Caribbean History: Remembering ANR Robinson

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By David P. Rowe
CJ Contributor

One of the Caribbean’s political giants of the 20th century was Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson, a lawyer, statesman and patriot who survived the violent attempted coup in Trinidad.

Robinson was born on the island of Tobago, where his father was the headmaster of the local Methodist school. Robinson helped his father harvesting cocoa on the family farm as a youngster.

He excelled in high school, distinguishing himself as a scholar in Latin and eventually matriculated to study in England.

He became a barrister at the Inner Temple and graduated with a Master of Arts from St Johns College at the University of Oxford.
Robinson returned to Trinidad in 1955 and had a prominent law practice. He then turned to politics and successfully ran for election, beginning what would be a significant political career.
in 1958, as he was elected to the short lived West Indies Federal Parliament. In 1961, hee was elected to the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament as the representative from Tobago.

He then joined Eric Williams as a founding member of the Peoples National Movement a pro- labour party committed to social and economic reform.

After Trinidad obtained independence, Robinson became the first Minister of Finance but he resigned as an MP in 1970 because of the Government’s handling of a black power rebellion led by the army.
Robinson, as a native of Tobago, believed that Tobagonians did not enjoy all the benefits granted to Trinidad in an equitable fashion.

In 1980, he endorsed and lobbied for the Tobago Assembly Act, which gave a significant amount of political autonomy to Tobago. Robinson used his political connections in Tobago and his knowledge of the Westminster model to form a party alliance with Basdeo Panday, a political leader among Indian Trinidadians.

The new party that was formed was called the National Alliance for Reconstruction, a party opposed to the governance of the People’s National Movement. In this capacity, Robinson was elected as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, serving from December 1986 to 1991.

In 1990, Robinson and most of his Cabinet members were taken hostage in the Red House, the Trinidadian Parliament building, by a radical local Islamic group, the Jamaat al Muslimeen.

During the kidnapping, Robinson demonstrated great personal courage in refusing to cooperate with a Muslimeen-proposed ceasefire and was shot in the leg and tortured by the Muslimeen as a result.

Eventually after six days of gun violence in Port of Spain, the Muslimeen surrendered to the Trinidadian army and Robinson was released without further bodily injury. 20 civillians were killed in this uprising.
ANR Robinson served with distinction as an international lawyer as well.

In 1989, Robinson as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Robinson tabled a motion at the United Nations General Assembly for an International Court of Justice to be established.

This was a university goal of Robinson which he never abandoned until it was a reality.

The court was initially established in the Netherlands and is part of Robinson’s lasting legacy. As Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Robinson had a checkered political record. He was forced to devalue the Trinidadian dollar and to seek intervention from the International Monetary fund to cover Government spending.

Oil revenues also declined placing the economy in more jeopardy.

In 1991 Robinson was defeated in the general elections, essentially the end of his political career, although in 1997 Robinson was elected to the position of President of Trinidad and Tobago , though a chiefly ceremonial position.

Robinson died in 2014, having written several books and recognized throughout the Caribbean and Commonwealth as a scholar and statesman.

David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and an adjunct law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.