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The Other Dr Eric Williams
Journalist George Alleyne, a columnist attached to the Newsday newspaper, on October 10 wrote an article that carried the headline “Dr Eric Williams saved Caroni.”
It read: “While the nation’s first Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams, made several outstanding contributions to the economic and social development of Trinidad and Tobago, whether in the area of education, the energy sector, establishing low-cost transport through the fuel subsidy, the expansion of medical facilities, the establishment of industrial estates, the creating of investment opportunities, the acquisition of the Bank of London and Montreal or alleviating housing problems, one of the greatest was the 1975 acquisition of Caroni Ltd which saved thousands of jobs and laid the groundwork for the upward mobility of sugar workers and their children.”
Journalist Alleyne tried to be kind to former PNM Prime Minister Williams with these words: “When the British company Tate and Lyle decided to close down Caroni’s sugar estates and factories because it found them uneconomic to continue operating, Dr Eric Williams had to act swiftly as closure of Caroni would have meant massive social dislocation.”
The truth about Caroni Ltd must be told not through the perspective of a journalist who seems to have an attitude of “PNM till I dead.” The truth about Caroni Ltd is that under People’s National Movement’s Patrick Manning, Caroni Ltd was unceremoniously closed down and 10,000 sugar workers from central Trinidad were placed on the breadline. More accurately, they were put on the roti-line.
This is how Alleyne explains this closure: “Unfortunately, a few years ago resulting from a World Trade Organization ruling forbidding the preferential entry quota system, the European Union had to end its purchase of sugar from Trinidad and Tobago putting an end to Dr Williams’ far-sighted move.”
As we survey cane sugar across the world, we must conclude that the sugar cane is the one of the most versatile plants created by nature. It is the one crop that brought our African brothers from across the Atlantic to Trinidad. And it is this same plant that brought over 140,000 indentured immigrants from India to work it.
Anthropologist Dr Kumar Mahabir, in his book Medicinal and Edible plants, describes the cane as having originated in India and was cultivated “probably in the first millennium BC and the manufacture of sugar was first done there (Purse 1981: 220).”
Mahabir points to the uses of the sugarcane: “makes sugar, (brown and granulated), molasses, bagasse and rum. Cane tops, a feed to livestock. Bagasse is used in the manufacture of paper, plastics, fuel, cattle food and some building materials like chip board and slices of cane are used as an ingredient in prasad (Hindu consecrated food).”
Were it not for the sugar cane, neither I nor George Alleyne would be in Trinidad and Tobago, one of the few areas of this world where God has blessed us with His own hands. But it took a Patrick Manning to change the course of our history and deny us all the benefits that are now derived from the humble sugar cane.
Today Brazil is annually expanding its acreage under sugar cane cultivation. Its sugar cane produces cane sugar that did not need a European market for survival. Molasses, alcohol, hard board from bagasse, cattle feed, and fuel that is used to drive motor vehicles without polluting the atmosphere are derived from this humble plant. It is a source of high revenue for countries like Brazil, India and those in Central America.
We are informed that even Uganda, which under Idi Amin expelled all Indians and expropriated their sugar factories and plantations, is now inviting them back to resuscitate their sugar industry. Guyana is a land that was laughed at by some of our politicians in the past. It was referred to as the “mud-land” and its people as “mudlanders.”
In 1956 our rice industry supplied a large percentage of local consumption. But our PNM politicians decided that it was cheaper to buy rice from Guyana than to grow the rice locally. Today we travel cap-in-hand to Guyana to seek their support in food production.
We must now negotiate and beg the people of Guyana for permission to use their lands and water resources to feed the people of Trinidad and Tobago. This is the legacy of the politicians of the past. This is the legacy of Eric Williams and Patrick Manning, PNM prime ministers who left us at the mercy of other countries to supply food for our people.
When journalists resurrect the dead, they must for historical purposes write not only about the successes of that politician who once led us, they must also write about the mistakes by a political leader and the corruptions under his watch. They must write about Johnny O’ Halloran, Prevatt, the gas station rackets and the Lock Joint feeding frenzy.
Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha
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