got in at least 2 General Elections.

    The Indians in tnt were once “recalcintrant” according to Eric but the current PNM youth leader “Fitzy” believes the same today. So where is the threat to democracy? The PNM values the “run off” enough to put it in their Constitution, surely the goodly professor do not see that as undemocratic! His article is filled is based on past diatribe thinking and lacks any kind of intellectual depth. Too PNM if I may say so.

    Indians considered to be “recalcintrant

  • I just got one question for the learned doctor.Did you get your doctorate courtesy of the pnm?

  • There are a number of events occuring in T&T which demonstrate the desperation of the PNM and its supporters to accept reality. When the largest minority in any society emerges, their presence cannot be denied.Their culture, language and social complexity cannot be denied. This is simply a matter of human rights.If this group gains political power, they should also be totally aware of the rights of other minority groups within the society and country.
    It seems that some Africans are willing to accept Indians in T&T only if they assimilate fully into what is traditionally known as Trinidad “culture”. But, as Kian often states, if they perpetuate their pagan religions, they do not belong. Again, freedom of religion, culture, language and movement are all tenets of the UN declaration.
    The Indian presence is a fact of life in T&T.There are many political activities going on in T&T to destablise the government which is perceived as an Indian government, although it is a coalition representing all ethnicities.The job actions of the Public service is the prime example. The rampant rumors of “who thief” is another glaring example. These rumors are grossly exaggerated and are also being spread by the PNM infused media. When challenged to bring the evidence, nothing happens.Daily demands are being made from this government involving issues on which there was total silence during the PNM years.

  • “Democracy is a process where dialogue, consensus, and trust are more indicative of its strengths than the number of votes a candidate receives.”

    Since independence could the goodly professor educate the public when this happened.

    “A strong man in an autocratic society who gets 95 percent of the vote does not reflect a more democratic state than someone who receives 61 percent of the votes in an open society.”

    Is he saying we have had autocratic governance as opposed to democratic governance in the past??

  • May the highly educated, learned doctor explain to me what is “an open society.” (I’m just an uneducated recalcintrant south of the Caroni river person).

  • Prof Cudjoe’s myopia…from T&T Patriots
    Story Created: Aug 18, 2014 at 8:57 PM ECT

    Prof Selwyn Cudjoe argues in the Express (August 14) that Trinidad has 217 years of political history. Why that number? Because, says the distinguished professor, “I prefer to begin our history in 1797.”
    In other words, with the British conquest of the island. If myopia is the inability to see over long distances, the good professor seems to suffer from that ailment. Certainly, professor Cudjoe is entitled to his opinion, but just as certainly he is not entitled to a self-satisfying interpretation of the facts. I invite him to consider just one critical pre-British fact: major elements of the island’s culture were already in gestation before the 1797 conquest.
    Consider the following: (1) The role and influence of an unusually tolerant Roman Catholic church was already established. It still is the single largest religion on the island. (2) The syntax and cadence of the way we speak—first in Spanish, then French, then Creole (patois) and only later English, was established. (3) Proportionally the largest group of propertied and educated “free coloured” was already established. They would become the bedrock of the local political culture. (4) Trinidad, next to Venezuela, had the most advanced cultivation of cacao, crucial in the development of the island’s agriculture. (5) The French introduced the Carnival which counter-reformation Spain never had. How many cultural traits have spun off from this festival, including our sense of humour (picong and mamaguay).
    Finally, it was the presence of a self-conscious elite which stopped the British from doing what they had done everywhere else: founding an “established church.” We might want to consider that this was the origin of the religious tolerance which fortunately still characterises Trinidad’s society.
    I know that Prof Cudjoe would be willing to consider some of these points as a way of correcting his deficient historical vision.

    Dr Anthony P Maingot
    via e-mail
    http://www.trinidadexpress.com/letters/Prof-Cudjoes-myopia-271764081.html

  • http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/PM-No-Indian-takeover-271774231.html

    Would someone tell this woman, and her handlers ,to quit tinkering with our sacred constitution, and instead focus on issues citizens really care about?
    Jobs creation for a start, which is almost non existant under her regime.
    How about curbing crimes, and blatant corruption, cronyism, neo tribal purges, and political fractionalism , which has become the norm ,since Jack Warner, his cousin Winston Peters,as well as others of’ historically maligned nation,’helped her ascend the throne, after ending Basdeo her ca mentor career?
    Hey Kamla, if you and your UNC dominant party wish to do something meaningful in the few months ‘you allzs’ hold political sway, how about pushing to abolish that anachronistic Privy Council, and push to elevate our CCJ-thus ensuring, equal playing field justice, for those with limited means, unable to affors Ramwsh Lawrence Maraj legal fees?
    How about starting a poor peoples agenda?Women and children in this country ,are waiting for the country’s first female PM, to show some love to them, beyond empty rhetorical mantras.
    Citizens that voted for you, would like to see that racially divisive spiritual adviser Of yours , in de octogenarian Sat, buried in some Muslim controlled nursing home in Wallerfield, or better yet, Los Bajos, and equitable distribution of our country’s wealth begin.
    Make these things happen, and you might prevent the PNM Westmoorings Wajang ,from becoming the next PM in this land.
    I luv dis land , Y tu?

    • The man who wrote the Constitution the former now deceased President said the Constitution had to be change to accommodate present reality…know your history Mr Neal.

