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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands

Consolidation and Economic Hardship, 1962-69

At the time of independence, politics in Trinidad and Tobago was conducted by the middle class; both the PNM and the DLP were nationalistic, largely pro-capitalist parties that were controlled by the middle class and supported by the working class. Earlier, more radical labor movements had been defeated or sidelined. Race was an important component of party loyalty, and the dominant PNM drew its support largely from black voters. Blacks controlled most PNM leadership positions; Williams's cabinet in 1961 had only two East Indians--Winston Mahabir, a Christian, and Kamaluddin Mohammed, a Muslim. East Indians generally supported the DLP.

After his election in 1961, Williams reached an understanding with R.N. Capildeo, the Hindu DLP leader, under which the DLP was consulted in some national decisions and DLP members were sent abroad on diplomatic missions. Capildeo was allowed a special leave of absence from Parliament to spend the greater part of the year in London. Although the understanding appeared, on the surface, to be a magnanimous gesture on Williams's part, it was a skillful political move because it left the opposition party without a leader in Trinidad and Tobago. Capildeo's high-handed absentee management alienated many within the DLP, especially blacks. In 1964 many non-East Indians defected from the DLP and founded the Liberal Party of Trinidad, reducing the DLP representation in the House from ten to seven.

Serious problems in the Trinidadian economy between 1962 and 1965 caused by the falling prices of its main exports generated strikes in the sugar and oil industries, and the black-dominated Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) became increasingly radicalized. The new leader of the OWTU, George Weekes, charged that the PNM had sold out to big business. Despite an increasing sense of dissatisfaction with the PNM, the DLP was unable to capitalize on this opportunity to assume the role of champion of the working class because of intraparty squabbles and black loyalty to the PNM. Instead, the DLP provided crucial support to a PNM bill in March 1965 curbing strikes and lockouts. As the 1966 elections approached, the DLP continued to fragment, whereas the PNM closed ranks and campaigned hard. The PNM won 24 of the 36 seats in the House of Representatives and received 52 percent of the vote. The other 12 seats were won by the DLP with 34 percent of the vote. Several new smaller parties, such as the Liberal Party of Trinidad, failed to win any seats. In response, Capildeo claimed that the election was rigged because of the use of voting machines, and he pledged that the DLP would not contest any elections if voting machines were used. This strategy only succeeded in further reducing DLP influence, because many PNM candidates ran unopposed in the 1968 municipal elections and Capildeo himself was defeated. The PNM was able to increase its seats significantly on a very low turnout, but observers believed that this represented disillusionment rather than endorsement on the part of the voters.

Since there was little political opposition, the PNM was able to concentrate on economic matters. The population was expanding, but the oil industry needed fewer workers because of retrenchment and automation, so unemployment had increased, reaching about 15 to 17 percent by 1967. In response to the many strikes in 1967 and 1968, the government announced a development plan that attempted to increase employment. It also increased its participation in the economy by buying out the British Petroleum Company (see Role of Government, this ch.). Government companies were inefficient, and the PNM did not solve the economic problems but in the process of trying became more rigid and bureaucratic.

Data as of November 1987