Trinidad and Tobago’s golden jubilee celebrations came to an end last night with the traditional fireworks and with a cultural extravaganza produced by designer Brian Mac Farlane. This year’s celebrations included many of the events that have come to define Independence Day in this country such as yesterday morning’s military parade, starting at the Queen’s Park Savannah and proceeding through the streets of Port-of-Spain, and the national awards ceremony held at Queen’s Hall. There were a number of new elements to this year’s special celebration: Thursday night’s event at Woodford Square—attended by President George Maxwell Richards, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and a number of invited local and foreign dignitaries—to re-enact the actual Independence ceremony 50 years ago was an appropriate and welcome touch. But the street parade through the capital on the day before a public holiday was not the best way to mark Independence, especially this year, which was supposed to have been a special celebration. Not everything has to be a carnival, and more is not always better. Soca, tassa, dames lorraine and moko jumbies are all wonderful things, but the parade could have waited until the holiday, instead of disrupting the normal traffic patterns on a day before a public holiday.
Only the President seems to have had a sense of occasion. Quiet reflection, appreciation and critical self-appraisal have their place too, but as a country T&T does not understand that. That was bad enough but it was especially unfortunate that T&T’s politicians chose not to put aside their petty differences and come together to mark a grand and solemn occasion in the proper way. That the opposition People’s National Movement chose to hold a rival celebration of Independence on Thursday night rather than join in the national celebration was neither appropriate nor fitting, given the party’s remarkable contribution to T&T’s development over the last 50 years.
T&T’s politics is much less tribal and divisive than Jamaica’s, but it would have been unthinkable for the Jamaica Labour Party to have absented itself from the major Independence events held in the north Caribbean country at the beginning of last month to commemorate their golden jubilee. This may have been a major flaw in the planning of the 50th anniversary events, which should have commenced at least two years ago with the setting up of an apolitical committee, drawing its membership from the many important contributary elements of such an important milestone in the country’s history. And the committee should have been headed by someone who would have been widely, if not universally perceived, as being non-partisan.
Clearly, as well, there should have been more consultation on what constitutes the appropriate celebration of a significant milestone, all which would have ensured that the country would have been able to present a united face for the 50th anniversary celebrations. It is also likely that a more appropriate planning framework would have resulted in a number of events that would have signalled and cemented the unity of the country. Events such as a joint sitting of Parliament, an interfaith service, a gathering at the Red House in which all the political and other leaders took part would have been fitting and dignified ways to mark a deeply significant, truly national occasion. As it stands, there was not enough of the extraordinary in T&T’s golden jubilee celebrations; there was nothing so out of the ordinary that it would have been a talking point for the next 50 years, as it is surely within the capacity of this country’s cultural leaders to create. The lack of extraordinary was surely due to the fact that it only dawned on the Government just a few months ago that this important and memorable event was coming up. It seems that the Government lost a marvelous opportunity to facilitate a celebration that would have unified the country in pride at its achievements over the last 50 years.