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An honour most deserving
All too often, those who have made a meaningful contribution are not honoured until after their deaths. It is fitting and encouraging, therefore, that Caricom has recognised the contribution of senior political statesman Kamaluddin Mohammed by awarding him, at its recently concluded summit, the Order of the Caribbean Community, while he can still appreciate that recognition. It was under the direct instructions of his prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, that Mr Mohammed was assigned the role of Minister of West Indian Affairs and External Trade in 1967. He was given the mandate to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago would be part of and play a significant role in the establishment of the Caribbean Free Trade Area (Carifta). Mr Mohammed’s appointment to the new ministry, the importance of which was obviously not lost on the Caricom Secretariat and contemporary leaders, came after the demise of the West Indian Federation (1958-1961) and the plans by eastern Caribbean countries and British Guiana to form a free trade area without the participation of T&T.
Understanding that this would mean isolation of this country and its business community from intra-regional relations, Dr Williams mandated Mr Mohammed to engage in a diplomatic shuffle around the Caribbean to speak to the likes of Prime Ministers Barrow (Barbados), Burnham (British Guiana) and Bird (Antigua-Barbuda) to delay the establishment of Carifta and to allow T&T to be part of it. Mr Mohammed was successful in his mission. If today Caricom (which succeeded Carifta in 1973), with all its shortcomings, exists to engender and accommodate trade and production across boundaries and as the platform for the relations of Caricom member states with the rest of the world, it is because Mr Mohammed did his job well and prevented further fraying of the Caribbean fabric. In his new ministerial role, Mr Mohammed was also instrumental in the birth or growth of vital regional institutions such as the Caribbean Development Bank, the University of the West Indies, BWIA and others, which he constantly championed to Dr Williams and the T&T Cabinet. It must be remembered that this was in a period before constant and robust advocacy of the West Indian cause within a regional integration enterprise became popular.
Later on, after he fell out with the new leadership of the People’s National Movement, of which he had been a founding member, Mr Mohammed was appointed Ambassador to Caricom on behalf of this country by then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday. Once again, it was at a point in history when there was conflict amongst regional member states, and the mandate was for the most experienced T&T statesman in regional matters to look after the interests of T&T and to keep the integration movement alive. As part of his External Trade portfolio, Mr Mohammed represented his country, at times as part of a regional delegation to the United Nations, at the level of the Commonwealth and in the Organisation of American States. He was also the first Caribbean official to serve as president of the World Health Organisation. Mr Mohammed’s strong sense of the importance of community relations was founded during the early 1950s, when he entered local-government politics. In addition to his ministerial responsibilities, which covered West Indian Affairs and External Trade, Public Utilities, Health, Agriculture, Leader of Government Business in the House and in the role of acting Prime Minister, Mr Mohammed represented his constituency of Barataria/San Juan for 30 unbroken years. Kamaluddin Mohammed, then, is a man thoroughly deserving of the Order of the Caribbean Community.
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