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Death of a statesman: The life Robinson lived

Thursday, April 10, 2014
Flashback October 8, 1998 former prime minister Arthur NR Robinson with his mother Isabella celebrating her 90th birthday. Photo Noel Saldenah

Former prime minister Arthur NR Robinson, who was shot by Jamaat al Muslimeen insurrectionists during the 1990 attempted overthrow of his government was known for his famous phrase, “attack with full force” during the uprising. The former prime minister and president and internationally known barrister attended the Commission of Enquiry into the July 1990 event at the Caribbean Court of Justice in Port-of-Spain in 2011 wheelchair bound.



Determined to give evidence, he sat in the witness box with a hearing aid and, in a lucid and calm manner, recounted the events that impacted his political and personal life. Muslimeen members who gave evidence in the enquiry, described him as a ruler who represented the middle and upper classes and was hard on the average citizen, taxing them into revolt. 


Robinson defended his actions, saying austerity measures were necessary because of a recession and argued he instituted social programmes for the poor, as well. He has written numerous articles and presented many speeches including “Mechanics of Independence”. A selection of his articles and speeches from 1960 to 1986 has been published under the title Caribbean Man (1986).


Robinson wrote the The New Frontier and the New African (1961), Fiscal Reform in Trinidad and Tobago (1966), The Path to Progress (1967) and The Teacher and Nationalism (1967). Today, the Guardian traces the life and times of this extraordinary man who impacted the lives of citizens, one way or the other. 1927-Arthur NR Robinson was born to Isabella and James A Robinson in the obscure village of Calder Hall, Tobago.


World War 1, from 1914 to 1918 had just ended. Robinson’s childhood experience included The Great Depression, the most severe and widespread economic depression of the 20th century which preceded World War II, starting from 1930 and lasting until the late 1930s or middle 1940s. He attended the Castara Methodist School where his father was Head Master. Robinson was a Methodist, a religion known for helping the poor.


1939- Displaying his brilliance from an early age, Robinson became the first Bowles Scholar to Bishop's High School, Tobago and, later, the first House Scholarship winner from Bishop's High School in 1942. World War 11 initiated by Hitler was in full swing but Robinson focussed on his schoolwork. He was a candidate for the Island scholarship in 1944 and 1945 and obtained the Higher School Certificate with a Distinction in Latin. 


1949- From high school, Robinson went straight into law and began studying for a Bachelor of Laws Degree at London University as an external student. Two years later, in 1951, he left for the United Kingdom, gaining admission to the Inner Temple and passing the Bar Final Examinations in 1953. There was no stopping Robinson and that same year he was admitted to St John's College, Oxford, where he obtained a Second-Class Honours Degree in two years in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. 


1955- After four years in England, Robinson returned to T&T and began to practise law in the Chambers of Sir Courtney Hannays from 1957 to 1961. While practising law, he was elected to the Federal Parliament of the Caribbean Federation in 1958 and the T&T Parliament as a representative for Tobago in 1961. 



The People’s National Movement headed by T&T’s first prime minister Dr Eric Williams had been the first party to break the colonial yoke in 1956 and Robinson, one of its founders, served as the first finance minister and later as foreign affairs minister. He married the former Patricia Rawlins, who was a permanent secretary in the PNM government and they had two children, David and Ann-Margaret.


1970- Robinson broke ties with the PNM after the Black Power disturbances in 1970 and founded the Action Committee of Democratic Citizens (ACDC). Forming an alliance with the Democratic Labour Party, the “Indian party” headed by Dr Rudranath Capildeo, he led the "No-vote" campaign of 1971. They protested the PNM’s use of voting machines which the Opposition DLP believed was used to rig the 1961 and 1966 elections. 


Immersed in politics by then, Robinson founded the Democratic Action Congress (DAC) and took the two Tobago seats in the 1976 and 1981 elections.. 1980- Robinson helped set up the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and served as chairman from 1980 to 1986. 


1986- Four parties comboned to form the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) which made am almost clean sweep of the 1986 elections winning 33 of the 36 seats. Robinson became T&T’s first non-PNM Prime Minister.
1990- Robinson’s political career was cut down by Muslimeed insurgents who stormed the Red House while Parliament was in progress on the evening of July 27, 1990 and attempted to overthrow his government.
1989- Robinson resurfaces, this time to go back to his original career, law. During the 44th Session of the UN General Assembly, he proposed the creation of an international court to deal with the transnational drug trade. 


This led to the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002 to hear cases of crimes against humanity. Robinson was honoured internationally for this. Robinson was named Honorary Vice President of the International Association of Penal Law and received the Parliamentarians for Global Action Defender of Democracy Award. He also received the Order of the Caribbean Community and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. 


In 2002 he was honoured with the Peace Leadership Award from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and was made an Honorary Councillor of the World Future Council. 2008- Nigerian President Thomas Boni Yayi of Benin bestowed on Robinson the royal title of Ooni of Ile-Ife, Nigeria, Olubuse.


2009- The health of Robinson, 82, declines. In June 2009. He said he could hardly see or hear, and barely walk. He collapsed during a service at the Church of the Assumption in February 2010 and was hospitalised at the St Clair Medical Centre in the Intensive Care Unit. Two years later, in a wheelchair and with a hearing aid, he testified in the commission of enquiry into the attempted coup.


May 2011- The Crown Point International Airport in Tobago was renamed the A N R Robinson International Airport by the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration. 
November 2011- Robinson was the recipient of Tobago's highest award, the Tobago Medal of Honour by the Orville London-led THA.


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