The centre was transformed into a sea of red as hundreds of supporters, arriving by bus, vans, cars and taxis swarmed the building. Those who could not be accommodated inside took advantage of the brown lawns or sought a brief respite from the stifling heat as they strolled down to the beach.
It was a day of celebration done in true Trini style; as bowls and containers filled with pelau, barbecue chicken, salads, pies and souse found their way on to make-shift tables. It was reminiscent of PNM conventions gone-by through the years.
One source of surprise though was the appearance of former government minister Ralph Maraj, who has been absent from the political arena for several years. Maraj gave the address on “Remembering Eric Eustace Williams.”
When Sunday Newsday questioned whether this signalled his return to active politics and whether he would throw his hat in the ring as a possible candidate for the next general election, Maraj declined to say.
“I have never left politics, okay. That is all I have to say. I never left,” he said with a quick laugh.
Maraj described Williams as a “national colossus”, saying that the PNM is a pivotal part of the legacy of Williams to TT. “It was the instrument through which he sought to transform this country from a colonial backwater to a modern, thriving democracy,” he said.
Maraj said while several political parties emerged during the years, the PNM has stood strong through the years.
“The names make up a bewildering alphabet soup. The country’s political dustbin is overflowing with discarded party names and symbols. The PNM, after a half-a-century, remains full of vitality and strength. Whilst it would face its challenges over the years, its foundations would remain unshakeable,” he said.
He said the party has endured because of the foundations laid by Williams who “clearly built this thing to last.”
However, Maraj said it was much more than structure because without structure, the party would stagnate and decay into dust.
“Williams pointed to a life of dignity and fulfilment for the vast majority who were denied genuine opportunity for advancement under the oppressive and dehumanising conditions of colonialism.
“He himself had been subjected to the injustices of the era. Even though the Anglo-American Caribbean commission refused to renew his contract, he stood strong and dedicated his life to the country. Clearly their Moses had arrived.,” he said.
Maraj said Williams saw the PNM as an instrument of unity in the society while his commitment was democracy.
Quoting from Williams’ first address to the nation on this country’s attainment of independence from Great Britain, Maraj said, “Democracy means more, much more than the right to vote...Democracy means recognition of the rights of others, equal opportunity for all, protection of the weak against the strong The symbol of our democracy is our Parliament. It rests on an informed and cultivated and alert public opinion.”
In trying to explain Prime Minister Manning’s affront that he was being criticised by the media, Maraj said while free press was a guaranteed constitutional right in TT, it was not to say that Williams did not have problems with the media.
“There were fights, some quite theatrical indeed, including setting fire to a particular newspaper in the square. But such tensions are almost inevitable. All leaders in genuine democracies, from Williams to Obama, have had problems from time to time with the media, problems which sometimes produced extreme actions and pronouncements,” he said
Maraj said no one could accuse Williams of suppressing the voice of the people, even when faced with criticisms over his policies, and while the law had to be called upon in extreme cases, all felt free to criticise him, never denying the people the right to have their own views.
Maraj noted that Williams saw education as an instrument of national emancipation, the path to individual fulfilment and national, social and economical development.
He said if not for Williams’ vision and commitment, he (Maraj) would not have seen the doors of a secondary school, noting that under Williams, thousands of young people benefitted from free secondary and tertiary education.
“He knew exactly what he was doing by empowering the descendants of former slaves and indentured labourers through providing them access to higher education.
“It is neither out of charity nor generosity that Eric Eustace Williams is universally accepted as the Father of the Nation of TT. Clinical assessment of his foundational contribution to the development of our society, makes him most worthy of that appellation. As any good father, he truly prepared us to make our way in the world.,” Maraj said to thunderous applause as Manning rose from his seat and embraced him.