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Caribbean Islands-Prosperity and Government Centralization, 1974-81





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The Arab oil embargo was a boon to the Williams government. The oil price increases that followed it created a prosperity that made the government of Trinidad and Tobago not only solvent but financially comfortable. Concerns about the PNM were muted because of the healthy economy, and since the opposition did not come forward with a better alternative, voters continued to endorse Williams. As GDP rose, however, various segments of society fought for larger slices of the pie. Strikes, which had been frequent in the lean years of 1972 and 1973, continued. During the spring of 1975, an estimated 45,000 people were involved in strikes.

The 1976 election again illustrated the difficulty of developing a political movement in Trinidad and Tobago that appealed to working-class people of both African and East Indian origin. The black-dominated OWTU joined the East Indian-dominated All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factory Workers Trade Union (ATSE/FWTU), the Trinidadian Islandwide Cane Farmers' Union, and left-of-center intellectuals to form a new political party, the United Labour Front (ULF). A Trinidadian political scientist has called the ULF "a political banyan tree" that provided shelter for many ideologically incompatible elements involved in the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Envisioning itself as the representative of the working class, the ULF called for land reform, nationalization of multinational firms, and worker participation in management. Nonetheless, the ULF was unable to overcome ethnic suspicions. Working-class blacks feared that East Indians would control any ULF-led government. The ULF was also hurt by the perception that the party was communist. Williams exploited this view, promising to preserve individual landownership and capitalism; as a result, the PNM captured twenty-four of the thirty-six House seats in 1976. The ULF's ten seats came primarily from former DLP seats with constituencies in East Indian workingclass areas.

Two remaining House seats, both in Tobago, were captured by the Democratic Action Party (DAC). The DAC was founded by Robinson, the PNM minister of external affairs who had resigned during the 1970 Black Power riots. A Tobagonian-based party, the DAC promised to lobby for some regional autonomy for Tobago and specifically called for the reinstatement of its legislative body. Once in Parliament, the DAC members proposed the Tobago House of Assembly Bill, which passed in 1980. This measure gave some self-government to Tobago in the form of a fifteen-member elected House of Assembly, although Port-of-Spain still retained a number of controls. In the first election for Tobago's House of Assembly in 1980, the DAC won twothirds of the seats.

Subsequent to the 1976 election, Williams continued to gather more power into his own hands, so that even the smallest decisions came to be referred to him. He created the National Advisory Council (NAC), which was a think tank made up entirely of individuals selected by, and responsible to, Williams. The NAC did the planning for the national bureaucracy and also masterminded the increasing government participation in the economy. Because of the oil windfall, per capita income increased and unemployment declined. The state used the additional revenue to increase educational expenditures and to attempt to restructure the economy. State spending increased dramatically as over fifty governmentowned companies were created. Subsequently, the Williams administration was accused of corruption; high officials were alleged to have taken bribes in connection with purchases of Lockheed airplanes for the national airline BWIA and Sikorsky helicopters for the Ministry of National Security and in awarding contracts for a racing complex. In the PNM convention of September 1980, Williams attributed the erosion of popular support to the trade unions and to "enemies within." A poll conducted in January and February 1981 indicated widespread suspicion that the PNM cabinet was engaged in a cover-up of corrupt practices. Fifty percent of those polled, including both blacks and East Indians, felt that Williams should resign.

In March 1981, as the nation prepared for as yet unannounced elections, Williams died. Although members of the cabinet knew that Williams had been sick, his death was an unexpected shock to the rest of the nation. Contrary to dire predictions, Williams's death did not cause political disarray in Trinidad. Despite Williams's own disillusionment with his role as leader and his increasing centralization of power, he and the nation's British heritage had forged a firm democratic tradition in Trinidad and Tobago. A few months after his death, democratic elections took place on schedule, reelecting the PNM once again.

Data as of November 1987



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