My fellow citizens, today we proudly celebrate the 177th Anniversary of Emancipation in Trinidad and Tobago.
This year also marks the commencement of the International Decade for People of African Descent, as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, and will be observed from 2015 to 2024.
The Decade builds on the International Year for People of African Descent, which was observed by the international community in 2011. It provides a solid framework for the United Nations, Member States, civil society and all other relevant actors to join together with people of African descent, to take effective measures for the implementation of a programme of activities in the spirit of recognition, justice and development.
As you know, my government’s people-centred approach to governance ensures the inclusivity of all our citizens, as we progress our national agenda of sustainable development and prosperity for all.
I therefore assure our community groups and national organisations of my continued support, as you advance the concerns of your members, including those persons lobbying on behalf of our citizens of African descent.
I also take this opportunity to reiterate my government’s commitment to the cause of reparations for slavery and native genocide, upon which Trinidad and Tobago along with our CARICOM neighbours, has embarked.
For the peoples of the Caribbean, in particular those of African descent, Emancipation was a significant turning point in our history; where we moved from being enslaved to taking the first steps towards an entirely new and different civilization.
At that time, people…human beings were held as property…as chattel, often experiencing unthinkable cruelty.
But what was more powerful than the evil that drove human slavery, was the strength of the human spirit that fought and won liberation.
It may be difficult for us to perceive today, in our modern time, the depth of sadness, joy, triumph and exhilaration in the breath and voice of every person who was alive on that day. But that is the purpose of recorded history.
It gives us the ability to reflect on where we came from, and what it took to bring us here. And it gives us the opportunity to reaffirm our promise to always stand as one people, united by our humanity, and driven by our desire to never allow our freedoms to be compromised.
In 1985, the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, became the first nation in the world to adopt Emancipation Day as a public holiday of national celebration.
No amount of pride is enough for such global recognition, because it was one of the moments that defined what it is to be Trinidadian and Tobagonian.
Many of our ancestors came out of that heart-wrenching struggle for freedom. Tragically, many of our ancestors were born, lived and died, only knowing what it felt like to desire freedom, but never actually experiencing it.
We, who are here today to commemorate and celebrate this Emancipation Anniversary, do so in the memory of those who have gone before us, and from whose struggle, pain, humiliation and sacrifices; we have become a strong people fighting modern injustice and demanding recognition and equality.
As we commemorate Emancipation Day 2015, I ask you, fellow citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, to continue to embrace the hard-won freedom bequeathed to us by our forefathers. In our diversity let us recognize our strength. There is no room for divisiveness. The prosperity and development of our beloved country depends on our capacity to look beyond our differences and build a common destiny as one united nation.
Together, let us continue to work together and to draw on each other’s experiences to create a Trinidad and Tobago of which we can all be proud to call home. Happy Emancipation Day to you all, God bless you all and may God Bless our nation.