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EDITORIAL - ANR Robinson's global legacy

Published:Monday | April 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM

One of the constraining factors to the development of the Caribbean, this newspaper believes, is an absence of self-belief. So, Caribbean people may be good at the physical stuff, but not at generating and manipulating big ideas. It fuels a psychosis of failure.

The passing of two noted Caribbean figures last week, one, Jamaica's Norman Girvan, on whom we previously commented, gives the lie to this perception. The other is A.N.R. Robinson, the Trinidad and Tobago statesman who served as his country's prime minister and president. He was 87.

First, Mr Robinson was, physically, a brave man. But, more important, he believed in democracy and was willing to put all on the line, including personal safety and self-preservation in defence of this form of government.

In 1990, when Mr Robinson was prime minister, a Muslim radical, Yasin Abu Bakr, in an attempted coup, invaded the country's Parliament and for several days held many of its members, including Mr Robinson and some of his ministers, hostage. Security forces were restrained in engaging the putschists for fear of endangering Mr Robinson and others.

His order, which was ignored, was: "Attack with full force." For that, he received a beating and was shot in the leg. He survived to make important contributions, from the prime minister's office and the president's residence, in ensuring, not without difficulty, Trinidad and Tobago's political stability and maintenance of its democracy.

But though willing to risk his own life for the larger principle, Mr Robinson was clear that leaders should not behave with impunity. If they did, they should be held to account.

For decades before Abu Bakr's coup attempt, Mr Robinson, with Robert Woetzel, an American professor of humanitarian law, whom he met while both were students at Oxford University, advocated for a tribunal of a kind like what we now call the International Criminal Court (ICC), on which Jamaica's Patrick Robinson has served as a judge and became president.

Of course, there were other campaigners for the court, and attempts, going back to the 1950s. But it was Mr Robinson, as prime minister, in a 1989 address at the United Nations General Assembly, who placed the matter squarely back on the global agenda.

And that was Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson's significant legacy to the world.

The principle that caused Mr Robinson to advocate for the ICC informed his broader approach to domestic politics. He was a founding member of the People's National Movement (PNM), but grew disenchanted with Eric Williams' autocracy and left the party in the aftermath of the 1970 Black Power uprising when the government introduced tough public-order laws.

The party he founded lasted only a term in government, but that, in part, was the result of the tough economic reform measures that helped lift Trinidad and Tobago from seven years of stagnation.

Later, as president, he declined to appoint senators nominated by Basdeo Panday, the prime minister, with whom he had previously been in partnership in government; and, in a subsequent tied election, bypassed the incumbent, Panday, and chose the PNM's Patrick Manning to lead the government. He was uneasy with Mr Panday's quality of governance. On top of all that, Mr Robinson was a regionalist who promoted Caribbean integration.

He is worthy of study by current regional leaders.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.