Saturday, April 12, 2014

Kamla pays tribute to Robinson; urges the nation to let go of the past

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar paid tribute to former president Arthur N.R. Robinson in the House of Representatives Friday, describing him as one of Trinidad and Tobago's "most celebrated and honoured sons". She referred as well to the political wounds and pleaded for everyone to move on.

"And for anyone who still holds to the pain of the past, I ask that we allow old wounds to heal, consider what we have been able to learn, and then allow ourselves to grow." 
She traced his early life and political achievements noting that he was the only citizen to have held both the posts of Prime Minister and President of the country. He was also the first Chairman of the Tobago House of Assembly.

She also announced how the nation plans to mourn Robinson. "In honour of the man he was, the life he lived, the dignity with which he served his country and the proud legacy he has left for us to emulate, I have instructed the Minister of National Security to fly the national flag at half-mast during a period of national mourning.

"His body will lie in state in the Rotunda of the Red House and I know thousands of our citizens would want to take the opportunity to pay their respects.

"Later his body will be flown to the island of his birth, Tobago, where it will also lie in state, followed by a private internment." Persad-Bissessar also extended "most heartfelt condolences" to Robinson's family - his children David and Ann-Margaret, and his granddaughter Anushka.

She added, that Robinson’s passing "is a deep and tragic loss for our country, but I am sure he will always stand as an inspiration to today’s and tomorrow’s people."

Commenting on his political career Persad-Bissessar spoke of Robinson's first patriotic move against his own party, the People's National Movement (PNM), when he spoke out against the proposed Public Order Bill and left the PNM to seek an alternative route of serving the people through a new political group that eventually joined other opposition forces to eventually remove the PNM from office in 1986.

"He was a man driven by intellect and passion," she said. "He had his own thoughts and beliefs on what was right for Trinidad & Tobago and when he found that the party to which he attached himself diverged from his thinking, he set out in search of a new political platform."

She also spoke of the challenges Robinson faced on taking charge of the government in 1986, noting that he "bravely took the tough decisions required at that time".

She said, "We all remember those years. The NAR Government inherited an economy that was in an advanced stage of decline. A deep recession was setting in. Revenue was falling. The nation’s finances were depleted. The times were hard and called for hard decisions.

"And it was Mr Robinson, supported by people like Selby Wilson and our own Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Dookeran, who dug their heels in and did what they had to do."

The Prime Minister also highlighted Robinson's stand against terrorism. "Even when our darkest hours came when his Government came under attack by armed insurgents, Mr Robinson was clear that he would lay down his life if it meant that democracy would emerge the victor.

"We all remember and now, reminisce about his courageous command to the armed forces to “attack with full force”.

"Here it is a Prime Minister of our proud and free Republic, was being held hostage. Our people and our way of life were under siege. Insurgents took aim at his head, and yet, he defied orders to tell the armed forces to stand down.

"To Mr Robinson, the members of his Government and the Members of Parliament who endured this horrific experience, the lives and freedoms of the people of Trinidad & Tobago were far too important, and if it meant surrendering their lives to save our country, they were willing to do it.

"And Mr Speaker, let us never forget the Member of Parliament for Diego Martin Central, Mr Leo Des Vignes, who died from injuries sustained during the insurrection."

Persad-Bissessar spoke about a gentle and humane side of Robinson's "majestic" personality. "In all of the pain and suffering that he and the members of his Cabinet endured, it was a simple note, with a simple message that gave him the will to fight on.

"In his account of the ordeal, Mr Robinson recalled one of the insurgents passing him an envelope, saying it was a message from his wife. He said when he opened the envelope and read the note, the three words gave him the strength to carry on. Those three words were written on a piece of paper by his wife – “I love you”, she said.

Persad-Bissessar also spoke of the fall of the NAR government, caused by the anger people felt over the tough decisions Robinson was forced to make. "Citizens at that time were not in a charitable mood and did not want explanations for why the harsh measures were necessary," she said. 

And she remembered the rise of Robinson to work in a coalition with the United National Congress (UNC) with then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, his elevation to the presidency and the 2001 decision Robinson made to hand the government to Patrick Manning.

"We all know what the arguments were at that time; we all know how we felt at that time and how we were prepared to fight his decision. Many were hurting – one side did not lose, but the other side did not win.

"But today, almost 14 years later, that decision has written itself into history as a moment when our nation was forced to re-examine its supreme law and reconsider the arrangements by which we govern ourselves.

"Mr Speaker, all throughout human history, where nations around the world came to turning points where the future was to be transformed and a new path was to be chosen, there was never a time when everyone agreed.

"Yes, there was pain, there was anguish…there was even bitterness. But Mr Speaker, if we as a nation are to truly continuing walking forward, we are the ones who will hurt ourselves if we remain locked in the past.

"And for anyone who still holds to the pain of the past, I ask that we allow old wounds to heal, consider what we have been able to learn, and then allow ourselves to grow.

"Mr Speaker, history is there to teach us. Each of us in this Honourable House, and those members like Mr Robinson who came before us, hold a rare and privileged place, where we not only become part of history, but also become the authors of it.

"When we realize that our actions today will inevitably create the future, it becomes our duty to rise above that which pains us personally, and do what is best for our country.

"In all of the things that I have been able to learn in my own long career in politics, Mr Speaker, it is this that guides me.

"Our every action, our every word, our every conviction will all come together to create the future. Acting responsibly is therefore not just a requirement, it is our duty.

"And this is why Mr Speaker, notwithstanding our arguments in the past and our conviction that something wrong was done…the past is best honoured by learning and letting go.

"Was Mr Robinson the perfect human being? No he wasn’t. He was as imperfect as any one of us here in this House. But what set him apart was that in just his one lifetime, he set out on a journey to change the life he found, and he succeeded...I am very happy that Mr Robinson was able to see for himself the admiration that he earned...Mr Robinson was able to see his name honoured with the Tobago Airport.

"Today, though it is a sad moment in our history, I find comfort in knowing that he will now be reunited with his life-time partner and best friend, his wife, the late Patricia Robinson...

"Mr Speaker, Mr Robinson’s passing is a deep and tragic loss for our country, but I am sure he will always stand as an inspiration to today’s and tomorrow’s people. And that inspiration can very well be a tribute to our nation’s motto – Together we aspire, together we achieve.

"May his soul now find peace."

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