My dear fellow citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, I am grateful to God that we can all be here today sharing in the pride and joy of the Golden Jubilee anniversary of our Independence. On this day, 50 years ago, we became an independent nation and for the very first time the Red, White and Black flag of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago was unfurled and the pride had only just begun. From that moment to now the flag has inspired hundreds of thousands of us, it has brought us to tears, it has filled us with immense pride, it has made us feel at home in foreign places, it has given us a sense of identity and belonging to that special place, it defines us. Across the nation today these very colours are proudly displayed in an outpouring of nationalism and patriotic pride. Today, more than ever, we know what it means to be a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago. For 50 years we have charted our own course as an independent nation proudly flying high the red white and black, ever steadfast in our commitment to our democracy and the rule of law and to the belief that all men and women are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights. For 50 years as a nation, forged from the love of liberty in the fires of hope and prayer, with boundless faith in our destiny, we have proven our ability to determine the direction best suited to the needs of our citizens. Our self-determination has brought success, recognition and respect to our great nation, here at home and on the world stage.
As our history shows, there were a few instances in the past five decades when we nearly let the fires fade to our near peril, but in the many times when we allowed the fires of hope and prayer to burn even more brightly, we stunned the world with our innovations, our achievements, our beauty and our humanity. In areas such as academia, labour, sport, culture, literature, business, energy, entertainment, fashion, indeed in every sphere of human endeavour, we have produced global heroes, men and women who have excelled bringing us gold, silver and bronze, record breaking scores, titles in beauty and the fashion industry, Nobel Prizes, all sons and daughters of our soil who have ensured we will always be remembered as a people of great achievement, as a great nation. And for every luminary in our past and present, there are also thousands of unsung heroes some of whose names we may never know, but whose courage, dedication and commitment to our country have helped to make us the great nation that we are. It is a time for each of us to stand proud together as Trinidadians and Tobagonians as we celebrate this important milestone in our nation’s history. And, even as we reflect on all we have achieved and as we take stock of our accomplishments over the last 50 years, I am of the firm view that we are about to embark on a promising new era in the history of our young nation as we stand together, not as a nation built on sand, but as a nation built on the solid rock of the foundations laid by so many of our citizens who preceded us and citizens who continue to fortify those foundations.
Acknowledge early leaders of T&T
Today, we stand proudly on the shoulders of the giants who came before us and those who continue to fortify us, both sung and unsung heroes of our nation. I pay my deepest tributes to those great men and women who positioned us as an independent nation. In particular, I pay tribute to the Honourable Dr Eric Eustace Williams, our country’s first Prime Minister and founding Father of our Nation, Dr Rudranath Capildeo, the first Leader of the Opposition of an independent Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Ellis Clarke, the principal architect of our 1962 Constitution and first President of Trinidad and Tobago. They stand beside many equally talented citizens, who demonstrated the vision and courage to recognise that in order to survive as a small, independent nation of such remarkable diversity, we needed to embody and epitomise the spirit and character of democracy in its truest form—respect, tolerance and a determination to protect and safeguard our democracy and our sacred human rights and to have the willpower to let this forever be our hallmark as a nation. Our founding leaders thus engineered the direction of our new nation under God with a self-reliant, ambitious people living in liberty and harmony and, today, I pay homage to them as we express our gratitude and thank God for the significant contributions they made to Trinidad and Tobago.
And after 50 years of peaceful, democratic governance, we pay homage to those leaders and to all who supported the pursuit of our independence. Their faith in the capacity of our country and our people was crucial to the growth of Trinidad and Tobago as we know it today. And as we reflect on the vision of our early leaders, there is no doubt that we are standing also on the shoulders of other giants, including Butler, Cipriani, Rienzi, Gomes and CLR James to name a few. And over the 50 years there are many more giants to acknowledge for placing us where we are today. And so, I pay tribute to those great men and women who sacrificed and worked hard to shape and sustain the three organs of our constitutional government: The parliament, the judiciary and the executive. I pay tribute to the working class and in particular, the thousands of public officers and the protective services and the business class, whose dedication to duty developed our economy and social institutions. I pay tribute to our religious leaders and organisations which through all the years kept us and, continue to keep us firmly grounded in our faith and belief in God.
With boundless faith in our destiny, we made tremendous strides as a nation, as one people over the past 50 years.
