Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley

“This is a time for love.”

These were the words of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley as he addressed the nation on today’s 58th anniversary of Independence amid the battle against the COVID-19 virus and discord brought about by the recent general election.

“This is not a time to lose faith, kindle racial hatred, spread fake news, undermine institutions and selfishly stoke ethnic, religious, social or geographical division, regardless of who is doing it. Just stop,” he said.

He added: “This is a time for coming together, a time for defending ourselves from visible and invisible threats, a time for being responsible, a time for being a contributor rather than an extractor, a time for being brothers and sisters and being our brother’s keeper, in short, this is a time for love.”

Dr Rowley, who has been hammering home the need for responsible behaviour to combat the virus, was confident that the country could rise to the challenge.

“We will face down the current outbreak and I have every confidence that we will surmount not only this but the very many challenges in the coming months and years ahead but there is none so immediate and as serious as COVID-19,” he said.

But he had a particular message for the youth, as infection rates rise between the ages of 25 and 35.

“I know of the thoughts and feelings of the invincibility that youth possess but now is not the time and, a pandemic is not the circumstance to wager bets on your indestructibility and those around you.

Young people take responsibility for your clips, crews and limes and become protectors for, and of each other. This is it! This is not a drill, it’s not a joke, this is not a trendy share on IG or a cool forward on what’s app. This risk is real.”

The prime minister made it clear, the worse is not yet over, and in fact, may be yet come.

“With deep sadness, international medical experts are predicting that the mounting deaths we are experiencing, worldwide, reflect just the early phase in the flurry of the COVID-19 virus. In other words, Trinidad and Tobago, like the rest of the world may yet feel its full ferociousness and we still have no idea when it is going to end.”

In that regard, he appealed for responsibility from everyone and coming together to battle the virus.

“Everyone has to be involved, because it is now a question of this country’s overall survival. Where COVID-19 is concerned, there is no “my side” and “your side,” there is only victory for all of us or defeat for all of us. We must therefore come together and win this battle together!”

“We will meet our challenges, and we, the people, will survive and prosper,” he added.

Kamla also calls for unity

Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar also called for a coming together in her address to the nation.

“Let us use this Independence Day to ignite a spirit of unity. A difference in political opinion, a difference in religious beliefs, a difference in ethnicity, none of these is reason enough to abandon the words of our national anthem “here every creed and race find an equal place” to live together in unity.”

She added: “Let us use this day to remember that whilst our forefathers came on different boats, we are all together on the same ship today, SS T&T. What this means is that the only way forward successfully is as a united people and nation. While we have serious problems with our national physical infrastructure, we must address the fine cracks within our social structure.”

Noting this was a time of “great uncertainty” she called on everyone to do his and her part.

“COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of life and living and presents us with many new challenges. We are now, each of us, called upon to adapt, to change the way we operate, to evolve in our thinking and our modes of operation.”

She continued: “Business unusual is now the new normal. Nonetheless, despite dark days ahead, remember there is always hope that even the darkest day must end, and the sun will rise again.”

She urged the nation to reflect on significant achievements in the last 58 years as she stated, “We can be proud of the strength, courage, and resilience of our citizens and residents, who have stood together in times of adversity to overcome challenges presented to us.”

Shying away from the traditional greetings, she went on, “I do not just offer the usual greetings but also thank everyone for the role played in the enhancement of the people of our nation. No task was too small or too grand. So many have contributed to the beautiful creation and advancement of our twin-island Republic.”

Persad-Bissessar said while T&T is but a speck on the global scale, that should never impede achieving greatness. She claimed the past 58 years had taught us that.

“As a young fledgeling nation, not even 60 years old, we have been able to accomplish feats equivalent to some of the best in the world,” she said.

Looking beyond this, she said questions must be asked as to what good is a global achievement when we have citizens who are still excluded and marginalised in our own country?

Persad-Bissessar claimed, “Today we have thousands of our citizens, from urban Scarborough to rural Barrackpore, who continue to struggle, to look on helplessly as opportunities are taken from them, as the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen.”

“What good are the hundreds of achievements putting our tiny nation on a global scale when we have children without equal access to education?”

She described the move by this Government to scrap the laptop programme—which she said, in today’s environment, would have enabled thousands of children to participate fully in the transition to online learning.

She called on citizens to cast off the old tactics used by the colonists of dividing to rule once and for all.

“The challenges we face as a nation may be difficult, but we are resilient, and we will get through this, together. I have faith in the good people of Trinidad and Tobago. We will overcome, and we will survive and thrive.”

President addresses

racist divisions

President Paula-Mae Weekes, meanwhile, focussed mostly on the racial divisions that arose after the August 10 general election.

“The General Election 2020 flipped Trinidad and Tobago over and exposed what can be described as its ugly underbelly,” she said.

She noted that in 2004 visiting Archbishop Desmond Tutu described this country as a “rainbow nation” which she said is reflected in Carnival, cricket and public holidays.

She said she did not immediately respond to the racial issues during and after the election campaigning, because she was “careful in deciding both content and timing of my statements, in order to avoid provoking more heat than light.”

“Like every right-minded citizen, I was disgusted and dismayed by the appalling to-and-fro between supporters of the government and opposition—which division generally reflects the two largest and distinct ethnic groups in the country. Political differences can be strongly expressed and debated without recourse to personal attacks, racist diatribes and gratuitous insults,” she said.

She called on a direct approach to address it.

“Our only hope of treating with this scourge once and for all is to attack it at the root, recognising that it is the result of our histories—our origin, our arrival, our incorporation into the society and our politics. One-off initiatives, such as the one organised this weekend by the University of the West Indies in collaboration with the Catholic Commission for Social Justice, are a good start, but by their very nature, will not suffice as a long-term solution.”

Among several things, she said “a practical and sustainable programme under the umbrella of a national framework, must be developed with all urgency. Our penchant for procrastinating, vacillating and eventually shelving the ubiquitous report cannot be countenanced.”

She ended, “Without blaming and shaming, let us at every level—personal, institutional, political, governmental, social—commit to consciously, resolutely and patriotically ridding our society of this divisive affliction.”