The decision by Caricom to award the Order of the Caribbean Community to Mr Kamaluddin Mohammed (widely known as Kamal), former Cabinet minister and former ambassador from Trinidad and Tobago, is indeed a richly deserved accolade.
In April 1967, Dr Eric Williams made a Cabinet reshuffle in which he moved Kamal from the Ministry of Public Utilities to the newly-created Ministry of West Indian Affairs. What was foremost in Dr Williams' mind was the need for greater attention to be paid to the status of regional unity as the emergence of independent states in the former British West Indies was taking this region into a new phase of its development.
The collapse of the Federation in 1962, the emergence of four new independent states by 1966 (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Barbados), and the creation of Associated Statehood by Great Britain for six of the Eastern Caribbean territories under the West Indies Act 1967, had collectively created a new dynamic in the region that Trinidad and Tobago had to address.
For some, the shift of Kamal from the Ministry of Public Utilities to a newly-created ministry with an agenda which seemed relatively vague, was viewed as a demotion. However, he was given a specific mandate by Dr Williams to address the situation with regard to regional unity. In an extract from a confidential memorandum from Kamal to Dr Williams that I cited in the official biography of Kamal that I wrote in 1996, the following was said:
In your letter of assignment to me dated April 5, you requested me to prepare for you upon your return from Uruguay, a plan of campaign with respect to promoting urgently the idea of a Caribbean Economic Community. "2. Since the morning of April 6 instant, I have had two very fruitful discussions with Frank Rampersad who has brought me up to date on the weighty and complicated issues involved in this new assignment.
"It became obvious that urgent action must be taken by Trinidad and Tobago to secure our country's interest vis-à-vis the Caribbean Economic Community." The primary challenge for Williams at the time was his fear that Barbados, Antigua and Guyana were planning to form a free trade area between themselves to the exclusion of Trinidad and Tobago. This was exacerbated by the fact that there was a particularly cold relationship between Errol Barrow of Barbados and Eric Williams.
The agreement that had been signed at Dickenson Bay, Antigua, on December 15, 1965, had fixed May 15, 1967, as the date on which the Caribbean Free Trade Area (Carifta) was to come into existence. Williams asked Kamal to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago could be included in this, as well as to broaden the inclusion of other West Indian territories.
As a consequence of this assignment, Kamal was required to (i) get the initial signatories to hold their hand on implementation of their agreement, (ii) insert Trinidad and Tobago into the agreement, and (iii) broaden the accord to include other West Indian territories.
Kamal and Mr J O'Neil Lewis, economic adviser to the Government, engaged in some shuttle diplomacy between Guyana, Barbados and Antigua which resulted in a postponement of the commencement of Carifta that spilled over into 1968. As a consequence of these efforts, a supplementary agreement to the original Carifta Agreement was signed in Georgetown, Guyana on March 15, 1968, and in St John's, Antigua on March 18, 1968. Carifta Day was set for May 1, 1968.
This was indeed a personal triumph for Kamal, but much more than that it was a triumph for Trinidad and Tobago and the English-speaking Caribbean. Eric Williams was clearly moved by the success of Kamal's diplomacy and efforts. On April 25, 1968, Williams wrote to Kamal and congratulated him as follows:
"Dear Mr Mohammed,
As Head of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, I wish to congratulate you for the loyal, effective and energetic manner in which you have discharged your duties as Minister of West Indian Affairs since the Governor-General, acting on my advice, appointed you to that portfolio just over one year ago.
"With the successful completion of the negotiations for the establishment of Carifta, the task which you have initiated in your ministry is by no means complete. I am of this opinion for two reasons. "In the first place, the operation and further evolution of Carifta will need your continuing attention, since you will be this Government's representative on the Carifta Council.
"In the second place, the whole question of external trading alignments between Trinidad and Tobago and some or all of the Carifta countries on the one hand and third countries on the other hand will have to be actively followed up." These efforts by Kamal in 1967 and 1968, inspired by Eric Williams' own vision of regional economic integration, were of tremendous significance in the evolution of regional unity. It was Carifta that led to Caricom. Caricom has bestowed an honour on a Caribbean Man whose efforts are rightfully recognised with the Order of the Caribbean Community.