      • Yeah mamboo, but not by a political lightweight/neophyte,and her one term government, with ulterior motives.
        As for knowing history?You and kind ,should look in the mirror, for if ‘YOU ALLZS,’ had your way, dem White , evils conniving, -Euro -British massa, would still be ruling this land.

        Tell your leader to first learn to play chess ,before embarking once more,on disingenuous , politically driven gestures, no one is buying.
        Trust me when I say, I am no fan of the Tobago despising , one time PNM leader, Patrick Manning, but unlike ANR, who allowed her to sully his reputation, by naming a rickety Crown Point Airport after him, or accept a bogus 1990 , Islamist Coup report ,on his lap before passing, he Manning, instead ,made a Brian Lara like swing to the boundry of her lame full toss.
        Ummm, CHECKMATE ….’well done thou good and faithful servant,’ for if Auntie K , vindictive,lifelong mentor, could give the symbolic middle finger , to the ANR family, by declining to go to the Tobago born ,globally admired Statesman funeral, then Patios was equally correct, in telling her what to do with her cheapened award.

        http://m.guardian.co.tt/news/2014-08-22/former-pm-declines-top-national-award
        Let me guess . It’s only a few months before our next election, and ‘Her Madjesstrick Queen K,’is about to show her sudden admiration of Global Afro Kinky Head Nation,’by wearing one of Makandal Dagga, Dashikis, for the next 8 months.
        Oh better yet,she is about to sign a decree that every child born in T&T, must have the name Mandela, as a second name, and the soon to be completed, Couva trillion dollars hospital, would be named the Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler, in honor of the Grenadian born labor giant.

        I have said it once , twice, three times my lady, but it’s still worth repeating ,for the benefit of country bozos such as this Mayaro drunkard, call Mamoo-‘de person who can make me hate dis land , ain’t born yet, hmmmmm?

        Long live the Republic of T&T!
        Stay vigilant people!

  • Some of the criticisms that this lady has borne since taking over the reins of this country are unjustifiable.

    ‘curbing crimes, and blatant corruption, cronyism, neo tribal purges, and political fractionalism’, was this absent from former ruling regimes?

    Some of the gut wrenching blogs spell more about fear of perpetual ‘Indian rule’? Why should this be?

    http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/PM-No-Indian-takeover-271774231.html

  • TMAN Wtote “It seems that some Africans are willing to accept Indians in T&T only if they assimilate fully into what is traditionally known as Trinidad “culture”. But, as Kian often states, if they perpetuate their pagan religions, they do not belong. Again, freedom of religion, culture, language and movement are all tenets of the UN declaration

    And it seem to me that Indians are only willing to accept Africans if they accede the role of the traditionally oppressed castes in their mother land India. That represents the fundamental praxis in the perspective presented by TMAN, Mamoo, Kangal and many others. What they wish to see places like T&T and Guyana become, is a facsimile of India Bollywood, where the dark people are marginalized, and those who by their traditional cultural and religious interpretations of the superiority and inferiority of peoples, are considered superior, become Lords of the Manor. Aint gonna happen.

    The Government is not perceived as an Indian Government, it is an Indian Government. It is a Government influenced by a cultural belief system that Indians should be always in front, and Africans always at the back. The unwillingness of Africans to accept this kind of social stratification has become an anathema to the Indianist like those frequent this blog demanding that Africans accept their definition of the PNM and their definition of the PP. They are so ideologued in their thinking, much like the slave master who they aspire to replace in this Caribbean region, that they have the hubris to assert that the PNM was an African Government while challenging the position of Africans that the PP is an Indian Government.

    There are very few solid evidence of racial hubris than the assumption that you have the right and privilege to define your experiences and the experiences of others.

  • As we move and observe the cooperative and accepting interactions between Trinboganians of all races, we wonder what the hell people like Rodwell are talking about. All of this ideology.racial hubris and attempted oppression of which he speaks is absent from the everyday interactions of the people of T&T. The fastest growing sector of the population of T&T is the mixed race group, representing over 23% of the population. Applying the racial constructs of Guyana, India and the US to T&T is misconceived and faulty.As I sit here in Trincity mall observing people come and go, I am confident that every creed and race will find an equal place. Watching Trinis of all races interact is a beautiful thing. We do not need race merchants like Rodwell and the gangs of politicians from both sides trying to divide and conquer.

  • It is you who needs to get your head out of your rear-end T Man, if you naively think that you have a racially integrated society, simply because Trinis are making more ethnically confused, mixed race kids.
    One reality, has nada to do with the other.
    On a more important note, one must ask the following question:- Just when would the political comedians that comprise the COP , quit trying to do the impossible ….ummm ,’trying to have their cake and eat it?’

    http://m.guardian.co.tt/news/2014-08-26/axe-praks

    Hey guys, since you have long ago come to the conclusion ,that most politically astute Trinis recognized a long time ago…..ummmm, dat the folks that dominate the PP, in dem UNC , are a set of self serving, country hating bandits-then why not pack your bags, and leave, instead of holding your nose , while fully supporting their repeated political follies?
    Forget about ‘dem eathafooder traitors ,’ such as Winston Deosaran , disgraced weed head MP.Anil Roberts, and the un-electable,clueless, obnoxious AG, we are unfortunately still stuck with.
    End the stupid Alliance charade, and help save your country!
    Karl Hudson Phillips must be turning over in his grave, to see what became of his ONR dream, ennnt?

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