'A man who believed in doing what was right above everything else'
Arthur NR Robinson brought to his politics a blindness to ethnic origin, historian and former Government Minister Dr Brinsley Samaroo has said.
He was speaking at the launch of Robinson's book titled ANR Robinson: In the Midst of it at the Central Bank Auditorium, Port of Spain last Tuesday night.
Samaroo said because of its ethnic homogeneity, Tobago had escaped the "divide and rule" strategy used by European rulers wherever plural society existed.
"Robinson was socialised in an atmosphere where one did not have to look at another (ethnic) group as rival for perks in the colonial time, and later on as we neared independence, for political power. So he brought to his politics a blindness to ethnic origin. I can firmly attest to that, based on my very long association with him. To him a person was a person, an individual was an individual, and his preferences became based on qualities such as honesty, dependability and dedication to nationhood, rather than someone's ethnicity. Most Trinidadian politicians found sustenance, and still do, and comfort, in their artificially created ethnic zones of comfort. Therefore they disbelieved Robinson's openness to ideas rather than to race. And he in turn never fully understood the salience of ethnicity in a society so committed to separate ethnic pride among its two major components. This was the cause of many of his political problems, including the collapse of his government in 1991," Samaroo said.
He added that Robinson's personality reflected a mixture of Tobagonian determination, Methodist discipline and high learning, buttressed by a keen observation of the world. His handiwork has stretched far beyond the Tobagonian space, beyond the Trinidad space and into the wider world, Samaroo said, citing Robinson's contribution to the groundwork for the International Criminal Court.
Chairman of the Integrity Commission, former minister and Caribbean Communications Network (CCN) chairman Ken Gordon said he had been friends with Robinson for 46 years, and never once heard him say anything that was not principled, nor was not indicative of a commitment to the country. Gordon said the book was a story of "family upbringing, of courage, of integrity, of a man who believed in doing what was right above everything else".
Prof Courtenay Bartholomew said Robinson had to make many decisions not only as Prime Minister but as President.
"The politician who makes no mistakes, makes no decisions." He said Robinson's patriotism however was never in question and cited the 1990 coup attempt when he made the fateful decision not to follow the command given to him to tell the army to lay down their arms.
Quoting Robinson's stream of consciousness as set out in the book, Bartholomew said: "I (Robinson) knew that the way to deal with them was to oppose them totally...I gave some thought to the matter, prayed and put my life in the hands of the Almighty. Then I had a feeling of peace and calm and braced myself for what was to follow." (Robinson was shot).
Bartholomew said Robinson has trusted in God always, even in the face of adversity such as when he lost his eyesight. Bartholomew said he recalled Robinson saying to him: "My dear Professor, imagine a man like me who loves to read so much, (now) unable to do so."
Bartholomew said Robinson had changed the course of history with his work towards the ICC.
Robinson's daughter, Ann Margaret, who struggled with a migraine headache, forcing her to curtail her address last Tuesday, said her father has always been open to reconciliation. She said God was very important in his life and his devotion to Him has been important in everything he has done.
Among those present at the book launch were President George Maxwell Richards; Chief Justice Ivor Archie; Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Rodger Samuel; Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran; former attorneys general Russell Martineau and Anthony Smart; Orville London; Owen Serrette; members of the diplomatic community; as well as members of the academic community such as Bridget Brereton and John La Guerre.
The book was sponsored by bpTT.
The company's vice president Communications and External Affairs, Giselle Thompson said it was Gordon and former minister Jennifer Johnson, who approached the company to sponsor the book. She said the company considered it, in the light of its established policy not to participate in anything which can be deemed political activity.
She said it was not a difficult decision to make, since Robinson was one of the most pre-eminent and iconic figures of our time.