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'Disturbances' of the 1970s

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By Leslie
Posted: June 13, 2004

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Despite the success of the PNM at the polls in 1971, its government nearly went bankrupt a mere two years later. Distressed about the ominous state of affairs and the multiple strikes that followed, Williams resigned in 1973. Karl Hudson-Phillips was nominated to succeed him, but Williams reassumed leadership later that same year.

Although there was broad-spectrum dissatisfaction with the government, the PNM won the 1971 election (all 36 seats) largely due to the disunity of the Action Committee of Democratic Citizens, the opposition camp. In fact, the PNM has been in power more than any other political party in Trinidad and Tobago. Thus, it seems that most of the protest was directed at Dr. Eric Williams rather than at the government itself. It is ironic, therefore, that he is the most idolized and esteemed intellectual leader emanating from Trinidad and Tobago today. Foreign companies still control the local industries.

Despite the Black Power movement's efforts, it failed to topple the PNM or significantly alter the colonial attitudes of the government. The oil boom assisted in weakening the efforts of the Black Power Movement because it provided the PNM with sufficient finances to deal with certain economic issues in the country. This distracted the population from the objectives of Black Power.

The Black Power movement also sought to rebel against the authorities by going against their divide and rule strategy. They rallied for racial unity between the Africans and East Indians in Trinidad and Tobago. Both the East Indians and Africans were subject to racism and discrimination of all sorts from the white capitalists and the PNM regime. The Black Power movement believed that East Indians should join in the struggle to have their issues addressed. They well understood that East Indians comprised a numerically formidable class that would benefit the struggle. However, most East Indians distanced themselves from the Black Power struggle. Trinidad and Tobago remained racially divided to a large extent and ruled by the same oppressive systems. According to Dr Kumar Mahabir, "only a handful of Indians took an active part" in the Black Power revolution in 1970. He cited sociologist Mahin Gosine's comment that Black Power didn't mean much to Indians. One Indian informant in Gosine's book 'East Indians and Black Power in the Caribbean' states: "Black Power didn't mean anything to me because I am not Black. When they say 'Black Power' here, they only mean 'Negro Power'". Gosine concluded that Black Power was, in fact, a movement for Black, African People to "return to their cultural roots, to reject White domination, and to seize political power through revolutionary struggle." The East Indians, who saw the revolutionary effort as being beneficial to African people only, looked on from the sideways. The divide and conquer policy of the whites thus remained the order of the society.

In retrospect, the so-called "disturbances" of the 1970's did in fact challenge the authorities, but only to a limited extent. Unlike the Black Panther Party and other radical groups in North America, the protestors in Trinidad and Tobago were largely unarmed. Black Power demonstrators did not pose a serious physical threat to the white establishment. At any rate, since the true arbiters of capitalism and imperialism were not resident on the islands, there was no one to take up arms against. The PNM remained in its dominant position. They nationalized some industries and purchased shares from major business establishments operating on the island.

Although some of these ideas of Black Power have survived today, most people have held on to European standards of beauty, 'European religion' and Euro-American capitalistic values. The feminist movement, which resurfaced during the 1970s, also had visible successes. However, women are still under-represented at the top of the workplace hierarchy. The Black Power movement failed to defeat the divide and rule strategy employed by the authorities for their perpetual dominance. Thus, Trinidadians and Tobagonians continue to face injustice at the hands of corporations, government, neo-imperialists, and as a result of (especially white) male dominance. The disturbances in the 1970's did not provide a major threat to the foreign authorities or business interests operating in Trinidad and Tobago. The local authorities (the government) received a good shaking. The consequences of the 'disturbances', however, were few and at most, transitory.


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