Today we recognize and celebrate the courage, the will and enduring spirit of those who fought for and won their freedom from slavery.
Today none of us can truly understand the atrocities that slaves faced at the hands of those who were comfortable with treating fellow humans as property and subjecting them to the worst working and living conditions imaginable; the slave owners’ quest for profits was all that mattered while slaves existed in sub-human conditions.
Slavery didn’t break the spirit of our ancestors who survived the Atlantic Slave Trade. While they made England wealthy, they never enjoyed the bounty they helped produce and today the memory of that period lives on as we celebrate emancipation. While we have cast off the chains, we are yet to be entirely free of the scourge of man’s greatest indignity to man.
British history might show that humanitarian concerns led to emancipation but other histories show that the slaves themselves created the conditions for their emancipation. And their resistance to the brutality demonstrated the strength, courage and perseverance of a people who refused to be treated as property to be bought and sold in the marketplace.
Slavery denied them comforts; the conditions under which they were sold deprived them of an identity and the plantations robbed them of their humanity. But inside each body dwelled the soul of a survivor and that is the spirit that has made the African presence so strong in our society and in the world. We are richer because of the culture and values that they had to reconstruct in the post emancipation period. Today, we are all able to admire and share in the cultural traditions, the food, the music of the people who made Trinidad and Tobago their home after their liberation.
As we commemorate Emancipation Day 2017, we honour the memory of those who gave their lives, as well as those whose indomitable will drove them to overcome their suffering, and eventually attain freedom.
As we celebrate this important occasion, we must pause and reflect on where we are today as a society. Today, we are faced with threats to our own individual freedoms, as criminals have become emboldened, with those in authority seemingly incapable of bringing about a resolution to this crippling problem.
Crime affects all of us, and is impacting our quality of life. It cannot be the norm that people are afraid to leave their homes, that children no longer feel comfortable to go to the neighbourhood shop, or walk to a friend’s house. Businesses, already reeling from a limping economy, and an unavailability of critical foreign exchange, are also being adversely affected by rising crime.
We are under siege from the criminal elements and I call once again on the Prime Minister to look at the state of our country, and come up with solutions to the problems facing us.
As I make this call to the Prime Minister, I also call on all citizens to come together – we must, each of us, do our part to make Trinidad and Tobago better, stronger and united.
As Leader of the Opposition, the alternative Government, I assure you that we are pressing ahead with developing a clear strategy for our nation’s recovery and return to growth. Do not lose hope. I extend an invitation to everyone who is committed to strengthening our country to join us.
Today as we celebrate emancipation from slavery, let us make a commitment to rid our country of the blight that has descended on it and make a commitment to building a just society where all of us can share in the bounty of our land regardless of social standing, ethnicity or geography. This is our county that we built as one people, committed to a better life for future generations. We can do better at ensuring a brighter, more prosperous future for Trinidad and Tobago.
Happy Emancipation Day to you all, and may God Bless our nation.
31st July 2017