Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Racial Tension Rising To New Levels

Nesta Ellis

PORT OF SPAIN, Nov 22 1995 (IPS) - Two weeks after the first Indo- Trinidadian Prime Minister took over the reins of government in this twin-island republic the racial tension between Indians and Blacks has hit new levels.

The issue of race is being debated on talk shows, in bars, markets, taxis, on the streets — in effect, everywhere.

One caller to a talk show this week complained of the rise in the number of people using racial slurs casually. She said black children are being put at the back of classrooms and on the streets East Indians have been telling blacks in no uncertain terms to move over, as they now hold the reins of power.

“We are on top now, we go (we are going to) mash down all yuh (you) niggers,” one East Indian was heard shouting to a group of Afro-Trinidadians on the streets of Port of Spain.

Over the last 30 years Trinidad and Tobago has been ruled by Afro- Trinidadian prime ministers under the People’s National Movement (PNM) government, except for a brief five-year period between 1981 and 1986 when the National Alliance For Reconstruction (NAR), a party more reflective of the racial mix, held the reins of power.

The NAR party also had an Afro-Trinidadian as its head — then prime minister, Raymond Robinson.

So when 63-year-old Basdeo Panday, a Hindu and leader of the United National Congress (UNC) was sworn in as Prime minister, following the Nov. 6 election, the Trinidadians called it a historic occasion.

That election ended in dead heat with the PNM and the UNC each emerging with 17 seats with the remaining two seats going to the NAR.

Robinson quickly threw his weight behind the UNC to give Panday a two-seat majority in the House of Representatives. Panday has since named Robinson Minister Extraordinaire and his chief adviser. Political observers regard Robinson in this role as co-prime minister.

With the appointment of a predominantly Indo-Trinidadian cabinet, the perception of alienation which had been fostered among the Indian community in spite of their achievements in business and some professions is expected to disappear. The group has now achieved the highest elected office which had been denied them by 39 consecutive years of Afro-Trinidadian leadership in government.

The current President of this Republic is of Indian descent, as are five of the eight judges of the Court of Appeal.

A study conducted in 1992 on “Employment Practices in the Public and Private Sectors,” found that high prestige professions such as law and medicine were heavily peopled by Indo-Trinidadians.

In private enterprise the study found that 80 percent of the Syrian-Lebanese population occupied managerial positions, 57 percent of whites were in top positions, 39 percent of Chinese, 18 percent of mixed races, 13 percent of Indians and seven percent of Africans held top jobs.

Some observers are hoping that as people get accustomed to the change in leadership, the country will be able to move on beyond the race issue and get on with the business of economic development.

Noted newspaper columnist Ravi-ji says all the problems associated with race being experienced by the society are “growing pains” of a plural society. “Whether our plurality would become a curse or a blessing would depend on vision and resolve of all the people,” he says.

And while Panday is basking in his victory he says he is aware that “Trinidad and Tobago is a difficult country to govern because of its highly pluralistic nature, its diversity and its fragmentation.”

He has assured this country, population 1.2 million of which 41 percent is of East Indian descent and 39 percent are the descendants of African slaves, that the new government will put in place an Equal Opportunities Commission so that every case of discrimination can be thoroughly investigated..

Leader of the new political party, Movement for Unity and Progress, Hulsie Bhaggan, says the country has been given an opportunity to work together under “an umbrella of national government to bring the races together.”

To some, Panday signalled his intention to do just that when he appointed 15 Indo-Trinidadians to the cabinet, three Afro- Trainidadians, one Chinese and one member of European stock.

 
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Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Racial Tension Rising To New Levels

Nesta Ellis

PORT OF SPAIN, Nov 22 1995 (IPS) - Two weeks after the first Indo- Trinidadian Prime Minister took over the reins of government in this twin-island republic the racial tension between Indians and Blacks has hit new levels.
(more…)

 
Republish | | Print |

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