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Gold for the golden jubilees of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago

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Tue, Aug 7. 2012

The Caribbean island of Jamaica could not have had a better gift for its 50th anniversary of independence than those offered by its athletes competing at the 2012 London Olympics. Led by the incomparable Usain Bolt, those sons and daughters served up two gold medals, one silver and a bronze, right on the eve of the country’s golden jubilee. A more fitting tribute to the accomplishments of this remarkable nation is difficult to imagine.{{more}}

The tremendous outpouring of joy and glee from Caribbean people the world over, in celebration of the Olympic victories of the Jamaican athletes, demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt the unbreakable common bond shared by the peoples of this region. We rejoice in the triumphs and share the pain of defeat. It indicates the oneness of a people with a common heritage and historical experience.

The positive reaction is not confined solely to the achievements of Jamaican athletes. Kirani James of neighbouring Grenada went into yesterday’s contest with the hopes of millions, from Belize in the north to Suriname on the South American continent. The same blessings of goodwill extend to all the other athletes, be they from Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua, Haiti or the Dominican Republic. Caribbean people instinctively know we are one, in spite of continued efforts to keep us apart.

At the end of this month, Trinidad and Tobago will join Jamaica in reaching the half-century mark along the road of political independence. Both countries have come a long way since raising their national flags in August 1962 and we sincerely congratulate the Governments and peoples of both nations on their achievement. However, these occasions are also ones for sober reflection for the entire Caribbean, as they revive poignant memories which are far from positive.

That same year 1962 that witnessed the birth of those two nations at opposite ends of the Antillean chain also marked the demise of the ill-fated Federation of the West Indies, our principal attempt at political unity thus far. In fact, both the nations of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were born out of the ashes of that failed experiment. The flag of the Federation was first raised on January 3, 1958, but by September 1961, petty nationalism in that same Jamaica had so fanned the flames of secession that 54 per cent of the Jamaican electorate voted in a referendum for their country to go on its own.

The rest is now history. The nationalist flames also engulfed Trinidad and Tobago, fanned by fears of that country having to “carry” the smaller Eastern Caribbean islands. The late Dr Eric Williams coined his infamous “One from ten leaves nought” and his People’s National Movement passed a resolution in January 1962, authorising Trinidad and Tobago to follow Jamaica’s course.

The accession of Jamaica to independent status on August 6, 1962 was followed by its southern counterpart a mere 25 days later.

These were crippling body blows to the aspirations of the Caribbean people for a unified and strong regional nation. Left to flounder, the other nations could not find the glue to keep together and, starting with Barbados in 1966, one by one, they all went the same route. The sad legacy is with us today – separate legislatures, Cabinets with hundreds of ministers to serve a mere 5 million people, and everyday quarrels over petty issues, while our people suffer the consequences.

Fifty years on, even as we salute the peoples of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, even as we laud their achievements, we must use the milestones to reflect on how much more could have been achieved, had we stayed together, and to resolve not to spend another half of a century in foolish separation.

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