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Correcting the historical record

Trinidad Express / Since I began writing this column many years ago I have made it a point not to respond to criticism, whether positive or negative, of anything that I write. The reason is simple. My main purpose in writing these articles is not only to present a particular point of view but to do so in a way which excites critical thinking on the part of the reader. So if my readers are moved to agree with, or to refute, anything that I have written, and to put pen to paper to do so, then as far as I am concerned, it is a case of mission accomplished. There have been however a few occasions on which I have gone against this policy. This is when I am challenged, not on the basis of my analyses or conclusions but on the veracity of the “facts” I have cited. In such instances I have hastened to investigate whether the challenge is valid or not and if it is then to unreservedly amend my statements. Such an instance occurred last week. My article last week was about the deep roots of authoritarian culture in the People’s National Movement (PNM). In support of that position I cited Dr William’s statements and behaviour in what has come to be known as the Patrick Solomon affair. I even went so far as to quote from The Mighty Sparrow’s calypso on the matter. Then I got a call from a reader to tell me that I was wrong and that what I had cited was at variance with the actual historical sequence of events. I am satisfied first, that the correction does not do material damage to the gist of my argument in the article. I am satisfied, second, that my depiction of the events of that period was incorrect, for which I apologise to all my readers. And finally I am also satisfied that so important is the corrected version of those events to the understanding of the political evolution of the PNM and of the country as a whole that it is incumbent upon me to present the full, now verified, facts. I had written in my article last week that “Back in 1964 Patrick Solomon, the then, PNM minister of home affairs, went into a police station where his stepson had been detained and ordered the police to release the boy. His action in so doing precipitated a huge outcry in the country for him to be removed. “ So far so true. However Dr Eric Williams did not, as I wrote last week, refuse “to dismiss Solomon from the cabinet”. In fact Dr Solomon had tendered his resignation to Dr Williams and Dr Williams was happy to accept it if only because Dr Solomon was one of those cabinet members whose political career and political support antedated the formation of the PNM and who therefore posed a threat to Dr William’s dominance. But Dr Williams’ apparent willingness to accept the resignation was met with strong resistance from within the party. Resistance came first from certain party elders, but the strongest resistance came from the members of the Port of Spain West constituency which was Dr Solomon’s constituency. Faced with this intense political pressure from within the party, Dr Williams finally determined that he could not accept the resignation. But in his inimitable fashion, when he made the announcement that he was not accepting the resignation and that he was bringing Dr Solomon back into the cabinet, he made it seem as though this was his decision and his alone and those who did not like it could “get the hell out of here”. This correction to the historical record is exceedingly important for a number of reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, it indicates that back in 1964 the party was still stronger than the Maximum Leader. Some of us may be too prone to accepting Dr Williams’ style and tone of speaking as evidence of the political reality and of paying too little heed to the very real democratic forces operating beneath the surface of the party. Second, it reminds us that the emergence of Maximum Leadership within the party was not an event but was a process over time, a process which had several facets. By 1971 Dr Williams could boast that “When I say come, they cometh and when I say go they goeth.” But perhaps the most significant development in this process came in 1975 when at a party convention Dr Williams launched a scathing attack on the Public service. Reggie Dumas has written that the effect of this ferocious attack on what Dr Williams had termed “a small group of ambitious senior civil servants”, was that “the Public Service has not recovered from this assault on its leadership. It pulled in its horns, and politicians gratefully exploited this new diffidence, thus weakening it further to the detriment of the country…” What we should note is that the Public Service, at that time, was led by a cadre of highly intellectual, highly professional and highly responsible men and women including people like Doddridge Alleyne, Frank Rampersad and Eugenio Moore. The Public Service, led by persons such as these, constituted at that time a significant part of the structure of checks and balances against unbridled political power. Indeed it might well be argued that the moment Dr Williams succeeded in “mashing-up” the public service was the moment of the apotheosis of his Maximum Leadership. I am grateful to the reader for bringing my error to my attention. I stand corrected.

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