Twenty-one guns, booming from Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard vessels, were yesterday heard as the final salute, in exercises that put to rest Arthur NR Robinson, surpassingly distinguished son of Tobago and Trinidad.
His native Tobago, and the sister island he adopted, Trinidad, shared the ceremonial farewells that marked the end of an extended saga of government, politics, and public affairs, represented in the career of the man who served as President, Prime Minister, Cabinet Minister, Parliamentarian, Tobago House of Assembly chairman, party leader, regional and international statesman.
It remains unclear to what extent the significance of national-scale homage to Mr Robinson was diminished by the absence of two surviving former prime ministers. Only Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday are competent to characterise the volumes spoken by their individual boycotts of the Robinson mourning observances that drew participation from all levels in T&T, and from international leaders.
It is, at any event, the stuff of telling irony that, just as the nation has been delivering reverential final rites over the remains of Mr Robinson, it was also being invited to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the United National Congress. History will likely record the emergence of the UNC as representing the outcome of Mr Robinson’s failure to hold together the NAR coalition that, fewer than three years before, had enjoyed massive electoral success.
UNC annals will register the continuing catalytic impact of Mr Robinson. After an extraordinarily eventful period in office, including experience of the 1990 attempted coup, the Robinson-led NAR in 1991 underwent electoral near-obliteration.
By contrast, the career of the UNC, a Panday-led assemblage of former United Labour Front forces that had dissolved into the NAR, showed a steadily upward trajectory. Again, in 1995, Mr Robinson proved to be decisive in enabling the UNC to assume office, with Mr Panday as Prime Minister. In further history-making turns, Mr Robinson under Mr Panday’s prime ministership, was appointed, first, Minister Extraordinaire, before ultimate elevation to President.
Fate played yet another hand. In 2001, President Robinson took the devastating step of removing the UNC and installing the Manning PNM, which had won the same number of parliamentary seats, but with fewer popular votes.
Evolved beyond Mr Panday, the UNC elected Kamla Persad-Bissessar. It regained office only as part of the People’s Partnership.
Acknowledging the contribution of Mr Panday, the UNC now advertises itself as “growing stronger together…embracing a vision of freedom, equality and fairness toward all”. With Mr Robinson and, in a different sense, Mr Panday, both finally out of the way, it is on those claims that the UNC, either on its own, or in partnership with other formations, can expect to be sternly judged, when elections next come around.