It was a sentimental moment when the casket bearing the body of the former president Arthur NR Robinson made its way past the architectural icon the Red House yesterday.
On July 27, 1990 Robinson had heroically stood in defence of Trinidad and Tobago’s democracy with the words “Attack with full force.”
Robinson had uttered those often quoted words in an attempt to “save democracy” after Yasin Abu Bakr and a band of 114 insurgents attempted to overthrow the Robinson-led National Alliance For Reconstruction government.
St Augustine Campus historian Dr Jerome Teelucksingh had even lionised Robinson as “the Mandela of the Caribbean”.
Robinson’s body was carrried on a gun carriage yesterday. The event was characterised by pomp and splendour en route to Parliament, Tower D, Waterfront Building, Port of Spain.
The mood was sombre. The eternal flame, a symbol of democracy, was lit in honour of Robinson’s valiant stance. Onlookers gathered in groups to look at the passing parade. Spectators were overheard describing it as “beautiful”.
Immaculate in their kit, marchers moved in perfect unison to the band’s music.
National flagsman Peter Diaz carried the flag with aplomb. Attorney General Anand Ramlogan was spotted making his way into a media house.
Traffic ground to a halt when the procession entered the parliamentary building—“the seat of democracy.”
A shower of leaves fell like confetti in the softness of the early morning. In the background, there was a stretch of shimmering sea. Lt Com Kirk Jean-Baptiste kept vigil over the proceedings. He reported all was going well.
House Speaker Wade Mark and Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith and Marshall of the Parliament Brian Caesar had already claimed their spaces and were awaiting Robinson’s arrival. Robinson’s children David Robinson, who had flown in from Canada, his daughter Ann Margaret Robinson and granddaughter Anuskha had arrived before.
There was a tender mother-daughter moment when Anushka briefly rested her head on her mother’s shoulder.
President Anthony Carmona, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and other citizens paid their respects. Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism Dr Lincoln Douglas removed his trademark white hat.
Later on, citizens from all walks of life came to pay their last respects. There was not an avalanche of people. Instead there was a regular stream. But there were some who felt they should have been able to see Robinson’s face for the last time.
Some said there were similarities between his passing and the late prime minister Dr Eric Williams since they could not see his face in 1981.
Sporting a “Vote ANR T-shirt”, Fyzabad resident Fostella Francois, 73, said: “He did a lot for Trinidad and Tobago. He was the right man at the right time. He introduced VAT and all the other prime ministers (Patrick Manning) who came after kept the VAT. He was willing to die for his country. People are now waking up to the reality of what Robinson did for democracy.”
Asked how she kept her T-shirt in good condition since 1990, she said: “I put it away. I always said if Robinson dies before me, I will wear this T-shirt to his funeral.”
San Fernando’s Esther Maharaj, 59, said: “I feel sad he passed on. But he was a great man. He was great. He was both prime minister and president. That is a feat in anyone’s lifetime. I would have liked to see his face though.”
Along with fellow staff members and about 150 pupils, Nelson Street Boys Standard Three teacher Raul Subero made the trek. Asked about the school’s interest, he said: “They know Robinson was a great politician. He will go down in history for the good things he did for the country.”