Emancipation Day 2016 comes at a time when our individual and collective freedoms must be redefined, given the direction to which our nation has turned.
It must be redefined by a renewed commitment from those who govern to ensure that freedoms are not only assured, but robustly protected. It must also be redefined by each citizen in a way that freedom cannot be taken for granted, but it something that we will at all times defend and fight for.
Emancipation is a region-wide observance and includes some parts of the United States. It is seen as a celebration of an end to a period to which we all commit to never allow again. It is also seen as a brutal history that we all as Caribbean nations share.
The common ground in terms of the tragedy and cruelty of the past gave birth to a united approach to standing against inhumane acts, and a shared commitment to always stand against acts of oppression and discrimination.
Slavery in the Caribbean region brought with it some of the worst and most deliberately inhumane acts of violence against human beings in world history. Families were ravaged and torn apart; men and women were chained and forced to work without wages and tortured for daring to take back their freedom.
In more modern times, groups have come together and have increasingly made a strong case for reparation for the centuries that passed that saw women, men and even children enslaved and forced to work under the most vicious conditions.
As Prime Minister I gave unbending support to a formalized and carefully mounted argument in favour of reparations for the period of slavery. In late 2013, a National Committee on Reparations was formed, having had three meetings on 08 and 22 October and 22 November 2013. At this final meeting, I met with the Committee to listen to the agreed position and approach and gave my full support.
It is my sincere hope that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago keeps as a strong a commitment as before and considers reparation as a just pursuit; reparatory justice involves an indigenous people’s development programme; technology transfer; debt cancellation; illiteracy eradication; psychological rehabilitation; public health; the development of cultural institutions; repatriation, and a formal apology.
We join hands with the descendants of those courageous men, women and children who endured the tortures of history, without knowing that they were the pioneers of today’s freedom.
As one people, we all also celebrate that moment in history when the majority finally stood on the side of justice and declared an end to a period of terror against an entire race of people, and heralded a new period of freedom for which our great grand parents and their children fought.
Emancipation Day places a duty on us to defend the things that those who came before us fought for and won.
The Office of The Leader of the Opposition