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Trinidad and Tobago Prime Ministers Since 1962 The First Dr. Eric Williams TC, CH

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Dr. Eric Eustace Williams often hailed as the Father of the Nation of Trinidad and Tobago was that country’s first prime minister. He led the nation from the failed West Indies Federation to independence in 1962.

Williams, like Jamaica’s Norman Manley, was a strong federalist but also a man of vision and common sense. When Jamaicans voted in a referendum in 1961 to leave the federation, Williams famously calculated one from ten equals zero and shortly after announced Trinidad and Tobago would also be leaving the former ten-nation federation.

Williams, a noted Caribbean historian, served as prime minister from 1962 until his death in 1981.

The People’s National Movement (PNM), led by Williams, won the general election in December 1961 by a landslide. Williams became premier of the colony and later prime minister of the new nation when it gained independence on August 31, 1962. He was instrumental in the country becoming a republic in 1976.

As prime minister, Williams practiced “pragmatic socialism,” a policy that focused on social services, improved education, and economic development through the cautious attraction of foreign investment capital. The policy made Trinidad and Tobago the wealthiest nation in the Commonwealth Caribbean in the 1970s. He was successively reelected in subsequent elections and served as prime minister until his sudden death in 1981.

One memorable aspect of Williams’s tenure was the growth of the Black Power movement, which infiltrated the nation from the USA in the 1970s.

Between 1968 and 1970, the Black Power movement, which started at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine campus, gained strength in Trinidad and Tobago.

Led by Geddes Granger, the National Joint Action Committee joined with trade unionists led by George Weekes of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union and Basdeo Panday, then a young trade-union lawyer and activist.

Sensing the influence of what seemed like a national movement, Williams, following a display of the Black Power movement in the 1970 TNT Carnival, went on radio to declare, “I am for Black Power.” He introduced a five percent levy to fund employment and established the first locally owned commercial bank.  This intervention had minor impact on the protests.

However, a series of events led to a State of Emergency, a Cabinet shake-up, and mutiny. On April 3, 1970, police killed a protester, then on April 13, A.N.R. Robinson, Member of Parliament for Tobago East, resigned. By April 18, sugar workers were on strike, and a general strike loomed. Williams responded by calling a State of Emergency on April 21 and arrested 15 Black Power leaders.

Members of the Trinidad and Tobago Defense answered with mutiny, taking hostages at the army barracks at Teteron. The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard contained the revolt, and the mutineers surrendered on April 25.

Williams, however, still tried to identify himself with the Black Power movement. He reshuffled his cabinet and removed three ministers, including two white members and three senators.

Despite his support for the Black Power movement and the country’s Black population, Dr. Eric Eustace Williams is remembered not only for the positive economic gains made in Trinidad and Tobago during his tenure but for being a bridge between the Black and Indian populations in the country.

 

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