The j’ouvert of tropical-capitalism in post-independence 1967 Trinidad glistened with the glamour of Gene Miles fashion spectacles and O’Halloran soirees where Tesoro type letters and ledgers were signed and sealed with a kiss. In 1970, Geddes Granger, a junior civil servant, was on scholarship at the local arm of the UWI, pursuing a programme of study in the social sciences. He emerged a tactical genius capable of marching tens of thousands of grim faced followers back and forth the length and breadth of Trinidad in perfect order like a battalion of Roman Centurions in a Carnival band.
On February 26, 1970, a movement of minds asserted that the government was perpetuating the harvesting of material benefits for the elite minority while the overwhelming majority of Afro-Saxons were experiencing deprivation, unemployment, criminally low wages, racial discrimination in employment in the private and public sectors and poor social services. As the Carnival curtain fell, the presumed lull of Lent failed to materialize. The 1970 February Revolution transcended the Dionysian masquerade tradition which Creole Trinidad had been distilling for more than a century and a half. It was the antithesis of the Carnival idea in structure, intent and content.
Local university students staged a demonstration urging solidarity for West Indian students arrested in Montreal. Nine protesters were arrested under an 1844 law. They refused bail and were released on March 4. On that day 10,000 people marched in Port of Spain in a tightly disciplined demonstration. The trial of the nine commenced on March 5.
Outside the courthouse demonstrators gathered. Out of the blue like bats from hell, batons were flying. The protesters scampered. The police on horseback galloped after them through the city. On Nelson Street, a young man was shot. The stampeding crowd picked up stones and debris and hurled them at the Royal Bank of Canada, The Singer Mall, Suzanne’s and Coelho’s Patisserie, Narwani’s, Habib’s, Bata, Beharry and Scott and Maraj Brothers. Shops were shut in rapid fire. The protestors regrouped quickly and marched down Frederick Street into Woodford Square. There they were joined by Geddes Granger.
On Tuesday April 21, twelve prisoners arrived in Staubles Bay including George Weeks and Winston Suite to be ferried on the Courland Bay to Nelson’s Island. At Teteron Bay, soldiers were drawing ammunition from the main bunker. Unbeknownst to the military brass, some of the soldiers were mutineers and the ammunition bunker was seized. Major Henry Christopher telephoned for help. The Coast Guard FPB Trinity was dispatched to Teteron and opened fire on the bunker with its 40 MM Bofors. The Courland Bay was ordered to get the prisoners to Nelson’s island quickly.
As the Courland tacked back to Teteron, it encountered the Trinity shelling a convoy of trucks, troop carriers, jeeps and private cars on the roadway exiting Teteron. Short on shells, the Trinity returned to Staubles to pick up all the available ammunition. During the load, fifty soldiers including three officers came down to Staubles via Crow’s Nest and surrendered. To hold Staubles, the Coast Guard decided to fire on the convoy from the sea. The shells blasted the hillside into an avalanche but that was insufficient. The convoy was still advancing. A bus that was used to block the road was pushed aside and was rolled down the hillside.
By mid-July 1970, the Attorney General Karl Hudson-Phillips was leading the review tribunal against the civilian detainees. A military tribunal recruited from various Commonwealth countries dealt with the insurgents. Procedural forms were being observed and some invented to suit the occasion. Professor Lloyd Best argued in his March 19, 1970 pamphlet- Black Power and National Reconstruction – that Williams’ adoption of Lewis’ prescription of industrialization by invitation did not deal with the problems of petroleum, sugar and the banks and it was these that have kept West Indian people in chains. Caroni Ltd., for example, was a major subsidiary of Tate and Lyle. He suggested that any failure to overlook this kind of dependence in our territorial context amounted to nothing but servility and a shattering vote of no-confidence in the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Best contended that Trinidad was hoping for economic transformation by borrowing capital, borrowing management, borrowing technology and genuflecting before every manner of alien expert. For Best, the Afro-Saxon was born, a man steeped in self-contempt, displaying his decolonization in the colonizer’s clothes and although all citizens had experienced raised levels of material welfare, there remained large swathes of the population who had no sense of being the master in the castle of their own skin.
Best reasoned that the government had adopted education policies, land policies, tax policies and labour policies that made it impossible for entrepreneurship to flourish. He argued that the colonial substitution of imported cheap labour suppressed any possibility of wage increases for the rest and that the cost of this imported workforce was to be met by taxes on imports. This meant that citizens had to pay to keep themselves in backwardness. A deconstructive critique of the ideas of Lloyd Best can only illuminate our future. The 50th Anniversary of the February Revolution is in 2020.