Culture and music
Trinidad and Tobago, our small island nation, has changed the sound of the world in music by gifting it with the steelpan, the only acoustical musical instrument invented in the 20th Century, tassa, calypso, soca, chutney and parang which reflect the rich tapestry of diversity in our nation. The contributions of pioneers such as Ras Shorty I, Sundar Popo, Lord Kitchener and Sparrow will never be forgotten. They will continue to inspire the coming musical generations both locally and around the world. We have become known for the greatest show on earth, our Carnival.
In 1962 we established our own Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force, the military organisation responsible for defence of our nation. We can feel duly proud that the TTDF, comprising the Regiment, Coast Guard, Air Guard and Defence Force Reserves, as one of the largest and best equipped military forces in the English speaking Caribbean, has played major roles both locally and internationally, and has rendered assistance to our Caribbean brothers and sisters in times of need.
We have shown our prowess in the world of sport, as is evident by the outstanding performances of our cricketers, such as, Brian Charles Lara—World Record Holder for the most runs scored both in a Test and in a First Class Innings and three times claimed the highest individual batting records. Brian Lara, a son of our country, has brought us honour and pride as one of the most globally celebrated cricketers in the world.
In 2006, our Soca warriors qualified for the FIFA World Cup in Germany, for the first time making us the smallest country ever to qualify.
We have witnessed excellence in the outstanding performances of our Olympic athletes, in particular our gold medallists, Hasley Crawford and recently, Keshorn Walcott, our silver medallists and our bronze medallists, Rodney Wilkes, Lennox Kilgour, Mc Donald Bailey, Ato Boldon, Wendell Mottley, Lalonde Gordon, Richard Thomson, George Bovell and others.
Creative Industries etc
We have made our mark in the creative industries, fashion, music and literature.
We have produced a Nobel Prize winner, Sir VS Naipaul.
We have a tradition for doing well at international beauty pageants winning several with names such as Janelle Penny Commisiong, Giselle Laronde and Wendy Fitzwilliam recognised as women of intelligence, beauty, charm and poise.
Peter Minshall, carnival designer, is known for his role in the opening ceremonies of the Barcelona Olympics, the 1994 Football World Cup, the 1996 Summer Olympics and the 2002 Winter Olympics for which he even won an Emmy Award. Heather Headley who has won both a Tony Award for theatre and a Grammy Award. In the world of trade and investment, we have developed Trinidad and Tobago into being a gateway to Latin America, Caricom and the wider Caribbean. Our entrepreneurs have earned our country respect through their success both at home and abroad. We remain a leading world exporter of Liquefied Natural Gas, methanol and ammonia and can feel proud that our small nation is amongst the world’soldest and most experienced in the energy sector. Our local education system provides universal education to all citizens from primary education straight through to secondary school, and our universities are recognised as learning institutions which produce graduates of the highest calibre. We have surpassed the United Nations MDG in our education sector. Trinidad and Tobago has indeed made a name for itself on the global stage.
Unlike other nations, we can be proud of our history of a strong democracy and a peaceful elections process. Democratic change has come time and again without the violence and chaos that characterises the electoral process in so many countries in the world. Our political maturity in this regard is a beacon in a world where so many countries today are struggling to achieve peaceful democratic change. In Trinidad and Tobago, we live in harmony; we celebrate our multi-ethnic, multi-religious society; we enjoy peace and democracy. And this is a credit to the nature of our people and the way we live among each other, sharing and enjoying our music, food and culture and religious observances. We do have so much to celebrate in Trinidad and Tobago in this, our 50th year of independence.
Call to action for citizens
Yet now, on the occasion of our Golden Jubilee, let us not only acknowledge and take pride in our accomplishments, but let us take this opportunity to look ahead and envision the future that we want for Trinidad and Tobago.
Where do we want to see our nation forging ahead? What do we want for our country and our citizens? Where do we want to see Trinidad and Tobago in the next 50 years? These are questions that each and every one of us must ask ourselves, because it is only when we work together hand in hand side by side can we lay the groundwork for a prosperous nation. My fellow citizens, we must continue to build our sense of patriotism and nationhood. Each of us has our own expectations for the future of Trinidad and Tobago. But above all, we want to see our country flourish. The responsibility lies within each of us as Trinbagonians, to take the future into our hands and play our own part in taking Trinidad and Tobago forward.